My Favorite Things

Yes Virginia

Wise Guy Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I make no secret about the fact I get a lot of music in the mail each year - so much so, in fact, that I am so far behind with my reviews that it would take me a month of Sundays to even make a dent in the pile. In those mailings, there are a select number of artists whose new discs jump from the envelope directly to my CD player, and I can count the times I do this on both hands.

One such case is Yes Virginia, the Wilmington, Delaware-based band led by bassist Paul Janocha, whose independent Christmas albums are like a special gift I get in the mail each year right before the big day. It's been interesting listening to Yes Virginia grow as a band, both in their musical ability and the rounding out of their sound, especially since the addition of keyboardist Mario Padovani. Even though I thought last year's O Holy Night disc slipped a little, there was more than enough for me to make this disc a treasured part of my collection.

Yes Virginia welcomes a new member to the band for their latest offering My Favorite Things - namely, drummer Gregg Hoffman. (Former drummer Mac Hines, who apparently fell into a deep depression after my comments about his work in my review of O Holy Night, died in a mysterious bathtub accident. Weird, since I always thought he was afraid of water.) Hoffman proves to be an excellent fit with the band, and if these four songs are a sign of things to come (a full-length disc is promised in 2002), people may forget about groups like Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Simply put, this is Yes Virginia's best work.

The shift of the spotlight has been slowly occurring in the band, much in the same way that guitarist Joe Merkel has been expanding the horizons of his playing. On My Favorite Things, the spotlight is equally shared by Merkel and Padovani - and it is Padovani who seems to be one of the two keys which is really making this band click. The second is Hoffman, whose drumming seems to breathe new life into the sound... now, all Janocha and Padovani have to do is raise Hoffman's volume a notch in the final mix.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The disc opens on a very somber note, with an almost dirge-like "Silent Night". While it does take a moment to get used to what's happening in the song (the first time I listened to it and heard a foghorn-like effect on the keyboards, I thought there was a problem with the disc), the sparse arrangement allows the listener a good moment of introspection while underlining the seriousness of the song. (My only suggestion: possibly using an electric-acoustic on this one might have given the track an extra punch.)

The two other instrumentals, "My Favorite Things" and "Silver Bells," show me just how much this band has matured since I first heard them in 1999. The rhythm section of Janocha and Hoffman is incredibly tight, and Padovani's keyboard work rightfully takes center stage at times. Merkel's understated guitar work at these times is just the right touch, and Merkel is given plenty of room to place his own stylistic stamp on these tracks. "Silver Bells" is such a magical track, I've given serious consideration to turning it into an MP3 and e-mailing it to a station in Chicago which is playing nothing but Christmas music this season. Yes, kids, it's that good.

But nothing quite prepares you for the first Yes Virginia track with vocals, courtesy of Padovani. A reprise of "My Favorite Things" makes me wonder why Yes Virginia hadn't tried the vocal approach sooner. With a style that's a cross between Ronnie James Dio and Joe Lynn Turner (a la Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen), Padovani captures the flavor of late '80s/early '90s hard rock and raises what was already a great rendition of this song to another level all its own. Some may take note that the lyrics sound a bit corny when delivered with an almost operatic vocal - yeah, like the lyrics weren't a bit banal when being sung by Mitch Miller & The Gang.

This, of course, wouldn't be a traditional Yes Virginia review wthout my standard complaint - though with the transition in drummers this time around, I can understand why My Favorite Things is only a four-song effort. What might be more frustrating to some people is that, at least right now, this disc isn't available to the general public. No, everyone else will have to wait until Janocha and crew deliver their full-length effort. If the music on that disc is as good as My Favorite Things is, that's a Christmas present I'm willing to wait a year to open.

Janocha has been kind enough to "gift" me with Yes Virginia's new release each year... and I'm seriously considering "gifting" some of the publicists and record labels I deal with, by sending them copies of My Favorite Things. It would be a crime against Santa himself for some label not to pick Yes Virginia up and deliver their music to the masses for next Christmas - and it would probably get you on St. Nick's "naughty" list if you didn't buy a copy when that happens. For now, though, Yes Virginia continues to be quite possibly the best-kept secret in the music business - although My Favorite Things suggests to me that someone's about to announce where the real musical Christmas presents have been hiding all this time.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 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.