Chicago: O Christmas Three

Posted December 21, 2011 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Legendary brass-jazz pop band cranks out their trademark arrangements on third holiday offering

Cleverly titled O Christmas Tree, Chicago’s third holiday effort (or Chicago XXXIII in Super Bowl language), puts the jazzy brassy rock band back in the hands of producer Phil Ramone for another unpredictable display of arrangements of favorite carols and modern pop oddities. Much like What’s It Gonna Be, Santa!, the album mixes up the familiar ho-hum melodies using James Pankow’s sophisticated horn arrangements and instrumental breaks. Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” gets a sweet R&B frosting and pairs Jason Scheff’s soaring tenor with the occasional pop-ups of guest vocalist Dolly Parton. It’s a sweet opener, and much of the album swings with similar sweetness. There’s the *NSYNC cover of “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,” which favors the laidback vocal of Robert Lamm. Others goodies are also aboard: “It’s The Most Wonderful Time” sways with slower romantic tempo; “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” revisits the swagger of Night & Day Big Band and “Rockin’ and Rollin’ On Christmas Day” transplants Chicago into the land of Stax using gospel organ bursts and a mean guitar solo from Stax legend Steve Cropper. O Christmas Three does bear its share of Grinches to maneuver. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” generates a display of Midnight Special rock and even bubbles with excitement on the guitar riffs bearing similarities to OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again,” but it tends to slump downward with its wacky modulations and a karaoke-natured arrangement. “My Favorite Things” sounds like an odd Afrobeat-calypso merge that only percolates when the horns perform their harmony solos. Even the absence of Bill Champlin is sort of disappointing to the holiday mix. The Chicago alum could’ve came back to his alma marter for at least one of the album’s tracks.


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J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine

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