Friday, December 31, 2010

The Unfortunate Delay of the O Holy Night Off!

Well friends, here it is New Year's Eve, the 7th day of Christmas, and, if you have been following our little competition, you see that I have not posted since last week. Come to find out, a 32 entry single-elimination OHNO was too bold an adventure to last one Christmas season, so I have decided to save the 16 that are left for a continuation of the contest next year. Now that we have the pretenders out of the way, we can now concentrate fully on the task at had come next Yuletide. God bless and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

O Holy Night Off! End of Round 1 - Bracket for Sweet 16

Round 1 has ended. Congrats to the winners. Here is the pic of the new bracket for the next round. I will begin the Sweet 16 tomorrow.
I want to remind anyone who is following this that this blog is for entertainment purposes only, so no wagering please.

O Holy Night Off! Winners from Yesterday's Matches

Winners from Yesterday's Matches
Upsets Galore!
IC7 Pavoratti over IC2 Charlotte Church
IC6 Studio 60 over IC3 Celtic Woman - although no one voted on the Studio 60 version, I feel that it is my responsiblity to use this OHNO as a educational tool to inform people about what good music is, so I am using a "special judge's exemption" and moving them on, so you can hear it again.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winners from Saturday's Matches

Round One Winners from Saturday's Matches
IC1 Josh Groban over IC8 Jackie Evancho. Groban is just too good.
IC5 Maheim Steamroller rolls over IC4 TransSiberan Orchestra. Too many of you said you liked Manheim, but the TSO guitar still rocks. I may need to begin questioning your judgement a little bit more.
Congrats, Groban meets Manheim in the next round. Good luck.

O Holy Night Off! Round 1 - Celtic Woman vs. Studio 60

O Holy Night Off! Round 1 Match IC3 Celtic Woman vs. IC6 Studio 60

This round one match (the last one) matches up Celtic Woman vs. the OHN cover featured on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Celtic Woman is on PBS every time they need to raise money. Thier version is nice, but I wish they would stick to one singer per verse. The ensemble sound when they sing together is really beautiful, and I love the low brass on the chorus. Overall a very nice verson.
Now let me tell you the story behind our last contestant. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a show on NBC for only one year (2006-2007) created by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame. The show may have been the best show ever that lasted for only one year. If you have Netflix, you need to watch it. Anyway, on the Christmas show, part of the storyline was that some New Orleans musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina was in Califonia subbing for union musicians to get paydays to send back home for Christmas. The producers put them on the show and had them do a rendition of OHN with a slideshow of pictures from Katrina in the background. If you want to see the performance in context you can go here. The music begins around the 2:30 mark. After the show aired, people clammored to get the version to download, but NBC only put it up on thier website for a few days. You can do a search and find it to download, but it not easy to find. Anyway, it is a great version. Enjoy.

O Holy Night Off! Round 1 - Charlotte Church vs. Luciano Pavoratti

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 - IC2 Charlotte Church vs. IC7 Luciano Pavoratti

This round one matchup features two world-class voices. Charlotte Church has a unique soprano voice, and does a masterful job with this cover. The critique that I have of the cover though is the background music. It was a distraction from the voice.
Pavoratti has a just-as unique tenor voice, and also does a masterful job. He is backed up by the London Philharmonic (not a bad backup band if you can secure thier services.) I think I like the Pavoratti better. What do you think?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

O Holy Night Off! - Winners from Last Sunday's Matches

Yes, I know, I am falling behind on posting matches, but hey, I was having to manage the Hodge household without Amy for a week. She's back and now I can have a coherent thought or two to do this stuff.
Winners from Last Sunday's Matches
RB 2 Nat King Cole over RB 3 Tracy Chapman - We all thought Tracy had an intersting sound, but faced too much competition from the King.
RB 3 Harry Connick Jr. over RB 6 Aaron Neville in the tighest match so far in the OHNO. In fact it was a tie, so we had to go to the first tiebreaker, which is this: See what Amy voted for. I have to live with her, and not the rest of you, so to go against her man Harry would have been a lot to endure this week. Sorry Aaron Neville fans.
Look forward to Nat King Cole vs. Harry Connick Jr. in the next round.

O Holy Night Off! Round 1 - Trans-Siberian Orchestra vs. Manheim Steamroller

O Holy Night Off! Round 1 IC4 Trans-Siberian Orchestra vs. IC5 Manheim Steamroller

Here is the first round match up of the Christmas rock orchestras. The first entry is the TSO version of OHN (actually it is the last half of a mash up with O Come All Ye Faithful). If you like screaming guitar leads, this is your version. It just rocks! The second entry is Manheim Steamroller, it has a violin lead. It is beautiful! So how do you like your OHN served up, with guitar or violin. Let me know.

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 - Josh Groban vs. Jackie Evancho

O Holy Night Off! Round 1 - IC 1 Josh Groban vs. IC8 Jackie Evancho

Now we get to the insturmental - classical category. We have in this match the voice of Josh Groban vs. the newest sensation Jackie Evancho, who is the ripe old age of 10. Let's start with Groban, whose version uses the tradtional piano arpeggio throughout, sings more than one verse, has a great build to the last chorus, like Celine Dion, in the last chorus, sings the transendent "Noel", has a tag at the end where he hits the high note effortlessly, and, coupled with his voice, gives a stellar performance. This is what OHN is supposed to sound like.
Evancho uses much more strings in her version, sings more than one verse, but she doesn't have the strong ending that I would have liked, and frankly, there still seems to be a dimension not present in her voice like in Groban's and others. But hey, she's 10. I was trying to pick out Silent Night with one hand on the piano at 10; she's is a contestant in the OHNO. Not too shabby!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

O Holy Night Off! - Winners from Friday's Matches

The winners from Friday's matches are as follows:
RB 1 Mariah Carey over RB8 Aretha Frankin in a landslide.
RB 4 Mahalia Jackson over RB5 Patti LaBelle in the largest blowout in OHNO history.
Look forward to round 2 when Mariah Carey and Mahalia Jackson go head to head. Should be fun.

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 Harry Connick Jr. vs. Aaron Neville

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 RB3 Harry Connick, Jr. vs. RB6 Aaron Neville
To change it up, we will discuss Aaron Neville first. His voice is so unique that when he does covers of songs, it will always come out sounding like something new. I like the fact he did 2 verses, and that he kept it simple and let the voice come through. Harry Connick, Jr. is one of the most popular musicians in the world, and is one of the best jazz piano players around. However, instead of using his piano, he begins with an orchestral arrangement. Luckily for him it is one of the most amazing orchestral arrangements of the song that I have ever heard. Kudos on doing all three verses. The choir could have been louder on the second verse, but other than that, it is simply beautiful. However, for another album, I would love for him to do the song just him and piano. Tell me what you think.

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 Match Nat King Cole vs. Tracy Chapman

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 Match RB2 Nat King Cole vs. RB7 Tracy Chapman
Nat King Cole sings one of the most popular and celebrated OHN covers. What makes it so good? It is a simple arrangement that highlights his voice. He is someone you could listen too all day, which makes the fact that it is one of the shortest OHN covers disappointing. Tracy Chapman has one of the coolest voices I have ever heard. Found this version in a compilation album. Again, simple, highlights the voice. Love the break between verses when she hums. However, in the end, she doesn't stand up to Nat King Cole. What do you think?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

O Holy Night Off! Winners from Thursday's Matches

Here are the winners from Thursday's matches:
First, CC2 Martina McBride over CC7 MercyMe, Martina is just too strong.
Second, UPSET!!!! CC6 Third Day over CC3 John Barry. I thought this was not going to be a contest, and I personally like John Barry's cover, but a lot of people thought otherwise, and (this time) I have decided to acquiesce to thier preference.

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 Mahalia Jackson vs. Patti LaBelle

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 - RB 4 Mahalia Jackson vs. RB5 Patti LaBelle

I am sorry about this match. This is really no contest. Mahalia Jackson may be one of the best voices of the 20th century, and Patti LaBelle, who normally brings it, has one of the worst versions ever. Please, if I never hear a drum machine again, it will be too soon. You can tell me what you think, but if you say that you like Patti LaBelle's OHN better, I will think less of you.

O Holy Night Off! Round 1 - Mariah Carey vs. Aretha Franklin

O Holy Night Off! Round 1 RB1 Mariah Carey vs. RB8 Aretha Franklin

Now we come to the R & B division, which, frankly, is probably the strongest division of them all. At the top of the list is Mariah Carey, with her version of OHN from her Merry Christmas album, one of the most popular and best Christmas albums ever (The Joy to the World/Joy to the World mash up is one best, with the Three Dog Night version and the classic hymn coming together complete with a full choir, but I digress, this is a OHN competition).
The Carey OHN begins with the traditional piano arpeggio, and then comes in this B3 organ that I think steals the show (the solo in the middle is so cool). Also, I think this is the only competitor in the competition that sings the song in two separate octave ranges. Strong.
I included Aretha Franklin in the competition because my good friend Brian said that she did a version that he didn't like, so I thought it might be pretty good. Couldn't find it on iTunes or Amazon, but did find a version that he must heard on "The View," (didn't know he watched that show, but, oh well) and put that on here. What is cool is that Aretha sings and plays the piano. I actually like this version, but unfortunately she faces Mariah, which may be the best cover in the whole competition.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

O Holy Night Off - Winners from Monday's Matches.

Here are the winners from Monday's matches.
First, no suprise, the top seeded CC1 Faith Hill moves on over CC8 Vince Gill. (Hey Vince, you can still go home and brag to your wife that at least your version made the contest.) However, the upset was pulled, CC5 George Beverly Shea beat CC4 Johnny Mathis! This will make for an intriguing second round, as Faith Hill takes on George Beverly Shea. May invest in that Bass Amp after all.

O Holy Night Off- Round 1 John Barry vs. Third Day

O Holy Night Off! Round 1 CC3 John Barry vs. CC6 Third Day

A classic matchup that pits a traditional version versus a non-traditional version. John Barry's version is traditional, with piano and strings, a strong vocal, with a classical guitar solo in the middle for style. He does two verses, which means if he goes to the next round, Martina better watch out. This verson is NICE, and although Barry is not a household name everywhere, his Christmas album and this cover is one of the most popular in recent history. Hard to beat.
Third Day's version is the exact opposite. Non-traditional, different rhythm, different instrumentation, and they don't even finish the chorus until the very end. Lesson here, if you are gonna mess with OHN, then go all the way, don't trick it up just a little bit, go ahead and go all the way. Love this version as well.
So, go with traditional or not? I know my preference. What is yours?

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 Match Martina McBride vs. MercyMe

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 Match CC2 Martina McBride vs. CC7 MercyMe
There is something to be said for a cover having a simple accompaniment and a strong voice singing. Martina McBride's cover has both, an accompaniment that has strings and piano, something that provides a perfect frame for her voice, which is one of the strongest in music. BTW, the strings in second chorus absolutely rock. One big turn off: she sings the first verse twice, would of have loved for her to sing another verse. MercyMe version begins with a great guitar and snare accompaniment, aka "Little Drummer Boy" style. The chorus morphs into a pop/rock contemporary version. After that it goes into a "dream" like sequence, then go back to the beginning style, and then after the high note, ends with the snare. Not bad, but not near the power of McBride. If they would have done another verse, they might have a better chance. So, what do you think?

Monday, December 6, 2010

O Holy Night Off - Winners from Yesterday's Round 1 Matches

The winners of the Day 1 matches are as follows:
UPSET! P7 Kelly Clarkson over P2 'nSync (I actually thought that 'nSync would pull this out, but the public demanded otherwise.)
P3 Bing Crosby over P6 Jewel (She put up a real fight early, but opinion swung late, and besides, it's Bing Crosby, how could he not get into the second round of a O Holy Night contest?)
Congrats to the winners. Good luck in the second round as we will see P7 Kelly Clarkson try to knock off P3 Bing Crosby.

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 - George Beverly Shea vs. Johnny Mathis

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 - CC4 George Beverly Shea vs. CC5 Johnny Mathis

Here is one for all the old schoolers. George Beverly Shea hits some of the notes at around 60 Hz I think. May be the lowest sung OHN in the competition. My computer didn't register some of the notes because the speakers aren't designed for it, may have to hook up a bass amp to truly hear the song.
Johnny Mathis has one of the popular versions on iTunes and Amazon. The strings in the background of this version is cool, carrying the triplet feel throughout the song.
For those under 50, you might not know who I am talking about, but give a listen and tell me what you think.

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 Faith Hill vs. Vince Gill

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 CC1 Faith Hill vs. CC8 Vince Gill
This round 1 match pits two heavyweights in the country music world, Faith Hill and Vince Gill. (I just realized that Hill and Gill rhyme.) First, Faith Hill's cover has a great arrangement, very understated, which allows for her vocals to be front and center. She has a very powerful and dynamic voice, which is why this is one of the favorites on iTunes and Amazon. Vince Gill's version has the great choir intro and ending and the traditional piano arpeggio pattern which I like a lot. But the song drags some and he only does one verse. Would loved to hear another verse, but then it would be 7 minutes long. Gill is the underdog in this one. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

O Holy Night Off - Winners from Yesterday's Round 1 Matches

The winners of the Day 1 matches are as follows (no real surprises):
P1 Celine Dion over P8 Neil Diamond
P5 Glee Cast - Lea Michelle over P4 The Carpenters
Congrats to the winners. Good luck in the second round as we will see P1 Celine Dion go up against P5 Glee Cast - Lea Michelle.

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 - Jewel vs. Bing Crosby

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 - P7 Jewel vs. P3 Bing Crosby

When we say pop, we mean old school pop. Bing was popular before most of us was born, and still, by many people's accounting, has the most popular O Holy Night of all time. What can you say about Bing Crosby but simply "He is Bing Crosby." By the way, if you want to see a great Bing movie, rent "Holiday Inn," with music by Irving Berlin. Simply the best.
Jewel drew the short straw and had to go up against Bing the first round. Jewel's version has some great guitar picking patterns that are cool, and I generally like how she sings, with a folk/pop sound that is quite unique. Also cool is that she lives in Texas now, I think somewhere around Stephenville. However, I don't see her getting out of the first round. What do you think?

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 - 'nSync vs. Kelly Clarkson

O Holy Night Off - Round 1 - P2 'nSync vs. P7 Kelly Clarkson

This is a first round a capella fist fight. Both of these have abandoned all musical instruments other than their voice and are going "mano a mano." I have to admit that the whole boy band thing has not been my cup of tea, so I am not necessarily an 'nSync fan (although Justin Timberlake is hilarious on SNL.) Yet, this cover of OHN is tight and fresh, and shows a large vocal range for the group.
Kelly Clarkson, of Idol fame, is a very brave girl, beginning her version a capella all by her lonesome, only to get some backup half way through. Clarkson's version is more soulful than the 'nSync version, with her lead being better than nSync's lead (which one was singing lead? idk), but I think the background stylings of nSync is better than Clarkson's, which makes this a tossup. Tell me what you think.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

O Holy Night Off Round 1 - The Carpenters vs. Glee Cast - Lea Michelle

Round 1 P4 The Carpenters vs. P5 Glee Cast - Lea Michelle
This recording from the Carpenters was shown as a popular download on iTunes and Amazon, so I threw it into the competition, and it turns out, is a instrumental version of the song. It is not a bad instrumental at all, and has some nice piano. The version from "Glee" is a great cover from a show that I happen to enjoy watching (you can relate to the show if you ever did band or choir in high school). The show keeps the piano arpeggios which is consistent with the more classical arrangement of the song. Lea Michelle's voice is outstanding, and the arrangement is not tricked up so much that that is lost. So, I am seeing a mild upset here, the Carpenters version might be too elevator for me. But I could have my mind changed. If you agree or disagree, let me know.

O Holy Night Off: Round 1 - Celine Dion vs. Neil Diamond

Round 1 P1 Celine Dion vs. P8 Neil Diamond

This is a very interesting first round. I have to admit first, that I am a big Neil Diamond fan and, quite frankly, not a big Celine Dion fan. However, this is not a competition about them in particular, but rather their covers of O Holy Night. Dion's cover is one of the most popular Christmas downloads on iTunes and Amazon, and it is on one of the most popular Christmas albums of all time, "These are Special Times." The rendition is powerful, clean and her voice fits with the song in general. She shows good vocal range, and her high note is solid. She changes in the second chorus to "Noel", the original French version, which I like, it seems to bring transcendence to the song. I can hear and understand why this would be a popular version.
Neil Diamond's version starts out with an interesting minor motif that is interesting, but is quickly abandoned once the song begins. Diamond's voice is a jarring juxtaposition with the song that is hard to overcome, and overall, the song sounds like Neil singing to a karaoke tape. Love Neil Diamond, but not this version. What do you think? Let me know if this is a slam dunk as I see it, or if you can argue for the huge upset.

Bracket and Methodology

The O Holy Night Off is about to begin.
Above is the bracket I made for the competition. The bracket is divided into 4 "regions";Pop, Country/Christian, R&B, and Instrumental/Classical. The seeding for each of the artists is based on a number of factors, including popularity of the cover of the song on the Amazon and iTunes list and general popularity of the artist, as well as other convoluted reasons not unlike the backdoor deals made in the NCAA basketball bracket in March. Suggestions that others made on who should be in or out was considered and I think I got most everyone in (but no Vanilla Ice, sorry.)
Each match will be a post on this blog. The match will be posted, and general commentary will be posted by me, and then you will have an opportunity to post agreement or rebuttals on this blog or on the facebook post. Then after a few hours, the winner will be declared and will move on. I will repost the bracket after each round. Any questions can be directed to this blog, and although I will try to answer each question asked, understand that in the end this is purely a subjective venture and in the end I am the judge and jury. Good luck to our contestants and let the fun begin.