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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Mannheim Steamroller

Fresh Aire Christmas

Review by Gary Hill

Featuring a sound that is well based in classical and traditional music, this album is rather progish at times. In fact, there are moments that call to mind such people as Rick Wakeman and Mike Oldfield. Mannheim Steamroller is essentially the creation of Chip Davis.

The musicians joining Davis on this release are Jackson Berkey, Eric Hansen, Ron Cooley, Bob Jenkins, Willis Ann Ross, Mary Walter, Steven Shipps, Arnie Roth, John Sharpe, David Low and Liz Westphalen.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Hark the Herald Angel Sings
Symphonic sounding, this one is quite classical (Renaissance era Davis says) and a bit bombastic in its approach.
Hark the Herald Angel Sings
Tied directly into the previous version, this one take on progish/jazzy textures and features a bouncy rhythm section.
Veni, Veni (O Come O Come Emanuel)
Chorale type vocals and tolling bells convey a texture of a Catholic Church rendition. More electric and progish textures enter, giving this one a very Wakemanesque texture overall. The mode returns to its original styles to end.
The Holly and the Ivy
Starting on winds, beautiful acoustic guitar takes over after a time. As the cut progresses it becomes lushly arranged and quite pretty.
Little Drummer Boy
Sleigh bells start this cut, which then becomes a pretty straightforward electro rendition of the song. After a time, it starts moving to more "real" instruments. Davis describes this transformation as part of his image of the song. He sees a toy soldier built in Santa's shop. Instead of a rifle, he is given a drum. The change from synthetic to acoustic symbolizes the soldier's transformation from artificial to living. This one ends with a somewhat lengthy percussion solo.
Still, Still, Still
Choir voices start this cut and that mode makes up the arrangement to the whole piece.
Lo How A Rose E'er Blooming
With a very church oriented intro, this cut has strong classical tones.
In Dulci Jubilo
A very medieval sort of mode makes up this cut, which is heavily based on harpsichord and acoustic guitar. This one is very entertaining and well arranged.
Greensleeves
Always a favorite of this reviewer, this piece is from around the time of Shakespeare. The melody of "Greensleeves" was taken to create the song "What Child Is This?" Steamroller begins this cut in very sedate tones, the gradually builds it to a wonderful majesty. This track alone is worth the price of admission.
Carol of the Bells
Another favorite of mine, the version here is quite dramatic and powerful, calling to mind the work of Mike Oldfield. The presence of tubular bells on this cut probably account for a lot of that connection. This one is a dramatic and powerful progish cut that includes some very intriguing twists and turns in its arrangement. One of the most intriguing segments is a combined sampled voice and percussion break.
Traditions of Christmas
A pretty and lush arrangement, this one is a Davis original composition. It really feels like home in the winter.
Cantique De Noel (O Holy Night)
Including a bit of Beethoven that Davis infused, this one is a pretty piano based cut with a strong classical arrangement. It takes on harder, more modern trends for a time, and then drops into a very sweet and sedate segment.
 
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