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Jackson Millar

One Voice Among Friends (1999)

3.0

February 3, 2000

Tuning / Blend 4.2
Energy / Intensity 3.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 2.8
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 2.4
Tracks
1 One Voice 3.2
2 Do You Hear What I Hear 3.4
3 He Gave Us The Child 3.8
4 The Christmas Song 3.4
5 Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow 3.6
6 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas 3.2
7 Winter Wonderland 3.2
8 I'll Be Home For Christmas 3.2
9 White Christmas 3.0
10 Silver Bells 3.0
11 Silent Night/Joy to the World 2.6
12 It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year 3.2

Recorded 1999
Total time: 33:59, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 One Voice 4
2 Do You Hear What I Hear 5
3 He Gave Us The Child 4
4 The Christmas Song 5
5 Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow 5
6 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas 4
7 Winter Wonderland 4
8 I'll Be Home For Christmas 4
9 White Christmas 4
10 Silver Bells 4
11 Silent Night/Joy to the World 4
12 It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year 4

Take the Jackson Millar litmus test: Would you enjoy a Christmas album by Harry Connick Jr.?

If the answer is yes, you can buy this album with a good conscience, confident that you have chosen a winner. If the answer is no, nor would I give one to anyone I know, then you can push your electronic shopping cart elsewhere.

Actually, this album has one thing going for it that Harry might be hard-pressed to match: no string section. After all, it's a cappella. But Millar himself seems a standard-bearer of Harry Jr.'s tone and intonation, although it's possible a true fan of either might contest the comparison. I admit a certain level of unsophistication - I am the sort of person who would enjoy listening to these carols on the radio once a year, without ever needing to have them for my very own.

This album is great background music for a Christmas cocktail party (I don't throw many of those, either). It's well-tuned, well-blended and non-intrusive — very pleasant music. The backgrounds are "lush" — you know, that adjective people use when they write about the New York Voices or the Manhattan Transfer. It's an exemplar of this particular style of vocal jazz. Arrangements are reasonably interesting, well-performed and very safe. The choruses might well be Millar and a female buddy overdubbing themselves, or it may be six or seven different singers. Whatever, it's nice and it's blended, and unlikely to offend.

Pleasant. Solid. Likeable. Pull it out once a year and smile, secure in the knowledge that you have found a vastly preferable substitute to elevator carols. And have some happy holidays.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 One Voice 3
2 Do You Hear What I Hear 3
3 He Gave Us The Child 4
4 The Christmas Song 3
5 Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow 3
6 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas 3
7 Winter Wonderland 3
8 I'll Be Home For Christmas 3
9 White Christmas 3
10 Silver Bells 3
11 Silent Night/Joy to the World 1
12 It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year 3

Should a Jew review a Christmas album? My first reaction was "Heck no!" But then I thought about it some more and realized that despite how sick I get of Christmas, there are a some great holiday songs that even a grinch like myself can enjoy. Father Christmas, The Christians and the Pagans, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas leap to mind. And Jackson Millar has the decency to put the latter on his Christmas album. So heck yes, let's listen to some Christmas music!

How does the disc sound? My first reaction was "Oy! I've got more Christmas spirit than this guy!" Jackson Millar has a fine voice. It's warm and friendly and confident. But the performance of these songs is extremely white-bread. Not that I think every Christmas song should get the R&B treatment, but there ought to be some SPIRIT behind it. I can hear that these people are all smiling while they sing, but they don't really seem cheerful. They don't sound like they're caught up in the excitement of the season. For example, there's a moment at the end of Winter Wonderland where the song arrangement modulates and suddenly the sound is fuller, the chords are brighter. Suddenly, the arrangement becomes charming and playful. That's the real problem with the album. The whole album should be Joyful with a capital J. It should never suddenly become Merry — it should be that way from the first chord. Before I wrote this review, I watched A Muppet Christmas Carol to get into the mood. Jackson Millar could learn a lot from the Muppets. They dish out an endless stream of holiday songs with lighthearted glee. They're not the best singers in the world, but they excel at singing from the heart. You never doubt that they sincerely love Christmas. Kermit and Robin even have a nice little 20 second a cappella reprise of one of the songs that clearly illustrate that all you need to make a non-sacred holiday song work is good cheer and a sense of merriment.

Does Jackson Millar not care about Christmas? Far from it. A lot of careful work went into this album. The blend are all spot on, the production brings out the richness in the voices, the songs are well chosen. He even wrote an original which fits in nicely with the other material. On Silent Night he even tries TOO hard — when you have a simple and sublime song like that, why mess around and interject Joy to the World between the lines? Yes, Jackson Millar works it like a pro, but none of his careful work helps establish the proper mood.

Do you need to add this to your Christmas collection? Well, if you're looking for background music for a polite holiday meal, I suppose this is unobtrusive enough for the job. If you're looking for background music for a proper party with lots of friends, good wishes, and presents then you should look elsewhere.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 One Voice 3
2 Do You Hear What I Hear 3
3 He Gave Us The Child 3
4 The Christmas Song 3
5 Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow 3
6 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas 3
7 Winter Wonderland 3
8 I'll Be Home For Christmas 3
9 White Christmas 3
10 Silver Bells 3
11 Silent Night/Joy to the World 3
12 It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year 3

Jackson Millar's One Voice Among Friends is good news for easy listening show choir enthusiasts. Break out the holiday glitter vests and jazz hand gestures 'cause you'll need 'em for this one.

For those of you who find complicated jazz chords and ethnic rhythms distracting, take heart. One Voice is music from a simpler time, for a calmer people. This is music like the crooners used to sing. Sort of. It's the same category, but Mr. Jackson Millar doesn't quite turn a phrase like Mr. Bing Crosby or Mr. Frank Sinatra used to. But I'm sure lots of people won't be able to tell the difference. The vocal performances here are like fresh snow on a Christmas morning: clean and white and bright.

If you're looking for an edge to your music, I suggest you keep looking. But if the soothing sounds of elevator music bring you peace and harmony, and any news about Christ the Savior is good news, then this just might be the ticket for your Christmas Season.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 One Voice 2
2 Do You Hear What I Hear 3
3 He Gave Us The Child 4
4 The Christmas Song 3
5 Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow 3
6 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas 3
7 Winter Wonderland 3
8 I'll Be Home For Christmas 3
9 White Christmas 2
10 Silver Bells 2
11 Silent Night/Joy to the World 3
12 It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year 3

I was actually looking forward to this album....although my particular favorite flavor of a cappella tends to run towards distorted effects and grooving percussion, I have a soft spot for lush harmonic arrangements, especially when it's Christmas music. And I also have a passing familiarity with the work of Morgan Ames as an arranger.

And you know what? I liked the arrangements. There was nothing here on the level of a Mervyn Warren or Phil Mattson complexity, but the arrangements were solid and did the job very effectively, which is to put people in the holiday spirit. The background singers also did an admirable job. I wouldn't call them the next Singers Unlimited, but they come off as professional and they're having fun with the music.

My main issue with the album isn't with the friends, it's with Mr. Millar himself. First of all, he should change his name to Harry Manilow because his vocal delivery is telling me that "brother" Barry is a HUGE influence... and that's not a good thing, IMHO, because vocally, it sounds like it's pinching his voice a LOT. His tone seems very thin and nasal...every single solo the sound is in his nose. I don't know if that's what he's going for, but against the background, it's very jarring. I know you shouldn't blend too much with the background, but there are other ways to set your voice apart. There are also occasional pitch issues, such as flatness, that come across more with the nasality of the tone.

But you know, on one or two tracks, that would be tolerable, and there are a couple of songs that the style almost works for the song. But to have to hear it on every single song basically rammed every inadequacy into my head to the point where I stopped enjoying even the Christmas value of the song. And you know, that's no fun. I know a lot of my average scores are a balance between a good, solid background being brought down by poor solo delivery.

I would say pass on this...spend your Christmas buck on the Singers Unlimited Christmas or something similar. This album strikes me as a vanity project on Mr. Millar's part, and I'm sure he'll sell some discs as he sings his Christmas gigs...but honestly, there's nothing in this album that hasn't been done better elsewhere.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 One Voice 4
2 Do You Hear What I Hear 3
3 He Gave Us The Child 4
4 The Christmas Song 3
5 Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow 4
6 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas 3
7 Winter Wonderland 3
8 I'll Be Home For Christmas 3
9 White Christmas 3
10 Silver Bells 3
11 Silent Night/Joy to the World 2
12 It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year 3

It's somewhat odd to be listening so intently to a Christmas album a couple of months early. Yet, that's what I was presented with as Halloween approaches: an a cappella collection of Christmas music featuring Jackson Millar as the soloist on Christmas standards arranged by Morgan Ames. The collection of voices is Jackson Millar (One Voice) being backed up by 10 friends (Among Friends)...hence the title.

From the liner notes to the overall production, this is a remarkably crisp album. There is nothing that drags this collection down in the technical sense. However, I was disappointed that there wasn't anything spectacular in the recording. The overwhelming sense I had was that these standards were too familiar and that there was no image or sense that was brought out to make these songs fresh. The one original (track #3, He Gave Us The Child) is actually the one track that I started to connect with on this recording. The other tracks just don't convey a sense of grabbing me by the collar and saying, "Listen to me".

This correlates with the vibrato or lack thereof that Jackson uses...the standards which he sings straight and head on, sound very measured, while his original track sounds like he believes in the message he's conveying. The arrangements fall along the lines of traditional and quite pleasant, and the "friends" part of the equation do an admirable job of supporting Jackson. The technical aspects of any song that I am always careful to listen for are fulfilled here...THANK YOU!

Despite this, though, I cannot recommend this as an album to sit around the Christmas fire and listen to as the blaze crackles. This seems more like something you'd play in the background of a Christmas party. It is a pleasant album, just not spectacular.

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