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This Glorious Christmas
Artist: the Annie Moses Band
Label: manAlive Records / Reunion Records
Time: 12 tracks / 47:30
The Annie Moses Band is no stranger to Christmas music, having already given us three memorable collections of holiday standards and Wolaver family originals performed in their unique ‘chamber pop’ style. This year, the band assembles their best seasonal treats and gives us something old, something new, something ‘borrowed,’ and even one red, white and blue bonus track, on their Reunion Records release, This Glorious Christmas.
For those who are unfamiliar with the band (and there are too many that fall into that category), This Glorious Christmas will serve as an introduction to the amazing Wolaver family: Annie (lead vocals, violin), Alex (viola, Background vocals), Benjamin (cello, comedy), Gretchen (violin, mandolin) and Camille (harp, keyboards). The precocious siblings handle their father’s dazzling arrangements (Bill Wolaver writes, arranges and plays piano) under the watchful eye of Robin (mom) Wolaver, who is also a vocalist and lyricist with the group. If Christmas is about family, then the Annie Moses Band is about Christmas – the result is a Christmas album that’s as warm as a stone hearth and as exciting as a sleigh ride. Thanks to the recent partnership with Reunion records, the Annie Moses Band will hopefully get the exposure they deserve.
Like all Annie Moses Band albums, this is music that will appeal most of all to those who value family and their Christian heritage, and have a wide enough musical framework to be able to incorporate classical, jazz, and pop styles into their musical aesthetic. There are instrumental tracks here as well as tracks with vocals. The jazz swings hard enough and the strings thrill enough to take the edge off of the adult contemporary mode that the group flirts with. This is a family that values excellence – and it shows. Don’t look for rough edges here. This is intricately arranged, superbly performed music featuring soaring, swirling strings, airy, well-controlled voices, intensely jazzy moments, and timeless Christmas themes. The well-known classics are uniquely rendered and the Wolaver’s original songs are meaningful songs, and passionately presented.
At this time of revisiting friends and family the Annie Moses Band revisits the best of their previous Christmas albums. This Glorious Christmas is more than simply a ‘best of’ collection – the ‘old’ tracks have been remastered and sound warm and inviting, the new tracks are delightful and inventive, the tracks they’ve ‘borrowed’ from themselves and re-worked sound fresh and inspired and the bonus track, “Red, White and Blue,” resurrected from the Message in a Baby album, is infused with new levels of meaning.
Even if you own the group’s previous Christmas projects, This Glorious Christmas deserves to be on your Christmas giving or receiving list. It’s a condensed collection of well-chosen highlights and new surprises. The newly-recorded “Sussex Carol Vocal Intro” transports you to a classic Christmas straight out of Dickens. Another new recording to the Wolaver canon, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a soaring, jazzy, yet reverent re-imagining of the well-known anthem, a fitting companion-piece to the Bethlehem: House of Bread CD’s “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which, like “Little Baby,” is re-worked and newly recorded for this new release. The album’s bonus track, “Red, White and Blue,” a forties nightclub-style song dealing with the often-used theme of a soldier away from home for the holidays, could very well garner nation-wide attention if promoted properly – the timing is right and the song is memorable and emotionally moving thanks to great words, a solid melody and a fine vocal performance by Annie.
This Glorious Christmas, by the Annie Moses Band, is a glorious collection of songs that will help to make your Christmas, well …glorious.
The notion of classical music in the contemporary Christian marketplace probably militates against the idea of a contemporary Christian marketplace, what with the aspiration of CCM to appeal to the pop-listening masses in and outside the church. This, despite of the fact that believers continue working in modern art music and the non-believing composers who find inspiration in Scripture.
Crossover classical, however, is another subject altogether. Mix the class and erudition of classical music with the flash appeal of popular music, the rustic appeal of folk music, or whatever else to lessen the edge of the aforementioned class and erudition, and the masses beyond symphony season ticket subscribers may take the bait. Go ask Josh Groban if you doubt me.
But enough of him already, anyway. The co-ed siblings of the Annie Moses Band (named for a grandmother) have more than enough going on for themselves on their second Christmas album-first with a DVD, acting as an introduction to them for CCM'ers unaware of their back catalog-to commend them over putting Groban's Noel into rotation again this year.
The three sisters' and two Wolver brothers' virtuosity on their respective bowed and strummed instruments is at least serviceable enough, and probably more so, to get them bookings in orchestra halls should they want to forego the church gigging they now do. Their parents capably write seasonally appropriate material of a melodic and textual caliber to merit remakes in the years to come;the third of mom and dad's contributions sounds particularly apropos for spouses at least temporarily widowed by their other halves serving overseas military duty.
The clan's jazzy flourishes and poppier songcraft augment their more formal training in tasty ways as well. Not often does This Glorious Christmas fall into the space where it could be mistaken for the kind of faux classical easy listening that my favorite Chritsian talk radio station runs when nobody's talking. Those who routinely reach for Manheim Steamroller or Trans Siberian Orchestra come the Friday after Thanksgiving Day would likely fall for the Wolvers for those times they don't want as much bombast.
What really sells the group to my ears, however, is Annie Wolver's voice. Her soprano embodies the drama and fragility Kate Bush and Sarah Brightman, or perhaps Kristen Chenoweth, use to draw listeners into their flights of fancy, but with a gentler touch. Neither does it hurt that she and her sisters have the kind of WASPy prettiness that, for better or worse, has come to be associated with classical music. Better, in this instance, I'd say. No comment on boys in the band from this writer who shares their gender.
If only because they fill a unique niche in commercial Christendom, it's easy to root for Annie Moses's grandkids. That they're making uniquely worthwhile music helps as well.
Jamie Lee Rake