Lorie Line & her Pop Chamber Orchestra,
Sharing the Season, Vol. 3
(Time Line, 1995)

Minnesota pianist Lorie Line continues her string of Sharing the Season holiday albums with this third installment. Having created a strong following by the time of this release, Line is accompanied here by a 14-piece group of musicians -- her signature "Pop Chamber Orchestra" -- which features strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion, representing just about every sound you can think of. The result is a lively performance that invites participation.

The set list begins with the familiar "Carol of the Bells." Line's piano leads the group, and everyone else soon joins her to create a much richer version than you've probably ever heard. Just about everyone gets a chance to shine, whether it's David Livingston on recorder, Peter Ostroushko on mandolin or Bruce Kurnow on harmonica. If your head's not bobbin' by the time the song ends -- and ends a second time -- then you need to check for a pulse.

"As with Gladness" slows down the initial quickened pace considerably. At first it sounds just like the standard piano score found in any church hymnal, traditionally pensive and flowing. By the third verse, Billy McLaughlin's guitar takes over the melody line to add quiet flavor. Yet another rhythmic style is presented in "Go Tell it on the Mountain," where Kurnow's harmonica takes the ensemble into a jazzy, bayou tempo that's picked up by the mandolin and guitar. Eventually Kenni Holmen adds to the merriment via alto sax, and the music builds to a wonderful but abrupt finish.

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" features Kurnow's adept fingers plucking the strings of a Celtic harp. Its sharpness is echoed by Line's work on the keyboard in a beautifully crafted and animated interplay.

One of the percussionists sets a toe-tapping foundation of "The Little Drummer Boy," first for a verse performed by piano and recorder. The second verse is taken over by the soprano sax; the third, by the violins; the fourth, by guitar; the fifth, by harmonica; and the sixth and final, by the whole orchestra. Ralph Schwartz's trumpet interjections between the verses bring to mind the image of the transformed Grinch as he bugles down the mountain into Whoville. The refrain fades away, as if the musicians have marched on to other destinations, across the desert sand. Who knew that such a simple song could offer such variety?

"Hark the Herald Angels Sing" erupts into the kind of regal introduction you might find in a concert opener: one that would beam a sudden spotlight on Line, perched over the keys and pounding out the resounding rhythm. The selection is a full orchestra attack that provides brief soloist opportunities throughout. There's no doubt it's a group effort.

In yet another illustration of variety, the pace slacks off and quiets down for both "Gesu Bambino" and "Once in Royal David's City." It seems a bit odd to interject "Auld Lang Syne" before the album's conclusion, but an even better tune will later provide the climax to the disc. Besides, the familiar Guy Lombardo classic, complete with saxophones, soon segues into a Latin samba. Suddenly we're not waiting for the ball to drop on New York City, but on some other exotic location altogether: one that's south of the border.

By contrast is another pensive tune, the melodic "I Wonder as I Wander." Verses by mandolin, violin and soprano sax continue the soothing albeit mournful tones. The CD ends with a really rockin' version of "Frosty the Snowman." Line often described this arrangement as "A whole lot of flakin' goin' on." Imagine Jerry Lee Lewis performing for the Clauses at the North Pole.

Not necessarily the strongest of the Sharing the Season albums, this is certainly an entertaining one that uses far more intricate instrumentation and varied musical arrangements then the first two volumes. It also offers fewer selections than those first two do, but avid fans won't care. The music mirrors Lorie Line's concert performances of the day. Listeners will feel as if they're sitting in a grand hall, surrounded by festive lights and the heady pine of red-ribboned evergreens hanging from the balcony.

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review by
Corinne H. Smith

13 December 2008

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