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Since the holiday season is upon us, I figured why not use the Mondays leading up to Christmas as a chance to review some holiday efforts.  Christmas is, by far, my favorite holiday!  There's just something about the glow of a Christmas tree and the warm feeling evoked by stockings on a mantle, plus the music of the season seems like a hug for the soul.  Wow.  That was really cheesy, but it's true.  So why not start with the first Christmas CD I ever owned...'s also my favorite.  Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas is a collection of classic Christmas tunes that we all know and love with a few new songs, as well.  Her voice is superb on this album and each performance substantiates why she is arguably the greatest singer of our lifetime (all time?).  With only 10 tracks, the album may be shorter than most yet it probably has the impact and focus all the others model themselves after.  Every year for as long as I can remember, this album has been played while we decorate the house whether it was at the home of my parents growing up or the house I now share with my wife and daughter -- this CD is the soundtrack to all of my Christmas traditions. 

I'll take you through each track to prove why you should press play on this work of holiday perfection as soon as Thanksgiving dinner is over every year.  If you've never heard it before, go get it.  Now.  I insist.
    1.  Silent Night  The album starts with one of the most recognized Christmas songs ever written.  Backed by a full choir (as she is for pretty much the entire album), Mariah's voice is pure and crisp blending with the choir yet soaring above them in parts.  A perfect introduction to the seasonal feel of the album.
    2.  All I Want For Christmas Is You  Even if you don't own this particular album, you've heard this song.  Many are surprised that it was actually written by Mariah herself... one of three from this album, in fact.  It's brilliant.  The throwback arrangement gives the impression it's been around forever and fits right in with the other classics.  It's heard all over the world and on almost every radio station at one point or another during this time of year.  Several artists have offered a cover of their own, from Lady Antebellum to Cee-Lo to My Chemical Romance to Michael BublĂ© to Justin Bieber and numerous others yet none of them come close to capturing the magic Mariah did when she initially recorded and released it in 1994.  Even those who don't typically find themselves drawn to Mariah's music sing along to this one.  It's catchy.  It's festive.  It's fun. It's genius.

    3.  O Holy Night  This is probably one of my all time favorite Christmas songs with this specific version being the one I'm always drawn to.  Here Mariah's voice opens up and explores what seems like every note there is to sing and she executes every single one flawlessly.  The first half she shows excellent vocal control and slowly builds into the second half where she sings with her full chest voice before sending a few high notes into the stratosphere and blows you away as only she can.  It's impressive how she's able to climb the scales and evoke so much emotion within a single song.  Your goosebumps will have goosebumps; this one is a must add to your holiday playlist! Trust me.

    4.  Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)  The bells at the beginning of this song immediately scream Christmas and when the choir comes in to confirm you instantly have the urge to tap your foot.  Mariah is at her best with the playfulness of this one even matching the choir with a call and response section in the middle.  Play it in the background of a holiday party or just play it in your car, either way it's a good time.

    5.  Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)  The second offering of Mariah's writing abilities, this one is a classic Mariah-type ballad and was probably included initially to appeal to her fans (or lambs, as she affectionately refers to them).  Its subject matter is about coping with a lost love during the holidays, which everyone can relate to on some level and although the vocals are impeccable and she doesn't hesitate to deliver, the song is a bit of a detachment from the rest of the album.

    6.  Joy To The World  From the first note, Mariah stamps this rendition as her own... there is no hesitation to display her range right away.  The choir jumps in and the tempo picks up holding you by your ears refusing to let go until every vocal acrobatic is performed.   You'll be begging for more... and if you're not careful you'll be singing along without even intending to.

    7.  Jesus Born On This Day  The final writing contribution from Mariah and it's very well done.  Like All I Want For Christmas Is You, there's that feeling you've heard it before.  The children's choir is a nice touch, too.

    8.  Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town  The intro to this song is nostalgic and reminiscent of old school Christmas, but then Ms. Carey jumps in and digs deep vocally reminding you that Christmas is a celebration.  There's a youthfulness in this song that draws out the inner child in all of us remembering our own Christmas experiences from years past.

    9.  Hark! The Herald Angels Sing/Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)  The piano compliments Mariah's voice extremely well and she starts out in that warm, velvet tone before building into that upper range that we've all come to know and love and expect from her.  Blending with the choir towards the end makes you almost forget you're listening to the best selling female recording artist of all time and just listening to a classic Christmas album... notice I said almost; she chimes back in right before it ends with a friendly reminder of whose name is on the front of this album.

    10.  Jesus Oh What A Wonderful Child  This song... man, what can I say about this song?  Hands down, the best vocal performance of the entire album!  Mariah takes it to church and she does it effortlessly.  Every note she hits covers you like a winter coat warming you to the bone.  Amazing.  Absolutely flawless.  The ad libs are executed so well that you'll have them bouncing around in your head for days.  Her voice takes off towards the end soaring to new heights that you think those notes will never stop... and you don't want them to.  Perfection.
There it is... in my opinion, the best Christmas album out there.  Mariah is in good great voice throughout the length of the entire collection.  If you're only interested in a few songs, I would recommend O Holy Night, Joy To The World and Jesus Oh What A Wonderful Child... that's assuming you already have All I Want For Christmas Is You in rotation. 

In 2005 during The Emancipation of Mimi explosion, the album was released again as a DualDisc that contained a few Christmas videos as well as two additional songs.  God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman is performed a capella from a choir of Mariahs.  Her voice is layered showcasing the many different textures she's able to use when singing... I can only hope the Heavenly choir is compiled of angels that sound like the Mariah-choir in this song.  Beautiful.  The second song on the re-release is Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, a cover of the Jackson 5 version so it's different than the original offering of the initial track listing from the first release.  It's upbeat and fun.  The huge success of this album is probably what prompted Mariah to release her second Christmas album in 2010, but we'll get to that later.  For now, go get these songs and have them fill your house with the sound of Christmas this year.

Image Sources:  Merry Christmas, Reindeer


November 26, 2012


November 22, 2012

Something happened to me yesterday... its never happened to me before and it was terrible.  Absolutely horrible.  Awful.  The worst.  I accidentally left my cell phone sitting on the kitchen table during my lunch break!  Even better, I didn't realize it until I was pulling into the parking lot at work -- the horror.

Yeah I'm being a little dramatic, but seriously I felt like the world fell apart.  I'm getting anxiety just talking writing about it.  However, it got me thinking about the way people functioned in a time before we were all glued to our cellular devices.

I'm aware that four hours without my mobile hardly deems itself worthy of crisis status, especially since society used to operate just fine without them (honestly though I was elated when we, the phone and I, were finally reunited).  I remember the first cell phone my family owned... it was 1990-something and my mother came home with a black leather bag plugged into her cigarette lighter.  There was some strange, tiny antenna attached to the roof of the car and she informed my brother and I that it was to be used "only in the case of an emergency".  It was then she folded back the top flap of that leather bag and revealed a phone with the number pad on the back of the handset.  I couldn't believe my eyes and put my discman (whoa!) aside so I could hold it and get a closer look.  (I can't believe how quickly I jumped back in time thinking about a discman.  I loved that thing... but I digress.)  The phone was connected to the bag by an annoying, curly cord so it was limited for car use only; nonetheless, it felt like such an evolution to have the option of talking on the phone in the car instead of in the house.
Fast forward to my first cell phone... it was given to me with the keys to my Jeep when I turned 16.  Again, I was lectured with the disclaimer to use it "only in the case of an emergency".  Although it wasn't a bag phone it was quite large, along the lines of the Zack Morris variety.

The antenna went on for days and it had horrible reception so it ultimately lived in the center console the majority of its life.  Can you imagine that now?  A teenager with a cell phone stored away with an average of one or two uses a week?  Using it only in the case of an emergency?  It's unheard of.  Back then though, we weren't texting and the phones weren't equipped to handle Facebook or Twitter or even the Internet.  Hell, they didn't even have the option to take a picture.  It wasn't until a year later when I was given my first flip phone that I thought I was onto something.  I could flip my phone open to answer it and close it {with a slap} when the conversation was over.  Wow.  As time went on, I went through several different phones some were of the flip variety and some weren't, some were smaller and pocket-friendly while others not so much.  Nokia and LG and Motorola all lead me to where I am today... a BlackBerry addict.  I know, I know!  People say Blackberry is a dying brand knocking at the door of extinction.  While I can agree on some points, I do love my BlackBerry and hope that's not true.  I'm crossing my fingers they can pull themselves together and hang in there amidst the army of iPhone and Android users.

Before surfing the web on your smartphone, it's weird to think that people actually interacted with each other face-to-face.  Oftentimes, I see people at dinner together yet neither party is acknowledging the other and instead they're both locked into their individual world of cell phone consumption.  While it's impressive that our society has the technological capability to create and improve ideas involving touch screens and voice recognition, would it be so bad to resort back to a time where families sat down and played board games together or watched the same program on TV instead of everyone running to their separate corners with their electronic devices?  Hopefully, my wife and I will raise Madison where she can embrace both the simpler times and the more advanced ways of communication offered today.  At least that's the goal!  It's such a different time now.

Meanwhile if I find that I've left my cell phone home again, I'll call someone who cares... oh wait... I can't!  Then again, maybe cutting the thread that sews that phone into my hand isn't the worst thing in the world after all.


November 15, 2012

Who doesn't enjoy a game show?  My favorite is Wheel of Fortune.  Hands down!  It's a classic that everyone knows how to play and all ages can enjoy.  If you've lived under a rock and/or in the woods your entire life, I'll give you a quick run down of the rules...

  • A puzzle is listed on the board in front of you, but all the letters are blank.  You're only able to see how many words and how many letters are in each word... plus they give you a category to help you out.  The category is very basic (i.e. Thing, Place, Before & After).
  • You spin the wheel with various dollar amounts and prizes listed on each wedge.  Once the wheel stops, you guess a letter to fill in the blanks.  Guess correctly and you're awarded the dollar amount or the prize your spin landed on.
  • If you guess correctly, you can spin again or buy a vowel.  Each vowel (A, E, I, O, U) costs $250.  If you guess incorrectly, your turn is up.  If your original spin landed on 'bankrupt' or 'lose a turn' your guess is forfeited and the next contestant gets to spin (or buy a vowel/solve the puzzle, if applicable).
  • Once you've filled in enough letters or racked up enough money/prizes, you can choose to solve the puzzle.  Only the contestant that solves the puzzle correctly is awarded the money and/or prizes they've accumulated during that particular round; everyone else's scoreboard is wiped clean.
  • The contestant with the most money after all rounds have been played moves on to the bonus round where they spin a mini-wheel of envelopes full of bigger prizes (a car or $25,000 for example). 
  • A puzzle fills the board and you're automatically given the letters R, S, T, L, N and E. Then you're allowed to guess 3 consonants and 1 vowel in effort to fill in the blanks.  Once Vanna has revealed any letters eligible you have 10 seconds to guess the puzzle.  Guess correctly and you win whatever is in the envelope plus everything else you've won during the previous rounds. If your guess is wrong then you leave with whatever you've won during the rounds excluding the bonus.
Simple, yet fun... unless you're watching an episode where a contestant wastes all their money on buying vowels!  Why?  Originally, the blocks had to be turned manually each time someone guessed the correct letter; however, over time the puzzle board was upgraded to touch screens.  The show started in 1975 with Pat Sajak and Vanna White joining in 1982... before my time.  I only remember Pat and Vanna -- they're irreplaceable, in my opinion.  Vanna never, as Taylor Swift would say, never ever ever ages.  It's crazy.

My childhood is packed full of memories watching Wheel of Fortune with my grandparents.  I remember staying with them while my parents worked late or attended various meetings or functions and at 7pm, like clockwork, my Papa would turn the volume up as soon as the news went off.  My Grandma would put her word search book down or come in from the kitchen after washing dishes and joined my brother and me as we attempted to guess along with the contestants.  I got better with each puzzle and before long, I was out-guessing my grandparents.  Watching it now instantly takes me back to being a little boy sitting 2 feet from the big box of a television they had and screaming answers at the screen.  Good times.

Now that I think about it, I'm not sure if I love the show so much for the challenge or the entertainment value or because of the nostalgic memories I recollect while watching.  It's interesting how we find ways to incorporate those that have passed back into our lives so that their spirit can still live on.  Consequently, I've added being a contestant on Wheel of Fortune to my...

If there's anyone out there that has (or knows someone that has or knows someone that knows someone that has) a connection -- hook up your boy.  Please!  I promise not to say "your boy" on air.  Or ever again, for that matter.

Image Sources:  Logo, Pat & Vanna, Puzzle Board


November 13, 2012

In less than 24 hours, Christina Aguilera will release Lotus - her fifth studio album.  As a five time Grammy Award winner (among many other awards), there's no doubt this lady can sing her face off.  It's been a while since we've heard her though... sure we heard her on that Maroon 5 song and she took it to another level, but she has much more to offer. MUCH more. She gave an in-person sneak peak of the album several days ago (you can find it here) and from what I've heard, it's worth picking up tomorrow.
The deluxe edition has 17 tracks including the first single Your Body.  When I first heard this song, I wasn't sold on the dance/club direction Christina seemed to be going in BUT after listening to it a few times, I was hooked.  With her voice, it really doesn't matter what she sings.  However, what really sold me on the song was when she performed it with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots (watch it here) and I prefer this version even with the makeshift office supply instruments.  I liked it so much that I re-tweeted the link days ago...
...Jimmy Fallon is hilarious.  As much as I hate to admit this, many children these days only know Christina as Xtina from The Voice (which makes me feel like a dinosaur since I remember when Genie in a Bottle came out and Christina was stepping all over Britney's toes).  For those kids, they'll be happy to hear that both Cee Lo and Blake Shelton are featured on this album, too.  I'm a huge fan of Cee Lo and so is Madison, especially his last album The Lady Killer (read about it here) so I was excited as I knew it would be great.  And it is.  Make The World Move will literally make you move.  Cee Lo and Christina's vocals are a match made in (studio) heaven, definitely one of the stand out tracks.  I'll admit I was nervous when I heard Christina mention during her publicity rounds that she did a song with Blake to "dabble in country music" as I wasn't quite sure how that would turn out... cast all doubt aside, it's great.  The reason I was hesitant about this collaboration wasn't that I couldn't hear Christina's voice on a country record because I absolutely could -- let me reiterate that with a voice like that, she can sing anything.  I was more concerned with how Blake would match her vocals and that she would outshine him in his own genre.  Boy was I wrong.  There was no cause for concern needed; he held his own and they made a beautiful song.  I would be very surprised if it wasn't released to radio at some point.  Of course, Christina has the standard ballads (Blank Page as an example) that allow her to demonstrate the control and restraint that only she can do. 

Bottom line, get the album if you want to hear some real singing.  We need someone slaying notes these days... radio is filled with auto-tuned fluff and it's past time to bring back the pipes.  Christina's album hits the shelves tomorrow, Mariah will be back in early 2013, we should open the vault to the late-great Whitney collection and give Celine a call.  Please!  (Adele just had a baby and released Skyfall so we should let her rest.)  If you're not familiar with Christina's past work, I recommend Stripped.  The entire album is pop perfection from beginning to end including the interludes.  If you only have time for one song, check out Mercy On Me from Back to Basics -- it's my favorite vocal performance of her entire career thus far.  Flawless.

Image Source:  Lotus, Stripped, Back to Basics


November 12, 2012

It’s Monday… again… which means we’re back to working for the weekend. But it also means the time has come to turn up the music! Music Mondays are a way for my house to get past the fact the week has started over and there are five more days to freedom. The wife and I turn up the tunes and get the little nugget dancing while we sing loudly (and badly). Typically, this happens as soon as we get home from work and continues through the preparation of dinner and into bedtime. Madison loves it! Since it is such a good time, I’ve declared it Music Monday on the ol’ blog, as well. Every Monday you can find an album (or song) review right here. The music could be old or new as long as it’s music, it’s fair game. So grab a hairbrush (or whisk, if you’re in the kitchen) for your microphone and throw on your dancing (bedroom) shoes… we’re kicking it off with Madison’s favorite CD of the last year.

The Lady Killer by Cee Lo Green. Extremely inappropriate for a one year old, I’m aware. I’m not sure if the little one likes it so much because the wife and I played it out during the pregnancy or what exactly the deal is… but she loves it. LOVES. IT. For the last year, it’s the only CD we have her permission to listen to if we’re traveling back from the weekly grandparents visit at night. Otherwise, we’re given a front row seat to the How-Loud-Can-She-Scream concert. As a result, I think Mr. Green should release this album again and title it the The Baby Whisperer.

Although some of the subject matter is not the best for a tot's ears, the music is great and the CD as a whole is probably among my list of favorites (said list may be posted at a later date – get excited). Since I’ve heard it 1,656,543 times at this point, I’m going to break it down for you track-by-track so you’ll know what to expect, what to play on repeat and what to skip altogether. You’re welcome.

  1. The Lady Killer Theme (Intro) Typical introduction to a themed album, but it's nothing worth listening to more than once.
  2. Bright Lights Bigger City  A fun song with a subtle Michael Jackson type beat.  Cee Lo performs it in somewhat of a speak-and-sing manner, but it will have you bobbing your head and/or tapping your foot by the second chorus.
  3. Forget You  If you have the unedited version... this song is called something else.  Regardless, it's probably considered his signature song since it put him on the map for most people who didn't know of him prior to.  It's a great song, catchy and easy to sing along to.  I think the background vocals are the best part.
  4. Wildflower  The longest track offered on this album at just over 4 minutes provides clever lyrics and almost makes you forget what he's talking about.  I'll admit I wasn't sold on this song right out the gate, but after a few listens it grew on me and is probably one of my favorites from this collection.
  5. Bodies  Witty yet kind of boring... you could skip.
  6. Love Gun  Brilliant.  This is a duet with Lauren Bennett and they both deliver.  It's a good time with great lyrics complimenting good music that flows with the whole "Lady Killer" theme.
  7. Satisfied  An old school vibe with background vocals provided a la Diana Ross and The Supremes style.  Cee Lo provides the verses then backs away and lets the ladies in the back do most of the work for the chorus.  It's fun.  It's bouncy.  It sounds like you've heard it before and you'll probably play it back again.
  8. I Want You  Here we finally get to experience Cee Lo open up vocally a little bit and take note that behind the crazy costumes and the sunglasses there's a real voice there.  This is another solid track and if you're pressed for time, one of the ones you should jump ahead to.
  9. Cry Baby  Warning: this song will get in your head and stay there for hours.  I find myself singing this song at the most random moments on various days.  It has a feel good beat even though the subject isn't exactly happy... a conflict that will have you from the first line. (If this makes you cry / Doll I didn't mean it.)
  10. Fool For You  My second favorite off the album.  The quick lyrical wit offered is often unparalleled these days and the chorus will bring you in and hold you there.  It's a really good song that evokes that feeling of helplessness that we all feel when in love and it does it well.
  11. It's OK  Another song that I skipped when I first listened to the CD, but again find myself going back to it wondering what I didn't like before.  It's about losing someone and still wanting them back... catchy, but the title says it all.  It's okay.
  12. Old Fashioned  Hands down the best track on the album.  It's kind of a hidden gem tucked away at the end, but it's the song to hear if you have to choose just one.  Cee Lo offers the best vocal performance of the entire compilation here and will leave you thinking that dude can sing!  The styling is a throwback, static mic, record type vibe but it's flawless from beginning to end. 
  13. No One's Gonna Love You  Another lost love song which gives me the impression behind the lady killer facade, Cee Lo has had his heart broken a time or two.  Nonetheless, it's very well written and captures the end of a relationship almost perfectly.
  14. The Lady Killer Theme (Outro)  Same as the intro, it bookmarks the album but just skip it and go back to track 12 or 10 instead.
Overall, it's an enjoyable album!  Regardless of whatever the current headlines say, Cee Lo is talented and this CD is evidence of that.  I highly recommend giving it a try if you haven't already.  Original and energetic with a throwback to the music that obviously influences and inspires Cee Lo.  Many other artists attempt to incorporate their inspiration and often fail miserably as a poor imitation yet here Cee Lo does it effortlessly.  However, we've played it out and I can't wait for another release from him to replace this one... at least for a while.  I'll more than likely pick up his Christmas album this holiday season; Christmas is a big deal around these parts and we try to add a new CD to the Christmas collection each year.  I'll be sure to let you know how it sounds (here).


November 5, 2012

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