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The Blenders

Nog (1997)

4.6

August 20, 2000

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 4.2
Innovation / Creativity 3.8
Soloists 4.2
Sound / Production 4.8
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 The Christmas Song 4.2
2 Do You Hear What I Hear 4.2
3 Let It Snow 4.2
4 The First Noel 4.2
5 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 4.2
6 The Little Drummer Boy 4.0
7 Angels We Have Heard On High 4.0
8 Christmas Time Is Here 3.6
9 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 4.4
10 Silent Night 4.2

Recorded 1997
Total time: 36:35, 10 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 The Christmas Song 4
2 Do You Hear What I Hear 4
3 Let It Snow 5
4 The First Noel 3
5 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 4
6 The Little Drummer Boy 3
7 Angels We Have Heard On High 2
8 Christmas Time Is Here 2
9 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 5
10 Silent Night 3

If you buy only one Christmas album this year (and does anybody need more that one?) you should make that album Nog. The Blenders have mixed up a largely enjoyable mug of holiday goodness. The sound arrangements are simple — perhaps more simple than you'd expect from The Blenders — and are performed in a straightforward manner. The songs generally sound direct and sincere, and that's just what a Christmas album should be.

The Blenders do slip on an icy patch here and there. Angels We Have Heard on High and Christmas Time is Here are back to back doses of dullness. (Simple arrangements don't have to be boring.) The CDs closing track, Silent Night starts promisingly enough with a nice natural sound, but once the lyrics kick in, the sound becomes too polished to sound heartfelt. It is suddenly all about the blend and not at all about Christmas.

One could argue that The Little Drummer Boy sounds stupid with vocal percussion. (The Little Vocal Percussionist?) Maybe so, but The Little Drummer Boy sounds absolutely idiotic with a drum machine! In addition to going against the material at hand — a song about a boy with a drum, the fake, tin-like sound is in direct conflict with the natural a cappella sound. Light percussion (from good old-fashioned acoustic percussion instruments) appears elsewhere on the album without being too distracting, but on The Little Drummer Boy The Blenders use percussion as a crutch that hold up the arrangement. It's a shame, because there is the basis for a great arrangement in there somewhere.

On a more positive note, The Blenders do a great job of offsetting the simple arrangements with fun sound effects. I particularly like the line that "Santa" phones in on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The crying baby Jesus on The First Noel is a bit inappropriate, but otherwise, The Blenders use background noise effectively. Their refreshing funny spin on Let It Snow (they sing it as lounge singers) puts crowd noises to good use. It should be noted that even though they're turning Let It Snow into a joke, none of the humor is at the expense of the original song. In fact, between laugh lines, they nicely bring out the song's naughtier side.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 The Christmas Song 3
2 Do You Hear What I Hear 4
3 Let It Snow 4
4 The First Noel 5
5 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 4
6 The Little Drummer Boy 3
7 Angels We Have Heard On High 5
8 Christmas Time Is Here 4
9 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 3
10 Silent Night 5

I can think of no better arena for the the deployment of The Blenders' harmonious forces than this sort of music. Although my own knowledge of such music is limited to the tenor line on Silent Night and the classic Batman version of Jingle Bells, I know when I'm in the presence of excellence.

Obviously, the guys get their chance to blend, and do so seamlessly throughout. The Christmas music also gives them the opportunity to play with a range of tempos, rhythms and styles, all to great result. Especially impressive are two slow pieces, The First Noel and Silent Night. Although slow, each is so majestically energetic as to demand attention, and so lushly harmonized (and possibly overdubbed?) as to force even the most die-hard "vocal band" fan (my friend Roy) into admitting that "this is what a cappella is all about".

In the nature of Christmas albums, it is subject to certain limitations. I have almost no reason to listen to this outside of a couple of weeks during the year; "repeat listenability" thus cannot be very high. And while the group has a free hand in some arrangements, most are tried and true, with perhaps some harmonic seasoning to frame the melodies many of us know by heart.

A great example of a cappella, and a fine addition to any afficionado's collection (Christmas or otherwise).


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 The Christmas Song 5
2 Do You Hear What I Hear 4
3 Let It Snow 5
4 The First Noel 4
5 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 4
6 The Little Drummer Boy 5
7 Angels We Have Heard On High 4
8 Christmas Time Is Here 4
9 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 5
10 Silent Night 4

Somehow, The Blenders have figured out all of my favorite holiday classics and put them (finally!) onto one compilation disc. ;-) As if proving their psychic abilities weren't enough, The Blenders' arrangements, production, and performance are just sparkling with joyous splendor, cheer, and musicality.

If I had to choose favorites, I'd have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the humorous "live" version of the Polynesian-themed Let It Snow and the happy-go-lucky Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The Christmas Song is arranged in a more upbeat, contemporary pop style, remaking the originally melancholy tune into a finger-snapping jingle. Go Blenders! On the downside, I wish that The Blenders had done a little more with Angels We Have Heard On High and Christmas Time Is Here. While there's nothing wrong with these tracks, per say, they don't exhibit the exciting uniqueness of arrangement that the other songs display on Nog.

Delightfully, The Blenders keep the track list small. Since the catalog of similarly-themed albums is particularly large, it's nigh impossible to listen to Nog without comparing it to its contemporaries (i.e. m-pact's Carol Commission, The Nylons' A Wish For You). I have to say it compares quite well (although there's nothing quite like m-pact's Carol of the Drum), due mostly to the album's aforementioned top-quality tuning, arrangements, and production.

If you like holiday music, get this disc! I'm probably going to play it quite a bit myself....regardless of season.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 The Christmas Song 5
2 Do You Hear What I Hear 5
3 Let It Snow 4
4 The First Noel 5
5 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 5
6 The Little Drummer Boy 4
7 Angels We Have Heard On High 5
8 Christmas Time Is Here 5
9 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 5
10 Silent Night 5

The Blenders have pulled off yet another fine recording. This time, they've decided to join the fray and release an album full of Christmas music. I really liked this album despite the two strikes it had against it going into my listening sessions: 1) It's AUGUST, and 2) I'm Jewish. But anyways...

Those boys from up north really can sing. The harmonies are tight and bright. I really liked all of the traditional arrangements but anytime the guys try to get a little funky or silly, it just winds up sounding kind of stupid. Take track #3, Let It Snow, for instance: the cheesy crooner solo, the spoken lyrics section ("a beautiful sight, we're flying a kite!"), and the call for Freebird at the end. But still, through all the freaky fromage, they still sound great (I'll just skip that track from now on). There are also a couple tracks that feature percussion. I'm pretty sure it's a drum machine but I don't see anything of the sort listed in the credits. I'm not a big fan of a cappella with drum machine. Sounds very karaoke-ish to me.

The sound production is wonderful. Their intonation is wonderful. Everything is just wonderful. I can picture people (mostly parents) all around the country putting this album on while they trim their tree. Lose the freaky track and maybe the tracks with percussion and you've got yourself a very nice album.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 The Christmas Song 4
2 Do You Hear What I Hear 4
3 Let It Snow 3
4 The First Noel 4
5 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 4
6 The Little Drummer Boy 5
7 Angels We Have Heard On High 4
8 Christmas Time Is Here 3
9 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 4
10 Silent Night 4

Mmmm....The Blenders. These four boys have a large and deserved fan base, who have, no doubt, snatched up their copy of Nog already. The rest of you looking to add some Xmas a cappella into your holiday mix had better follow suit.

Nog gives us what we've come to expect from this group: lush, warm production, rich vocals, and inventive arrangements that never distract from the song itself. The leads sing clearly, and no single voice ever stands out.

The Blenders also manage the admirable feat of making each song their own without taking away those aspects of the song that made them so popular (a rare occurrence on Christmas albums, especially a cappella ones). A touch of percussion instruments works nicely, as does a crying baby on First Noel. And the Let It Snow calypso version is a treat.

If I had one caveat, it's that they use a similar "oo"-style intro on so many tracks. But if your a cappella collection is in need of some Christmas cheer, or you are, throw in Nog and let the Blenders make a fan out of you.

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