Passion for the holidays unmistakable on Olson and Corda’s ‘Merry Christmas’ album
This holiday season, in addition to working on Miss Linda Productions’ “White Christmas,” the talented Great Falls-based teachers/musicians Joel Corda and Steve Olson also recently put out a Christmas album.
I had a chance to listen to the album, titled “Merry Christmas from Great Falls, Montana,” and I think overall it’s a solid piece of music, even if there are a few faults found within.
Any holiday album is only as good as the songs featured on it, so we’ll start this review with the tracks they selected.
For the most part, Corda and Olson did a good job of picking ones that will resonate with listeners. There’s serious tracks and there’s lighter ones. There’s Christian-based songs and there’s secular ones. Almost all of the staples are here from “O Holy Night” to “The Little Drummer Boy” to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
There’s also a few non-standards such as “I Wonder as I Wander” and “Snow Day,” which are both decent inclusions.
The very first thing you’ll notice is Corda’s huge booming voice. He sings with such power that at times it feels like the music may get lost behind it, but credit must be given to Matt Johnson at Fourth Avenue Studios, the album’s producer, for being able to make sure that you could hear both Corda’s voice and the various instruments equally.
Some of the best songs on the album are “O Holy Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” In fact, it’s safe to say that Corda does a much better job with the biblical songs than the non-biblical ones, which is probably due in part to the fact that Corda has spent a lot of time in his career as a part of the music ministry with St. Ann’s Cathedral here in Great Falls. When you’ve sung those songs hundreds of times, you’re just naturally more comfortable with them.
Right away, after hearing “O Holy Night” you’ll notice that it seems like Corda’s stuck a little between gears on “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”
Meaning, it feels like he’s trying to lighten the mood, but his singing style is still a bit stuck on the dramatic, operatic side. Now, I’m not saying that any of the songs are bad, because they are not. Corda’s a talented singer and Olson is a gifted instrumentalist and composer. Corda even includes what I assume are Latin lyrics in some of the biblical songs, which makes them feel even more authentic.
But, let me put it this way. If you were to think of some of the best singers who have ever recorded Christmas songs, you’d likely think of Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole, right?
A big reason why they were so successful is partly because they could sing both the Christian stuff and the secular songs with grace. You hear Crosby sing “O Holy Night” or “White Christmas” and it makes you feel like you’re sitting next to him by the fireplace sipping on egg nog as he croons his heart out.
What Corda does, is close to that, but, it just isn’t quite as smooth. I almost wonder what this album would have sounded like if the two had only recorded Christian songs, but, I understand why they didn’t, and it’s with good reason.
Now, getting to the instrumentation side of things, the orchestra does a good job of switching tones, be it serious, playful or breathtaking.
Many of these musicians in the orchestra are amateurs, so I don’t want to be too harsh on them. There are a few moments where the music sounds a little out of key, but, these moments are few and far between. It’s actually impressive how well Olson was able to combine all these different musicians together on an album without any of them sounding jumbled together. On the liner notes, it states that all together there are 47 musicians who play together, so expecting all of them to sound flawless at all times may be an unrealistic expectation.
They nearly reach that goal, though, and they deserve to feel proud of such an accomplishment.
A few other tiny little things I should mention — I have known Mr. Olson and Mr. Corda for quite a while now and both are sweet, thoughtful and passionate people.
The photo on the inside of the liner notes, though, makes me laugh because it looks like Olson is ready to go out and murder some reindeer. The look he gives comes off a little scary, is all I’m saying.
Aside from that, though, the album feels like it was done professionally. A sub-par “look” of the album can scream amateurism, but luckily this album’s presentation was well done.
Finally, it should be said that at the end of the day, this is a fun, cozy holiday album. The problems I listed are minor ones and don’t take away much from the holiday spirit that went behind making it. It feels like this was an album made from love and joy, and while it may have been nice to hear a few original Christmas songs, for what it is, it’s a nice bit of music that can stand next to any classic Christmas album for years to come.