The Carolliers
& George Makredes,
Christmas Spirit
(Anoel, 2002)

Christmas is a madly successful holiday and has been packing the crowds in, in some form, for at least a couple thousand years. For such a long-lived holiday, it has little variety of tunes -- fewer still if you exclude songs about the Jolly Old Elf. The Carolliers, very much led by George Makredes, try to add some of their own Christmas Spirit to the catalogue, and end up proving how hard it is to craft a classic carol.

The Carolliers, following the lyrics of Makredes and their own choral ambitions, seem frightened that someone might mistake their songs for secular fun or forget for one single moment that they're Christians and you should be, too. From the opening song "Christmas Spirit," we are reminded that "Christian love and brotherhood are everywhere" and are ordered to "Sing of the Shepherd of All Mankind ... The Lord." That final "The Lord" shows one of the Makredes' greatest weaknesses on this album: his inability to leave metaphors as they are, or trust the audience to see the morals that should be evident in the songs. He fares slightly better with songs focused on Christianity instead of the season itself, where his religious reminders seem less forced -- the lyrics in "Christ the Lord," though given an uncomplementary melody, allow for very nice choral interplay. The Carolliers are obviously trying to share their vision of Christmas with the listener, but they seem afraid that it's not a serious enough topic. The final song, the conflicted and depressing "Lord I Believe, Please Help My Unbelief," serves to shake this album completely out of the Christmas groove.

This defensive preaching might be more acceptable if the sheer sound of the group was better. The choral teamwork is serviceable, but uninspired. The two solo vocal pieces, "Keep Christmas Through the Year" and "Nativity," far outshine the group efforts. While the music itself is often striking, it's also jarringly out of place with the more casual songs and often too grim for the religious ones.

It's not that religious carols can't be wonderful. But successful carols generally have a little more faith, an assumption that the listener is not inimical to their message. The Carolliers' message, as well intentioned as it is, feels like a public service announcement. Combined with weak performance values, the whole album comes off as an amateur fundraiser. If you really want to pay for this sort of music, your donations are welcome by the choir at your local church.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 21 December 2002

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