On the 6th Day of Christmas… “This Christmas I Spend with You” — Robert Goulet (album review)

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If you enjoyed Richard Cheese’s Silent Nightclub, you may appreciate Robert Goulet’s This Christmas I Spend with You. Before rushing to the nearest record store though, understand that Goulet opts for a serious lounge-style holiday album. While it’s possible you’ve never heard Goulet’s music, likely you remember him for the goofy boss from “Beetlejuice.” Yeah, the boss dude with a commendable moustache.

This Christmas I Spend with You serves a head-bobbing, finger-drumming dose of Christmas tunes. Robert Goulet epitomizes the slightly silly Vegas music that Cheese parodies. He half-sings, half-speaks the lyrics in what seems to be a feigned boom of a voice. Kind of like middle school boys lowering their vocal tones to impress their female counterparts. That being said, Goulet pulls off the album tremendously. Titular track “This Christmas I Spend with You,” highlights Goulet’s unique bass-tone. Listening, you can picture him swaying back and forth drink in hand, basking in the spotlight. He even chuckles to himself while singing which further reinforces the notion that you’re watching a lounge singer live.

Aside from the opening track, “This Christmas I Spend with You,” the rest of the fare consists of tried and true holiday tunes. However, Goulet adds his classy twist to the mix. He provides earnest Christmas lounge music. Most of the songs feature significant pauses at the beginning of the track. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” continues for 14 seconds before Goulet initiates the serenading. Spicing up “Silver Bells” is a short intro which feels ripped from the script of a Bing Crosby musical. Therefore it’s no surprise Goulet stared in a production Camelot.

This Christmas I Spend with You really exhibits Goulet’s true singing prowess. The man can carry a tune and hold a note for a remarkably long time. With Goulet’s overpowering vocals, the instrumental backing is understated. It’s quite well arranged, and listening on a good stereo really shows the array of instruments. The strings, keys, percussion, and horns are exquisitely balanced. “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” features a comically ill-timed horn though. Aside from the tuba toot, production is top notch.

The true standout tracks are the more emotive tunes, such as “Panis Angelicus” and “Ave Maria.” Though the lighter songs are pleasant, Robert Goulet’s bass tones feel more comfortable belting out serious, moving tracks. His bubbly Christmas favorites feel unintentionally comical. The latter half of the album, particularly “White Christmas,” “O Holy Night,” “Ave Maria,” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful” find Goulet in a calm groove. Just like Shakespearean actors who appear out of place in kitschy roles, Robert Goulet thrives in a traditional setting. If you enjoy Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and the likes, definitely spend Christmas with Goulet. Be warned however that spontaneous moustache growths and uncontrollable bouts of baritone may result.

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On the 7th Day of Christmas… “Silent Nightclub” — Richard Cheese (album review)

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Richard Cheese may not be a household name, though after this review you’ll likely plow through his entire discography quicker than a one horse open sleigh. A comedic singer, he performs lounge and swing style takes on top 40 hits. Hitting play sucks you into a portal, transporting listeners into a Vegas cocktail bar complete with martini and halfway unbuttoned silk shirt.

Amid Cheese’s extensive catalog is an aptly titled Silent Nightclub. As the name suggests, the album is an amalgamation of “holiday” hits. A quick glance at the tracklist and the brow furrows in confusion. Only five of the 15 total songs are traditional Christmas tunes. The other 10 are mainly pop hits which slightly relate to the holidays. And most of the time the connection is more of a stretch than the Grinch shimmying down a narrow brick chimney. Cheese opens with Dead Kennedys’ punk anthem “Holiday in Cambodia,” presumably because it contains the word holiday. He does however, use jingle bells and a Christmas melody to provide a festive ambiance.

Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” follows up “Holiday in Cambodia,” a hilarious reference to the Virgin Mary. Conservative religious folks may be offended, but one listen to the disc and it’s obvious Cheese isn’t meant to be taken seriously. Cleverly, he includes “Like a Virgin” and unless you’re quick to ponder the non-commercial aspects of Christmas, the reason for inclusion may pass you by like Santa skipping the naughty kid on your block. Cheese also includes “Ice, Ice Baby,” “Imagine,” “Naughty Girl,” “The Trees,” “I Melt With You,” and finishes on an appropriate note with “Holidae Inn.” His choices are undeniably unique for a Christmas CD, and you’ll be gnawing the candy cane in your martini in no time.

Amusingly, though predictably, even the holiday tracks aren’t exactly straightforward. The version of “Jingle Bells” on Silent Nightclub features animal noises rather than the actual lyrics. This album by no means seeks to replace the original versions of your holiday favorites. “Last Xmas” is actually only 18 seconds long, and Cheese explains the shortened Wham cover by proclaiming “…that song sucks.” Sorry Wham fans. Take your problem up with Richie. As the sole original track “Christmas In Las Vegas” paints an entertaining portrait of Vegas with a twist. Rudolph bets on red and the Wise Men roll sevens. Cheese exploits both Christmas and Las Vegas clichés, stuffing both into a witty stocking.

Silent Nightclub serves up a hearty, creative dose of mildly, though carefully and astutely selected tracks. Additionally, Cheese’s mock-serious, sleazy delivery packs a ramshackle sled of laughs. Try not to keep from bursting into fits of giggles while the artist woof-woof-woofs in tune to “Jingle Bells,” double-times through “Christmastime is Here,” or jollily bounces down John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Just like spiking eggnog spices up the holiday merriment, Richard Cheese’s Silent Nightclub is sure to get the Christmas party popping.

Fancy Free & Carolina Jamboree: Ballet Review

A few weeks ago my girlfriend and I attended Fancy Free & Carolina Jamboree at the Durham Preforming Arts Center (DPAC) in Durham, North Carolina. The double header consisted of two separate events, bridged mainly by the sharing of dancers between the shows. Upon arriving, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’d actually booked the tickets in part to see our nature writing professor, Bland Simpson of the Red Clay Ramblers.

The two part show consisted of a ballet, Fancy Free, an intermission, and the concluding segment, Carolina Jamboree. Fancy Free, as a well-manicured gentleman in a pinstriped suit explained, inspired the Broadway play and later film “Out on the Town.” As I hadn’t seen the movie, the announcement didn’t give away the plot, though I did infer from the title that the ballet would feature a light-hearted plot.

Sure enough, this was not the typical Shakespearian tragedy which most ballets become. Rather, it featured a cast of three sailors wandering the town. Their evening begins in a bar and they proceed to find two women, fight over them, have an epic dance-off in the bar, and ultimately lose the girls. The ballet did end on a positive note however, as the trio scramble off-stage in pursuit of a new female who graces the set.

While ballet dancing requires significant fitness abilities, the oft-overlooked aspect of dance is facial expression. Our third row seats allowed us the privilege of experiencing this feat. We not only witnessed the third sailor being thrust away as his cronies trotted off with their female companions, we saw his dejected face. During the dance-off, the sailor’s smug expressions, wide smiles and raised eyebrows conveyed their self-assurance. The agile dancer’s movements I’m sure were impressive from any distance (not sure I can even touch my toes…) but the emotions exhibited by the cast helped to establish a plot beyond the immediate action on-stage.

After intermission was the Carolina Jamboree featuring the Red Clay Ramblers. Having had Rambler Bland Simpson as a professor, I was familiar with their works. In preparation for the show, I gave my vinyl of Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind a spin. As it turned out, part of the Carolina Jamboree featured tracks from the production, as well as a musical play of Simpson’s book The Mystery of Beautiful Nell Cropsey. The Jamboree, musically backed by the Red Clay Ramblers, utilized the ballet crew to act out various sections.

As the name implies, the Jamboree was comprised of a smorgasbord of excerpts from past Ramblers productions, the aforementioned novel by Simpson, and assorted songs which varied in content. Having only heard the Ramblers on records, seeing their live performance highlighted their true talent and adaptability. Their tunes ranged from the comedic “Chicken” song about an elementary school boy who spells out the word chicken, and a beautiful woman who has the habit of dipping snuff, to one where a woman seems to die after her child is born. The latter song, “Red Rocking Chair” was taken from A Lie of the Mind.

Quite fittingly, the night concluded with a sing-along. The Ramblers preformed a rendition of “Hide ‘n’ Go Seek,” complete with a call and response of “You all hid? (Yeah), Well if you ain’t ready better holler billygoat (Billygoat).” All through the Jamboree however there was crowd participation with clapping, laughing, and a general elated atmosphere. Although it could be considered a ballet, the audience inclusion helped lend the Jamboree concert feeling.

Unfortunately Fancy Free/the Carolina Jamboree were on a very limited run. Luckily, the Ramblers pop up in concerts occasionally. If you ever get the chance to see them live, grab tickets no matter what the price. A handful of their albums are available on iTunes and Amazon, as well as select Bland Simpson solo records. Also, be sure to stay on top of the latest shows coming to DPAC. It was my first time going, and even on a Friday night when the Bulls were playing, it took less than 30 minutes to get from Carrboro to Durham and find a parking space.