Yes Virginia

Yes Virginia

Wise Guy Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/15/1999

As I write this review, we have 43 days until Christmas. I can deal with that, as well as the approaching holiday season - even if I don't know how I'm gonna pay for all the gifts I plan on buying for my family.

But I can't begin to tell you how depressing it is to start getting Christmas music in the mail for review - and it starts arriving in September. Sometimes, the road I travel in this job is a difficult one.

One disc which I can guarantee you won't find on the shelves of Target is from a small group, Yes Virginia. A three-piece group from Delaware, Paul Janocha and crew take traditional carols and put a little (not a lot, a little) harder of an edge behind them with electric guitar, bass and drums. Their 1998 self-titled CD brings back memories of how groups like Mannheim Steamroller got their start in the Christmas music juggernaut -- and though this four-song disc is far too short, I'd say it holds out more than just a little promise for this group.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The band -- bassist/keyboardist/guitarist Janocha, guitarist Joe Merkel and drummer Mac Hine -- carefully make sure that they're not treading on the traditions of each song they do while adding a bit of '90s kick to the songs. There is a spirit of reverence towards the original melodies -- and that's something that I think is rare in the modern approach towards holiday music.

I will level one criticism, though: "O Come O Come Emmanuel" is a song that doesn't seem to adapt very well to 20th Century musical styles. While Janocha and crew do a respectable job covering the 12th Century carol, it does sound a bit disjointed.

The remaining three songs are all executed flawlessly. "Carol Of The Bells," a 19th Century Ukranian carol, adapts well to this musical style, as does their cover of "Do You Hear What I Hear" -- if you listen closely, you'll here a short snippet of "The Little Drummer Boy" as the song fades out.

No matter how many times I listen to their take on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," I can't help but think of the Mannheim Steamroller version -- and I kind of like Yes Virginia's take better. It's smoother and it doesn't try to inject too much modernism into an English carol from the 19th Century.

The one thing I don't like about Yes Virginia is its length -- this disc clocks in at just over 11 minutes. I understand that indie bands work on a tight budget, but this is a disc that cries out for more songs. There is supposed to be a new release from the band for this holiday season -- and if it's anything like this particular disc, I want to hear it soon.

Yes Virginia might be a band you've never heard of -- but I'm willing to bet you could have made the claim about the first Mannheim Steamroller holiday album. If this band keeps up this kind of quality work, chances are they could be the next Mannheim Steamroller when it comes to Christmas music -- and I, for one, am looking forward to that.

Rating: B+

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Wise Guy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.