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Album Review: Christmas Lights
Doug Hammer
Cover image of the album Christmas Lights by Doug Hammer
Christmas Lights
Doug Hammer
2015 / Dreamworld Productions
71 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
It has been seven years since Doug Hammer released his first Christmas album, Noel, and there were so many songs that he wanted to include on the first album that he decided to another. Lucky us! Hammer is one of my favorite pianists, and Christmas Lights does a great job of showing how versatile he is. From the tender and delicate “Away In a Manger” to the rollicking “Good King Wenceslas” and “Jingle Bells” to the gorgeous “Toyland” and his own “Christmas Lights,” Hammer is one of the rare artists who can do it all and do it all well. There are no weak points in this album, which is saying something for eighteen songs and 71 minutes of solo piano music. Most of the album is on the quieter, more contemplative side, but the exceptions add some musical gusto to the mix!

Christmas Lights begins with a beautiful version of “Angels We Have Heard On High.” The first few verses are fragile and delicate, but the song gradually builds, becoming very full and powerful near the end and then finishing much the same way as it began. “Joy to the World” is big and jubilant with an unusual rhythm that propels it forward. “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Away In a Manger” are both on the quieter, more meditative side. I love Doug’s joyful and energetic arrangement of “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella.” It begins lightly and delicately with a catchy rhythm, gradually building with each verse to a big, danceable section with powerful bass octaves, and then back to a more delicate touch. “Deck the Halls” starts with bell-like chords and then speeds up to an exuberant tempo and energetic rhythm that should prevent anyone from being able to sit still! “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is much quieter and more prayerful with a beautiful interlude in the middle. “What Child Is This” is a favorite. The haunting melody is the focus until later in the song when Hammer gives it a fuller treatment. This is one of the most beautiful piano arrangements of this song I’ve heard. I also really love his arrangement of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” - updated but faithful to the original, leading to a powerful segment that really shows his amazing musicianship. The blues-tinged “Good King Wenceslas” goes in an entirely different direction. Jazzy and upbeat, it’s unlike any version of this song I’ve heard - great fun! “Jingle Bells” continues in a similar vein with a rocking left hand rhythm and a wild and crazy right hand that’s sure to have you up and dancing! “Coventry Carol” is very dark and Doug’s arrangement uses a lot of reverb, making it sound like he’s playing in a very large space - very effective! Victor Herbert’s beautiful classic, “Toyland,” isn’t a piece you hear all the time. Hammer’s version is sweet, dreamy, and innocent - love it! He ends the album with his original title track, which is about “our family piling into the station wagon in suburban Chicago to look at all the beautiful Christmas lights with wonder and awe.” It’s a heartfelt tribute to that magical childhood time that most of us would like to keep alive no matter how old we get!

Christmas Lights is truly an exceptional Christmas album, so be sure to check it out! It will be released officially on 11/27/15 and available from doughammer.net, Amazon and iTunes. I give it my highest recommendation!
November 12, 2015