Music Review: Sonos – December Songs

Hi all…

This has to be a first… I’ve found TWO Christmas albums this year I actually can stand! Is the Grinch melting or are people simply starting to go beyond traditional arrangements of boring old Christmas tunes?

Over the last ten years I’ve only found a handful of holiday-themed albums that have really clicked for me. Traditional albums filled with Christmas classics tend to stay to the tried-and-true arrangements of the same songs we’ve heard for years now. So when I find an artist that breaks the mold, either with humor, new arrangements, or new songs, I tend to take more notice.

Sonos, an a cappella group that came onto the scene in 2009, has released an album of Christmas music called December Songs and it’s striking in its gorgeous vocal arrangements and choice of songs. They’ve been busy, performing in live sessions on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Studio 360, KCRW, BBC Americana, Sirius/XM, and many others – as well as performing at the Sundance Music Festival. With all of that, it’s amazing they had a chance to get into the studio to record a holiday album. And all ten songs lend a grace and harmony to the season that adds a bit of magic back to Christmas for me.

“Ave Maria” starts off the album beautifully, adding motion to a song usually done much more slowly. Always a song rich with emotional overtones, Sonos has managed to add new life making it more of a bright and cheerful celebration than the usual dark and steady pace the song is normally performed set to.

They follow that up with “All on a Christmas Morning,” a song from the 1940s that I’d never heard before telling the story of the babe in the manger in Bethlehem. I love the opening which sounds a bit like a variation of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” but merges seamlessly with the lyrics “O, they a vision fair would view / Would find the beautiful and true, / And faith and hope and love renew / All on a Christmas morning.”

But funny enough to me it’s the traditional songs “O Holy Night” and “Greensleeves” that stuck with me after listening a few times. This is the first rendition of “O Holy Night” that I can remember not making me cringe. There’s a power to the arrangements as they transition from a duet with backups to the fuller chorus and the rich vocal accompaniment. And their version of “Greensleeves” without words provides some interesting textures to enhance the basic melodies that made this a unique arrangement.

Whether you’re a fan of a cappella music, Christmas music, or are simply looking for something to brighten your holidays, please check out December Music from Sonos. The album is available now from Amazon and CD Baby online. Be sure to check out their website at Sonosings.com.

For a review of Sonos last album – Sonosings – be sure to check out my review here.

This review appeared first at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out these albums from Barnes & Noble and Amazon!

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The Sing Off starts December 6 on NBC!

Hey all…

Just to whet your appetite, here are a few videos from The Sing Off, which starts back up Wednesday December 6 on NBC at 8/7c.

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These bands are going to have to work pretty hard to beat last year’s crew, but hopefully they’re up to the challenge!

–Fitz

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NBC Brings back The Sing-Off for a 2nd season!

Since the first time I was introduced to The Nylons in high school and then saw them in concert every time they came to town (for a few years anyway), the purity of music composed entirely of sounds made by the human voice has captured a part of my musical spirit. Off and on I’ve listened to songs from groups like The Bobs, Moosebutter, and Toxic Audio (who can beat songs like “Spontaneous Human Combustion” done a cappella?).

And last year, NBC surprised me by airing a TV competition for a cappella groups. We watched every episode and enjoyed them all – especially the season finale that featured Bobby McFerrin singing with the last three groups standing.

I honestly wasn’t expecting The Sing-Off to return, but I’m excited that it’s coming back. Hopefully the ten groups competing will raise the roof with their talented voices. Be sure to tune in on December 6, 2010!

Here’s NBC’s press release from this week regarding the show:

NBC’S A CAPPELLA SINGING EVENT ‘THE SING-OFF’ RETURNS FOR A SECOND SEASON WITH HOST NICK LACHEY, PREMIERING MONDAY, DECEMBER 6

Ten Groups from Across the Country will Compete for the Grand Prize of a Sony Music Recording Contract and $100,000

Five-Night Holiday Event Series to Feature Returning Celebrity Judges Ben Folds (Ben Folds Five), Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men) and Nicole Scherzinger (The Pussycat Dolls) with a special performance by 2009 winner, Nota

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. – October 21, 2010 – Multi-platinum recording artist Nick Lachey is set to return as host of NBC’s upcoming a cappella singing competition series, “The Sing-Off,” a five-night holiday event premiering Monday, December 6 (8-10 p.m. ET). The one-of-a-kind battle of voices will continue on December 8, 13 and 15, culminating in a live finale on December 20 (8-10 p.m. ET each night).

The 10 a capella groups competing for the $100,000 prize and a Sony Music recording contract are:

  • Committed from Huntsville, Alabama – Committed is dedicated to creating unique harmonies with powerful lead vocals and a booming bass line.
  • Eleventh Hour from Kettering, Ohio – Recognized as one of the nation’s top high school a cappella groups, their studio recordings have been featured on Best of High School A Cappella and have won two Contemporary A Cappella Recording Academy awards.
  • Pitch Slapped from Boston, Massachusetts – Hailing from the Berklee College of Music, Pitch Slapped offers a distinctive sound and infectious energy, with a unique grasp on a cappella that is apparent in their arrangements, solos, and overall sound.
  • Groove For Thought from Seattle, Washington – Their infectious grooves, stunning arrangements and electrifying solos are just some of the phrases used to described this group.
  • Jerry Lawson & Talk Of The Town from Oakland, California – Eager to show America where a cappella started, these music veterans bring the true soul of music to the stage.
  • Men Of Note from Cherry Hill, New Jersey – This all-male group of eight is comprised of Cherry Hill High School West alumni, where the group was first founded.
  • The Backbeats from Los Angeles, California – Comprised of a cappella singers from USC and UCLA, this group of twenty-something’s incorporates their disparate styles and tastes into one synthesized sound fused together by their love of Pop, R&B and Soul.
  • On The Rocks from Eugene, Oregon – From the University of Oregon, On The Rocks has had great viral success with videos featured on various websites, with more than 6.5 million views of their popular rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”
  • Street Corner Symphony from Nashville, Tennessee – They offer a diverse repertoire, while maintaining their rich heritage in gospel music.
  • Yale University, The Whiffenpoofs from New Haven, Connecticut – From Yale University and founded in 1909, the “Whiffs” are comprised of 14 senior year men and are the world’s oldest collegiate a cappella group.

For additional details on each group including photos, please log on to WWW.NBCUMV.COM/SING-OFF.

“The Sing-Off” will feature a cappella groups performing popular songs from various genres, arranged and sung like you’ve never heard before. There is no lip-synching, back-up band or safety net. Ultimately, America will decide the winning group.

During last season, the four December telecasts of “The Sing-Off” averaged a 2.5 rating, 7 share in adults 18-49 and 7.3 million viewers overall. The December 21 finale attracted NBC’s biggest overall viewership in the time period in more than three months.

Returning celebrity judges Ben Folds who recently released the CD “Lonely Avenue,” a collaboration with novelist Nick Hornby, Shawn Stockman and Nicole Scherzinger will critique each performance, narrowing down the finalists to the top three groups competing for America’s vote.

Returning for a special performance will be Nota, the winner of the show’s freshman season in 2009.

In conjunction with the second season of “The Sing-Off,” Epic Records will be releasing digital tracks of each group’s performance immediately following the airing of each episode. All 10 competing groups from the upcoming season will also be featured on “The Sing-Off: Harmonies for the Holidays” being released by Epic Records on November 30.

Nota has distinguished itself among a cappella groups with its fusion of various musical styles evident in its self-titled debut album, to be released in November 2, 2010. They are currently wrapping up Shakira’s Sale el Sol U.S. tour where they performed as the opening act to rave reviews and incredible reactions. Their album includes R&B and pop influences blended with Latin rhythms like mereingue, bachata, and samba, which create a sound that is unique and original. The sextet takes a new approach to familiar songs, covering “I Gotta Feeling,” “Down,” “I Need to Know” and “My Girl,” as well as original songs written by the group.”

“The Sing-Off” is produced by Tenth Planet Productions, Outlaw Productions and Sony Pictures Television. Joel Gallen, Deb Newmyer and Sam Weisman are executive producers. Josh Greenberg serves as co-executive producer.

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