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Big Bing Theory

Gonzaga University

A BBT Christmas (2007)

2.7

June 16, 2008

Tuning / Blend 2.3
Energy / Intensity 3.0
Innovation / Creativity 2.7
Soloists 3.0
Sound / Production 2.7
Repeat Listenability 2.7
Tracks
1 I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas 3.0
2 Carol of the Bells 3.7
3 Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy 3.0
4 Immaculate Mary 3.7
5 Little Drummer Boy 3.0
6 Silver Bells 2.0
7 Carol of the Bells/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 4.0
8 Deck the Halls 3.0
9 I'll be Home for Christmas 2.3
10 Silent Night 3.7
11 Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer 2.7
12 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 2.7
13 O Christmas Tree [unlisted] 3.3
14 What Child is This [unlisted] 3.7
15 We Wish You a Merry Christmas [unlisted] 1.7

Recorded 2007
Total time: 37:06, 15 songs


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas 3
2 Carol of the Bells 4
3 Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy 3
4 Immaculate Mary 3
5 Little Drummer Boy 3
6 Silver Bells 2
7 Carol of the Bells/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 3
8 Deck the Halls 3
9 I'll be Home for Christmas 2
10 Silent Night 3
11 Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer 3
12 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 3
13 O Christmas Tree [unlisted] 3
14 What Child is This [unlisted] 3
15 We Wish You a Merry Christmas [unlisted] 2

Holiday albums aren't great for street credibility, but they tend to be pretty good for sales. Pro groups have been hip to this for years, but college groups have been slow to the party. The Big Bing Theory's newest is one of a very few collegiate Christmas records of my acquaintance, and I think it will turn out to be a great move for the group.

Tradition pretty much leads the day. The songs are classics. The arrangements are cheerful and not too far off the beaten path. Carol of the Bells is very appealing (pardon the pun), in its original form and as reimagined by Kirby Shaw. James McKelvy's Deck the Halls in 7/8 is always a crowd pleaser. And White Christmas? Can't miss. The novelty tracks are also cheerful and fun. Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer comes with a stocking full of extras from the Ministry of Silly Accents, and Jeff Funk's nice arrangement of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a welcome addition.

The singing? Well, it ranges from good to well-intentioned. The voices sound young and natural, even when there's audible studioing, and the intonation sounds live — which is to say rather less than perfect. Still, it's pleasant and upbeat, which counts for a lot at this level. And the songs are well organized. There's a good mix of fast and slow tunes, separated by some keyboard carols (Immaculate Mary, Carol of the Bells/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, O Christmas Tree and What Child Is This). I wish they'd gotten alum Sean Kane a real piano instead of that tinny electric thing, but he plays nicely and fills out the album well.

People like Christmas albums. They buy them at concerts — especially Christmas concerts — and they listen to them once every year or two. This is a lot more than your average audience member listens to his or her non-Christmas a cappella albums. So yeah, y'all go Big Bing Theory! A BBT Christmas was a great idea, and it's generally a pleasant listen.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas 3
2 Carol of the Bells 3
3 Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy 2
4 Immaculate Mary 3
5 Little Drummer Boy 3
6 Silver Bells 2
7 Carol of the Bells/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 4
8 Deck the Halls 3
9 I'll be Home for Christmas 2
10 Silent Night 3
11 Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer 2
12 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 2
13 O Christmas Tree [unlisted] 3
14 What Child is This [unlisted] 3
15 We Wish You a Merry Christmas [unlisted] 1

When it comes to Christmas albums, I can get admittedly quite Grinch-ish given the deluge of new holiday music each year from sundry rappers, American Idol castoffs, and so on. Dollar signs seem to bring out the devoutness in just about anybody. Seldom comes along the performer with the pipes to do these traditional tunes justice, or the artistic vision to give them new life.

The Big Bing Theory, a mixed group from the Ignatian university Gonzaga, has liner notes and photos bursting with Christmas spirit. It's just too bad the music doesn't quite live up to the sentiment. Holiday music doesn't tend to push singers to their limits (Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, and other shriek-bots excluded of course), and so A BBT Christmas avoids the more awful tuning issues that seemed to plague their secular, previous album Your Mom. But there are enough moments that still betray the weaknesses of BBT's singers, who don't quite have the expansive musical imagination to compensate.

A BBT Christmas throws in a sprinkling of every tried-and-true holiday music approach, with too many corresponding misfires. The more standard choir-style arrangements expose blend issues and sloppy singing, particularly from overly strident sopranos. The more creative arrangements change around rhythms and chords with no real direction or vision, often exacerbated by a mechanical lack of phrasing. The risk of putting a set of piano instrumentals on an a cappella album paid off here thanks to some jazzy, inspired arranging (discloser: I am a huge fan of the incomparable Vince Guaraldi, and an annual devotee of the Charlie Brown Christmas special); but it's a Pyrrhic victory as the instrumental tracks end up being the best of the album. And the forced "humor" closer is aggravatingly awkward.

Wish I could tell you that my heart grew three sizes listening to this album, but this is one to skip. More attention to the basics and a little bit more creative discipline might bring some BBT joy to Whoville next year.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas 3
2 Carol of the Bells 4
3 Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy 4
4 Immaculate Mary 5
5 Little Drummer Boy 3
6 Silver Bells 2
7 Carol of the Bells/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 5
8 Deck the Halls 3
9 I'll be Home for Christmas 3
10 Silent Night 5
11 Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer 3
12 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 3
13 O Christmas Tree [unlisted] 4
14 What Child is This [unlisted] 5
15 We Wish You a Merry Christmas [unlisted] 2

The Big Bing Theory has released a stock Christmas album, thick on traditional standards with a few twists for Christmas Eve excitement.

One can definitely imagine this group, singing this album, at a mall in December. Picture them in front of the big local department store, clumped together, merrily bouncing to their music in red and green shirts. Their diction is crisp, their delivery earnest, their selections beloved favorites heavy on the choral arranging style. It adds fine ambience to one's holiday experience. Don't stop and linger too long, though, because you'll notice intermittent tuning issues, and some unpleasant blending when the group gets sloppy (you should probably leave for a nog run before they get to Silver Bells).

If you do listen awhile, something quite magical will happen in front of that department store: a BBT alumnus named Sean Kane will step out of the audience and sit in front of the mall's rented piano. He'll play incredible Christmas arrangements (five on this album!) with great expression and skill. You'll forget all about your Christmas list and feel a twinge of guilt for not putting any money in their donation kettle, as this kid is truly amazing and deserves endless praise. And why haven't you placed any money in that kettle yet? Well, the truth is, this is a pretty average a cappella group. But boy, can that pianist spread tidings of comfort and joy.

And so, should you decide to purchase their album for a stocking stuffer, do keep in mind that the recipient will likely favor the non-vocal tracks. This is perhaps an unfortunate outcome for an a cappella group, but at least their album truly encompasses a sense of Christmas spirit.


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