Michael Allen Harrison’s Christmas Anthology
is a two-disc set of his favorite holiday music selected from his many previous holiday recordings. What a gem it is! With a total of 31 tracks and a total running time of almost 2 1/2 hours, this is pretty much the quintessential instrumental Christmas album. None of the selections are solo piano, but most are piano with keyboard accompaniment and orchestration - two are vocals. Harrison’s interpretations of these holiday classics are fresh and inspired yet are not so different to be off-putting to anyone looking for a great all-purpose Christmas collection. Both discs contain gorgeous arrangements of some of the more serious Christmas carols, and both also contain high-energy songs that overflow with joy and celebration. There are some classical pieces, some jazz arrangements, and everything in between - even some country/folk! Michael Allen Harrison is one of the best pianist/composers out there, and his incredible musicianship and creativity pour out of each song. In short, it’s been a while since I’ve had so much fun reviewing a Christmas album!
None of the tracks has a weak moment, but I’ll mention a few favorites. I really like Harrison’s high-energy version of “Jingle Bells.” It seems to have been in vogue the past few years to slow this song down and make it melancholy, but this version overflows with joy and excitement. I love “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” and this keyboard/piano arrangement has a spirited energy while retaining the song’s minor-key mystery. “Thanksgiving” is one of a handful of Harrison’s original pieces and is thoughtful and reflective. “Pat-a-Pan” isn’t a carol you hear sung too often, but it is becoming a favorite of many instrumentalists for its intensity and poignant melody. Harrison’s arrangement is the best I’ve heard. “Walking In The Air” was a new song for me, and what a wonderful piece! It was composed for a 1982 animated feature called “The Snowman”- a new Christmas favorite! “Deck the Halls” will getting even the grumpiest Scrooge up and dancing! The four selections from “The Nutcracker Suite” are a delight - especially “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” which absolutely sparkles! “Holly Jolly Christmas” gets a swing rhythm and becomes a smooth jazz piece sure to bring a smile. Thanks to the Peanuts Christmas Specials, Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” has become a Christmas confection - love it! Have you ever heard a hoe-down version of “Joy to the World”? It’s here, too, and is about as joyful and fun-loving as it gets! “Angels We Have Heard On High” is in a similar vein, but isn’t as lively. “Angel of My Own” is another Harrison original and features his daughter, Tahlia’s, vocals - a sweet Christmas love song. “Christmas Is” is also an original and uses the melody from Harrison’s instrumental “Dance Of the Snow Fairy;” a wonderful and poignant closing to an incredible collection that is sure to bring joy year after year.
is available from mahrecords.com
, cdbaby.com, amazon.com (as a download), and many other music outlets. This is my favorite Christmas album of the year, and I give it an enthusiastic both thumbs up!