Once again, The Manhattan Transfer triumphs. Their "Christmas Album" is a wonderland of smooooooth harmonies, disciplined singing, and lush orchestral backing. The album opens with the almost eerily beautiful "Snowfall," which beautifully evokes the mesmerizing sight of snowflakes falling down from the sky. They tame the usually buoyant "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" into a lush come-hither invitation for a Christmas snuggle, and it's beautiful.
Things start popping and bopping on the third tune, with a combination of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Santa Man." It's amazing how The Manhattan Transfer can turn expectations on their heads--a child's tune that's clearly geared now towards adults instead--but still do it successfully and with such musical confidence and rigor. I'm amazed, but ten years after first having bought this album, I still occasionally hear new nuances that I never noticed before. On Mel Torme's perennial "The Christmas Song," the quartet teams with Tony Bennett and the result is sumptuous. Bennett conveys the longing and sweetness of the song, while beautifully bolstered by The Manhattan Transfer singing back-up.
Two classics you don't hear much of anymore--"Caroling, Caroling" and "Happy Holiday" are both given loving attention here. "Caroling, Caroling" is a cornucopia of rich harmonies, and "Happy Holiday" is the sort of blazing, gloriously boppy arms-wide-open tune the Transfer does to perfection.
The album closes with two songs which feature Cheryl Bentyne's butterscotchy smooth voice: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the Beatles' lullaby "Good Night"--odd when you first think about it, but such a sweet, hope-filled song that it ends up seeming just right for a Christmas album. I highly recommend the entire album--it'll surely become a holiday favorite in your household as it has in ours.
Catherine S. Vodrey