There I sat in the “hot seat,” aka the recliner next to the fire, laptop on the lap desk, reading my email. My teenage son was reclining on the recliner across the room reserved for the “cool folk” (of which I am evidently not one). I didn’t mind, I like it hot and I was keeping the volume down low as I began to play my new David Archuleta Christmas carols. I was minding my own business.
“That’s nice mom, I love Christmas carols,” offered my boy (…it’s in the blood. 🙂 )
“Is that David?”
I smiled. He nodded knowingly.
“Turn it up, I’d like to hear it.”
And so we sat by the light of the fire (and the lap top and the itouch, but who cared?) and shared the peace and love of a few Christmas carols in October. It was my first listen to the highly anticipated (by me of course, not my son) songs on CFTH. And a lovely listen it was. And that was that.
And that was that. Hmm. That’s it? That’s it. I liked them. What’s not to like about David singing Christmas carols? I liked them. But I had hoped that in addition to revealing the magic of Christmas, the songs would have revealed more of the magic of David’s art. Perhaps unfairly, I had afforded myself the selfish desire to be blown away by his artistry and not just his voice on this CD. The carols didn’t do that for me.
I used to do that on AI too. I’d wait all week, hoping that he’d reproduce the magical moments of Imagine. Some weeks he did, and others he didn’t. Oh well, that’s how it goes with art. Sometimes you write The Kite Runner and sometimes you write A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Of course, I am convinced that someday David will blow me away just about every time he sings. His artistic instincts will be highlighted and yes … Arranged. I am fully aware that the arranger seems to become the point of contention whenever David sings. In my opinion, this is because, up to this point, David has apparently not settled on his sound. When he does, I am equally convinced he will hear it in his head and insist upon it. Until then, he will work with a variety of arrangers, many of whom will deem their talent equal to his. But their talent will not be equal to his and their arrangements, in my opinion, will not do him justice. When he finds the arranger whose talent actually IS equal to his — well, then I will be hypnotized and mesmerized on a regular basis.
This is not a criticism of CFTH. In my opinion, it is a lovely Christmas CD. It is just an observation about my own reaction to my expectations for it, and the importance of the arranger in these expectations cannot be overstated. And it’s not about “liking it.” It’s about creating an artistic identity. Reference the early Michael Jackson albums that Quincy Jones produced/arranged.
Quincy took Michael’s melodies and harmonies and distributed them throughout the orchestra to create the sound that made Michael Jackson famous. His vision and musical design of notes, rhythms, instruments, and mixing of the music was as important to Michael as Nelson Riddle was to Frank Sinatra. Riddle and Sinatra created “Sinatra.” To this day when we listen to someone sing Sinatra we are listening to the same orchestrations of the backgrounds behind Sinatra as were created by Riddle.
That’s the sound that makes us identify with him as an artist. Brian Wilson’s arrangements on the album Pet Sounds and Phil Spector’s “Wall Of Sound” for his artists are also monumental examples of what an arranger does. When Aretha Franklin signed with Columbia in 1960 her recordings reflected a jazz influence as she moved away from her gospel roots. Then, according to Aretha, it was when she signed with Atlantic and worked with Jerry Wexler that “they made me sit down on the piano and the hits came.”
Wexler of course, coined the term “rhythm and blues” and is responsible for producing not only Aretha but Ray Charles, the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Wilson Pickett, Dusty Springfield and Bob Dylan to name a few.
And all of this brings me to the most recent and insightful question from my son, “What are you doing, Mom?”
“I’m writing a reflection about David’s Christmas album.”
“Why does anyone care what you think of his Christmas album? Do they care what I think too? … They’re Christmas carols and they sound good.” He shrugs and walks away.
Out of the mouths of babes.