Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Kevin Koelbl - This Is Christmas Time

This is the second of four new Christmas releases that I recently received at my P.O. Box. Thanks to the good people at Phil Putnam Public Relations for sending me the CD and cover sheet.

Kevin Koelbl (pronounced "cable") has had a long and varied career in music. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance, Kevin went on to leading roles at various regional theatres across the country.

Some of the shows Kevin's appeared in include "Carnival", "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat", "The Fantasticks", "A Little Night Music", "Beauty and the Beast", "Oklahoma", "Anything Goes" and "Show Boat" with legendary MGM star Van Johnson in the early 1990s.

This led to his co-starring role with Michael Crawford ("Phantom of the Opera" no less) in the Las Vegas megashow "EFX", once the most elaborate and expensive show ever to play in Vegas. After Crawford left the role, Koelbl took over the role and held it down until the producers brought in ex-Partridge Family heartthrob David Cassidy.

Several years later, Koelbl recorded his first album. "Somewhere In Time" was released in 2000 to good reviews and opened more doors in the music industry for Kevin. Along the way, he never lost his love for live performances and his time was split between the studio and the stage.

Earlier this year, Kevin went into the recording studio and recorded the album you are looking at. Working in L.A. with some master professionals (John Bisharat, Matt Harris, Ray Brinker), he wanted an album of lush collection of Christmas classics re-imagined with a modern twist. Drawing on his deep love of jazz, cabaret, and Christmas, this is the end result.


1.) The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Smooth, jazzy, upbeat version of this song - Kevin's voice reminds me a little of John Davidson. Fine rendition.

2.) Snowfall / White Christmas
The two songs are perfect counterparts. Koelbl sandwiches "White Christmas" with "Snowfall" It works!

3.) This Is Christmas Time
Original title track written by Steven Santoro. Lyrical walk through the Christmas season that meanders but stays on the path.

4.) Snow (duet with Heidi Godt)
Move over Bing, Danny, Rosemary & Vera-Ellen... Kevin and Heidi have a trainload of fun with this rendition!

5.) Welcome Christmas / Christmas Time Is Here
Dr. Seuss meets Charles M. Schulz, at last. Another teaming of Christmas songs complemented by Kevin's fine singing.

6.) Happy Holiday
This one's so closely associated with Bing Crosby that many artists don't even attempt it. Kevin's jazzy version will open some ears.

7.) O Holy Night
This one's a little too Manilow for me (arrangement wise).

8.) The Little Drummer Boy
WOW! The drums, percussion, and bass give this a Caribbean feel throughout. A standout track.

9.) The Christmas Song
As in yesterday's post, any version that adds the intro gets extra points. Nicely done.

10.) Count Your Blessings (duet with Tami Tappan Damiano)
What was a small intimate duet in "White Christmas" is a full blown Broadway love ballad on this album - disappointing.

11.) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Add an acoustic guitar accompaniment, the long lost intro to the song, and you get an excellent rendition.

12.) Sleigh Ride
Starts with bass and Kevin's voice - then they crack the jazz whip and off on a great sleigh ride. Nice trip!

13.) Silent Night
The press sheet states "and an arrangement of 'Silent Night' like you've never heard before". Yep. You can hear every production dollar in every note. And inbetween, the intimacy and power of the song gets drowned out by Michael Bolton-type swelling and singing. Ouch indeed. The song is called "Silent Night" for a reason.

14.) Merry Christmas
In 2006, Bette Midler led off her Christmas album with this long-forgotten song written by Fred Spielman and Janice Torre. Here, Kevin ends his album with it, very stylishly and elegantly.

Koelbl writes on his liner notes: "Every year there always seems to be the usual hustle and bustle leading up to Christmas." To which I agree. During this journey, there are always a thousand and one things to do and process while preparing for December 25th.

And in a sense, that's what this album is. There are some fine moments on this drive with some occasional jolts that assault your attention. Like any good driver, you don't take your eyes off the road and the drive continues one smoothly.

Koelbl is a very talented singer and some of the arrangements left my head scratching. But never once does his voice fail to deliver and his time behind the wheel was pretty good.

If you live in the Los Angeles area, he will be performing a special concert on November 20th to celebrate the release of this CD. For more info on the concert and where to order of copy of this CD if your local music store doesn't have it, visit Kevin's website.


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