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December People

Sounds Like Christmas

Review by Gary Hill

To get you in the spirit of the holiday, The December People have released a fresh collection of progressive rock takes on Christmas music. Feeling out of sorts for not knowing who the December People are? Well, don't. The name is actually a pen name for the project by its creator and architect Robert Berry. Is it strictly a solo project? Well, in the sense of being the brainchild of one person, yes it is. However, Berry had the forethought to enlist a lot of talented people to assist him with the project. Among those people are John Wetton, Steve Walsh, Gary Wehrkamp, and the entire band of Kansas adds an original track. If you like your music in the classic prog vein, then this album is definitely for you. In fact, several tracks are out right homages to various classic rock bands like ELP, Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd. The Christmas spirit is certainly alive on the release.

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Track by Track Review
Carol of the Bells
With lead vocals by Robert Berry, this cut takes the classy Christmas favorite to new heights. He keeps the original flavor by bringing in an arrangement that one might quite easily imagine Yes doing in their heyday. This is a great cut and a wonderful one to start the disc. It features some very inspired Howeish guitar work, and an awesome vocal arrangement. The modulating progression late in the track is quite effective
We Three Kings of Orient Are
Steve Walsh lends lead vocals to this one. The cut starts in a dramatic, mysterious texture. As the vocals enter, they are quite potent, and the cut builds up slightly. This building is the beginning of a consistent pattern of building. As the track enters the "star of wonder…" segment, it starts moving quite quickly for a time, then dropping back down to the original section, but with a renewed intensity and power. This one just keeps reinventing itself and is a wonderful extravaganza.
I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day
This cut starts with just piano. The vocals enter in a great old time sort of arrangement. Berry provides those vocals. As the cut carries on a mode that seems like a cross between the quirkier old time sound of Queen and The Beatles and Klaatu ensues for a time. Eventually the track turns to a hard-edged jam and the Queen elements are very prominent. In fact, this cut could easily be considered to be by Queen if not for the vocals which are definitely not Mercuryish. The guitar sound is incredibly very much in the style of Brian May, though. That is no small feat as he has always had a very original and unique sound.
Silent Night
With a style much like Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd, this one features lead vocals by John Wetton. The cut is quite faithful in melody and such, but the Dark Side of the Moon leanings are incredibly strong - to the point that it has to be an intentional homage.
What Child Is This?
Beginning very much in the mode of early Genesis, again to the point of homage, this one is a great rendition of a very powerful Christmas classics. The vocal work this time is done by Trent Gardner. As the track carries on it becomes very hard edged and powerful, rocking out quite well. It eventually transforms to bordering on progressive metal. This one is quite strong, and covers a lot of musical ground.
Little Drummer Boy
Berry again takes on the lead vocal chores on this number. The cut comes across as a playful, but very progish take on the piece. It feels quite a bit like Emerson Lake and Palmer at times. The cut drops down to a more sedate section and as it regains its earlier power, it becomes obvious that those ELP leanings are again homage. Particularly the instrumental breaks bear this out, with the keys being very Emersonian and at times quite dramatic.
Twas The Night Before Christmas
Mike Baker covers the vocals on this track, actually singing them, rather than the spoken style most often applied to this poem. The music is a powerful building up sort of piece that is quite dramatic and powerful. As the cut continues it becomes a hard-edged jam much in the vein of Zeppelin's "Kashmir". It drops back down after a time to make a respite before the ending segment of the piece. That section becomes an obvious tribute to the aforementioned group. It drops back down one more time for the final verse of the poem.
Up On The Housetop/Deck The Halls
This one starts off with the acappella vocals of Jake Livgren. As the music enters it is in a definite hard-edged flourish ala Kansas and the rest of the cut takes on the style of that group. Dropping to mellower segments and then jumping back up to varying levels of fury. The "Deck The Halls" portion of the medley takes on a more straight forward rocking style, but the keyboard lines maintain that Kansas sort of approach. After this segment ends a melody that combines the jam from Kansas' "Carry On My Wayward Son" with the early segments of this song emerge. After that instrumental break the "Up On The Housetop" segment returns to end the piece.
Angels We Have Heard On High/Christmas Lullaby
Steve Walsh again provides the vocals on this piece. The cut starts with a drum machine type of rhythm and begins building from there, punctuated, appropriately enough, by angelic vocals flying high over the mix. As the cut breaks into the song proper, it takes on a more straightforward prog rock sort of texture and Walsh's vocals really bring it home quite well. The piece covers quite a few styles, jumping down the more sedate from time to time and continuing on its musical journey. This is one of the longest pieces on the CD.
The First Noel
With John Wetton returning on lead vocals, this one is based on King Crimson's "In The Court of the Crimson King". Basing it upon that style leads to a powerful cut. The cut does move away from that structure a bit, but really it is a quite powerful number and captures both the majesty of the original rendition of the Christmas classic and the charm of the Crimson piece.
The Light:
Kansas chose to create an all-original Christmas composition for this release and "The Light" is that number. The song begins with a powerful flourish that has the group's trademark sound all over it. As it carries on it becomes more sedate and balladic and begins building. This is a killer cut much in the style of classic Kansas, and it works very well. It is punctuated with repeated bursts of harder edged Kansas sounds and even drops a neo-classical sort of interlude.
Merry X-Mas (War Is Over)
With a long list of vocalists (Lisa Bouchele, Mike Baker, Robert Berry and Gary Wehrkamp), this one is a cover of the John Lennon classic Xmas piece. It begins with a Beatlesesque flourish and in fact is based far more on that type of bouncy sound than on the music from the original version. The later parts of the cut move closer toward the Lennon version from time to time, but still touch on a lot of classic Beatles sounds, running the gamut of their career. Some segments are quite powerful.
A Christmas Poem #1
This one is a very strange, atmospheric piece. One really has to question the decision to close the album with this piece of loops and effects. It really seems to take away from the power and majesty of the rest of the disc, but really that is the only complaint to the whole album.
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