by Helen Park
Long before the snow started to fall, more than a dozen local jazz, gospel, rock and R&B musicians came together in the true spirit of holiday giving, with the aim of benefiting childhood cancer research at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Said efforts have been compiled in the 16 tracks of Season of Hope, a collection that includes Christmas faves both secular and religious. Although any comp covering this range is bound to have some lumps of coal, Season of Hope tastefully compiles holiday music from a huge gamut of Detroit-area musical sources and is a testament to the awareness, talent and diversity of its contributors.
The contribution from the Brothers Groove, “My Favorite Time of Year,” is one standout, a tuneful strut of organ-heavy soul that romps though charming, original details of the season. Led by the distinctive vocals of keyboardist Chris Codish, the Brothers Groove wisely employ the Motor City Horns, who offer smart arrangements that give the song chipper immediacy.
The record’s true gems come in more subdued packaging. The instrumental “Ding! Dong! Merrily on High” performed on solo piano by Pierre Fracalanza is tasteful and serene. The Mosaic Youth Choir of Detroit powerfully sets “O Come All Ye Faithful” with an expressive understanding that possesses a great sincerity. Unfortunately, there are times when the compilation strays into the territory of bloated holiday sentimentalism. Lori Couturier’s synth-soaked “Away in a Manger,” and Devin Scillian’s pitch-corrected a cappella version of “Angels We Have Heard on High” are simply cheesy. The clichés fall like snowflakes in “Wrap Yourself In Ribbon,” which finds Scillian reminiscing with duet partner Karen Newman about candy kisses and Santa’s little helper.
Given the current state of foreign affairs, Robb Roy’s note-for-note version of John Lennon’s classic “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” seems candy striped with irony, especially when balanced with Ernie Harwell’s call to “defend the flag and uphold each precious freedom” in the album’s final track, “The American’s Prayer.”In the end, the small failures of A Season of Hope are outweighed by its many successes and its generous spirit. The disc is available at local Borders stores.
E-mail Helen Park at email@example.com.