Christmas Time - The Great British Barbershop Boys Album Review
Music probably gets no cheesier than at Christmas, and how do you make the cheesiest Christmas songs even cheesier? You give them to a barbershop quartet, of course! Even those who entirely loathe barbershop will struggle to suppress a tiny smile on listening to the contents of Christmas Time, the debut album from The Great British Barbershop Boys - a cheesy Christmas treat!
The Great British Barbershop Boys are four ordinary men from the north of England, with ordinary lives and ordinary jobs (a teacher, a sign writer, an IT project manager and a worker for Nottinghamshire Police Force), who formed their quartet as a means for socialising but have since been spotted and consequently signed £1 million pound record deal with Sony Music. The perfectionist contents of Christmas Time prove this kind of old school boy band as an incredibly tight vocal harmony group.
Opening with 'It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year', The Great British Barbershop Boys immediately establish their almost mechanical four-part vocal harmonies which are accompanied by very gentle strings, bass and percussion; a subtle and non-intrusive accompaniment as their vocal harmonies essentially provide their own onomatopoeic accompaniment. The self-provided vocal accompaniment to 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', for example, builds in a round over the bass drone, with the melody layered over the top. Through listening to the whole offering, there is much variety between a rhythmic vocal accompaniment, which imitates brass stabs and backings, and a smoother accompaniment of long notes and rich harmonies. The boys move between passages of homophony (parts moving in harmony but to the same rhythm) into canon (round) and back to melody and accompaniment thus proving much variation of busy-ness throughout the tracks as well as contrasting cheesy upbeat jazzy tracks such as 'Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!' with slow and gentle acapella numbers like 'The Christmas Song' and later 'Silent Night'. 'I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm', a collaboration with Jodie Prenger, winner of the BBC's I'd Do Anything, is also über cheesy, borderline sleazy, sounding like something from All That Jazz or similar with the boys and a subtle brass, drums and bass ensemble accompanying Prenger's strong, made-for-the-stage vocals.
As anticipated, the entire offering is drenched in jazzy harmonies, unresolved suspensions and cheesy jazz endings as well as sometimes breaking down lyrics into syllables for accompaniment such as the 'jinga jinga, a jinga do ahhh' backings in 'Jingle Bells'; the ultimate in musical cheese!
Though perhaps a little mechanical at times, alongside their precision harmonies The Great British Barbershop Boys also manage to occasionally squeeze a lot of words into a small space, often quoting songs within songs, for example splitting 'the holly and the ivy baby it's cold outside, dreaming of a white Christmas with you by my side' into the sax, brass and rhythm trio accompanied 'Be My Christmas Number One', and later squeezing 'The Twelve Days Of Christmas' into 'We Wish You a Merry (Twelve Days Of) Christmas'.
A once a year album sounding somewhere between the choral carol collections and the cheesy pop contents of Now That's What I Call Christmas, Christmas Time is a quirky, if cheesy, fun and festive album from an incredibly tight and precise vocal harmony group.
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