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Octappella

Octappella Christmas (2007)

3.7

December 3, 2008

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 3.7
Innovation / Creativity 3.3
Soloists 3.3
Sound / Production 3.7
Repeat Listenability 3.0
Tracks
1 Mary's Little Boy Child 3.7
2 Come and See 3.3
3 O Come All Ye Faithful 4.0
4 Let it Snow 4.0
5 Stars Were Gleaming 3.3
6 Whisper, Whisper! 3.3
7 O Come O Come Emmanuel 3.3
8 Sleigh Ride 4.0
9 O Holy Night 3.7
10 Christmas Time 3.7
11 Child of God 3.7
12 Once in Royal David's City 3.7
13 Joy to the World 3.7
14 Bonus Track 3.0

Recorded 2006 – 2007
Total time: 45:00, 14 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Mary's Little Boy Child 3
2 Come and See 2
3 O Come All Ye Faithful 4
4 Let it Snow 4
5 Stars Were Gleaming 3
6 Whisper, Whisper! 2
7 O Come O Come Emmanuel 3
8 Sleigh Ride 4
9 O Holy Night 3
10 Christmas Time 3
11 Child of God 3
12 Once in Royal David's City 3
13 Joy to the World 3
14 Bonus Track 2

Props to Octappella for its foresight. It takes keen forecasting to know you need to submit in the middle of July to have a RARB review of a holiday album out near Christmas. As it currently 'tis the season, Octapella Christmas is a nice diversion from the usual rock/pop. Ultimately, the album isn't transcendent but pleasant.

Octapella Christmas is well sung. Blend is quite good, even if these men seem to have a lot of computerized help in the tuning department. I especially enjoyed the bass, which is chewy, robust, and full of life. Percussion was also a highlight for me, with a natural, organic sound that fit well with the holiday fare. Arrangements won't be winning innovation awards, though the occasionally funky flair (for instance, O Come All Ye Faithful) was pretty neat. But not getting too creative with Christmas music is probably a decent move from a sales perspective.

Still, I didn't really enjoy Octapella Christmas. I will acknowledge this is more my own preference than anything wrong with the album. I’ll admit, when it comes to Christmas music, I am a traditionalist. I like my Christmas music to come from someone with a "Sir" in front of his name, and this album is pretty far from Rutter or Wilcox. Indeed, with each listen I was struck by the overwhelming cheesiness of Octapella Christmas. If you like diphthongs in your Latin ("O come eeeemmanuel"; "Gloria in excelceeeees"; plus "O night deeeevine"; etc.) and hard "r"s in your "Lorrrrds" and "Glorrrries", Octapella Christmas is a safe bet. For me, I just found it too much like a mediocre pop record. Plus, it was impossibly cheery.

(I would like to note, on my review of Octappella's last album Worship, I said their arrangements sounded like "most generically cheesified of arrangers, Sally and Jay." Octapella Christmas features an arrangement by no other than Jay Althouse himself!)

So Octapella Christmas wasn’t for me. But for many, cheesy and Christmas go together better than fruit and cake. I'm going to put Octapella Christmas in my mom's stocking this year, and she'll love it. But with nothing outstanding to distinguish it, Octapella Christmas offers a pleasant diversion that would work fine as background music at your office holiday party but won’t be pulled out year-round.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Mary's Little Boy Child 4
2 Come and See 4
3 O Come All Ye Faithful 5
4 Let it Snow 4
5 Stars Were Gleaming 3
6 Whisper, Whisper! 4
7 O Come O Come Emmanuel 4
8 Sleigh Ride 5
9 O Holy Night 4
10 Christmas Time 5
11 Child of God 4
12 Once in Royal David's City 4
13 Joy to the World 4
14 Bonus Track 3

Octappella Christmas is a thorough and nicely delivered collection of holiday music from an all-male septet. Your holiday favorites are here, plus a visit from a children's choir and some originals, too.

Happy, mid- to fast-tempo songs are definitely Octappella's forte. A catchy bass slide hooks the listener in O Come All Ye Faithful, and soloist Matt Cropper's gorgeous tenor pining keeps the energy sizzling for some serious angel choir exultation. Peppy Let it Snow follows, and continues to delight and embody what you'd hope for from the Christmas classic. Jazzy Whisper, Whisper! is another solid offering. Perhaps the strongest arrangement is exciting Sleigh Ride, complete with fun horse clomps and a spot-on performance from every member, most especially powerhouse soloist Wes Brewer. (He turns in a lot of excellent work on Octappella Christmas, and his original Christmas Time is outstanding. The verses are nicely sentimental, the melody is lovely, and the overall effect makes for a perfect Christmas favorite.)

When these guys are smiling and rocking, they're really on. A few issues keep Octappella Christmas from being a full stocking. The tuning is occasionally questionable and the soloist sounds shaky on Stars Were Gleaming. O Holy Night, an evolving arrangement, starts out with great promise — a nice pull to keep things moving, with interesting twists on the original — but the big money chords at the end (starting at 2:58 and beyond) need to be tighter and more "whoa!" to make the evolving arrangement pay off. Finally, the amusing bonus track consists of the guys singing bits of every Christmas tune they can think of, but the antics carry on too long. Sometimes it's best to end with Joy to the World and leave it at that.

If you're looking for a nice Christmas album to play at year's end, Octappella Christmas fits the bill.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Mary's Little Boy Child 4
2 Come and See 4
3 O Come All Ye Faithful 3
4 Let it Snow 4
5 Stars Were Gleaming 4
6 Whisper, Whisper! 4
7 O Come O Come Emmanuel 3
8 Sleigh Ride 3
9 O Holy Night 4
10 Christmas Time 3
11 Child of God 4
12 Once in Royal David's City 4
13 Joy to the World 4
14 Bonus Track 4

Octappella's Christmas album reminds me of Santa at the mall. The jolly guy you see in the food court is cute, charming, and most importantly, full of Christmas spirit. So too is this album. Yet, like Santa at the mall, there's something that feels just a little off to the discerning passerby. That's not really Santa is it? Like St. Nick of Nordstrom, your enjoyment of this album is probably going to be directly proportional to how much you want to let slide in the spirit of the season. If you're not into nitpicking, then you're in for a holiday treat.

I have to be fair and give a lot of credit to these guys. They have released an album that is full of genuine joy and great musical moments. They clearly have fun doing what they do, and they've taken the time to imbue this recording with the fondness that they each must feel for the season. That's as high praise as I can think of for a Christmas album, and I hope Octappella is proud of this release.

Guys, I want to get to the nitty gritty to help you knock it out of the park next time. As I listened through the entire work, I noticed that for every moment I marveled at a cool turn in an arrangement, there was also a time where I scrunched my nose at a soloist singing just a little out of time. For every gorgeous add 9 chord that warmed my heart, the scrooge in my head picked on a voice whose timbre stood out just enough to throw the next chord off. Putting out a Christmas album puts you in the company of some heavy hitters. Compared to the likes of Naturally Seven and Eclipse, Octapella Christmas doesn't have the polish or the vocal star power to stand out of the pack.

Now, does that mean they won't be a fine addition to your holiday collection? Not at all. Unfortunately, it's just not the best of what's out there. To take the next step, attention to detail is crucial. I would challenge Octappella to retain all the charm of this album while improving solo delivery and blend in the backgrounds. The vocal percussion, while good, could use a little more volume and body to support the sound. The heart is there, and in the end that's the most important element. If Octappella can match their vocal delivery with their spirit, then their next album will be one for the ages.

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