Trans-Siberian Orchestra,
The Christmas Attic
(Atlantic, 1998)

There is no single track on The Christmas Attic which equals or betters the single "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's previous album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories. That said, the newer release is probably a better album all-around.

Like its predecessor, The Christmas Attic is the brainchild of Paul O'Neill, who produced and directed the album, played rhythm guitar and, with keyboardists Robert Kinkel and Jon Oliva, wrote the original music. It also weaves music together with an original story by O'Neill -- this one dealing with the youngest angel in Heaven and her special task at Christmas.

After a gentle beginning with "The Ghosts of Christmas Eve," the album kicks into the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's tell-tale style of orchestral rock with "Boughs of Holly" (largely recognizable as "Deck the Halls"). There is a nicely joyful original song, "The World That She Sees," followed by rock anthems "Midnight Christmas Eve" and "The March of the Kings/Hark the Herald Angel Sings."

A snippet of "O Holy Night" leads into a wonderful, honkytonk tale about the "true story" of Herod and the Three Kings. Titled "The Three Kings and I (What Really Happened)," the song is a high point of revisionistic storytelling which will surely have you following closely along with the words to hear what happened next. There's a very clever rendition of Pachelbel's famous "Canon in D" as a children's choral piece, renamed "Christmas Canon" (but shame on them for spelling the composer's name "Pachabell"), and a rock interpretation of "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring," here dubbed "Joy" and coupled with a vocal version of "Angels We Have Heard on High."

There are a few filler tracks on the album. The song "Find Our Way Home" and the instrumental "Appalachian Snowfall," for instance, could both have been left on the studio floor without the album suffering much by their loss. The original songs "The Music Box" and "The Snow Came Down" help make up for them, however; they're poignant songs about Christmas memories past and a love lost, and love rediscovered.

Other tracks are "Christmas in the Air," "Dream Child," "An Angel's Share" and "Music Box Blues." Although a few tracks fall flat on their own, they fare much better as a part of the whole package. As pieces of O'Neill's Christmas story, the tunes on The Christmas Attic should be a treat for anyone who isn't bothered by the sound of electric guitars in their carols.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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