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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Music Review: Sonos – SonoSings

There’s something about a cappella music that has kept me entertained since I discovered The Nylons while in high school. About five years ago I started listening to The Nylons again and stumbled onto the amazing array of college a cappella groups. The sheer variety and support for this genre is astounding. Since then, I’ve discovered groups like Toxic Audio, moosebutter, The House Jacks, Spiralmouth, Blue Jupiter, The Bobs, and many others. Some serious, some hilarious, but always the quality of arrangements for original songs and covers has been excellent.

[amazon-product]B002JCMZDC[/amazon-product]Now, with shows like Glee hitting television screens in September 2009 and tracks from that show rising to the top of iTunes‘ lists, this is turning out to be a great time for a cappella to show off great voices.

So when I heard that a group I’d not heard before was releasing a new album of covers, I knew I had to check it out. Sonos didn’t disappoint. SonoSings takes songs from Radiohead (“Everything in Its Right Place”), Sara Bereilles (“Gravity”), Rufus Wainwright (“Oh What a World”), Björk (“Joga”), Imogen Heap (“Come Here Boy”), and others and transforms them into compelling a cappella arrangements.

Sonos themselves was just founded in 2007 and consists of three women (Jessica Freedman, Rachel Bearer, and Katharine Hoye) and three men (Ben McLain, Chris Harrison, and Paul Peglar), all with amazing voices and from a variety of backgrounds. Hoye attended the Berklee School of Music before heading to UCLA. Harrison sang in UCLA group Awake A Cappella with Bareilles and both Freedman and Peglar. Bearer grew up singing opera and found a cappella at UCLA and USC. These folks don’t lack for talent. And by approaching a cappella from a new, younger direction, I think the group will gain an immediate following.

SonoSings consists of eleven great songs, but two of them on the album really stuck with me, burrowing deep into my brain to echo for a while…

“Gravity” features Bereilles, herself no stranger to a cappella. It’s great that even with her own budding career she could go back to her roots to help out her friends. There’s something organic about this arrangement and I find it hard to argue with Bereilles’ poetry sung so beautifully – “Set me free, leave me be / I don’t wanna fall another moment into your gravity…” With the rest of the voices, Bareilles fits right in.

“Come Here Boy” (originally by Imogen Heap) has some simply gorgeous harmonies that echo in my mind from beginning to end. This is the opposite side of “Gravity” with someone falling in love, not trying to get out of a relationship. And once again, the arrangement flows organically, each voice adding to the whole of the piece.

Though Sonos may not be for everyone, I think fans of a cappella will respond to another group shining the light on today’s music through beautiful harmonies and arrangements. Be sure to check out SonoSings at your favorite online or brick-and-mortar retailer today!

–Fitz

p.s. Be sure to pick up Sonos’ album today at Amazon!

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