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The Happy Holidays,
Reviewed by:  Joe ross
12/13/2005 12:00:00 AM

MONROE CROSSING – The Happy Holidays MC-1105 c/o Art Blackburn, 17625 Argon Street NW, Ramsey, MN. 55303 www.monroecrossing.com Tel. (763)213-1349 EMAIL art [at] monroecrossing.com SONGS - O Come All Ye Faithful, Christmas Time’s A-Comin, The Happy Holidays, Christ Was Born In Bethlehem, Heed His Father’s Call, Holly Jolly Christmas, Angels We Have Heard On High, Christmas Time Back Home, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/Jerusalem Ridge, Silver Bells, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem, Up On The Housetop, What Child Is This', Auld Lang Syne Playing Time – 41:53

Monroe Crossing is a fine bluegrass band that calls Minnesota home. On their many indie albums, I’ve enjoyed their adventurous and creative approach to acoustic music. Monroe Crossing has kept a fairly constant lineup despite the 2004 departure of banjo-player Graham Sones. Jeff Whitson now plays the five-string in the band that also includes Lisa Fuglie (fiddle, mandolin), Art Blackburn (guitar), Matt Thompson (mandolin, fiddle) and Mark Anderson (bass). All but Jeff sing on this delightful album which celebrates the spirit of sharing seasonal music and joy.

Their 15 songs in the set include an eclectic mixture of traditional, contemporary, and original material. Every holiday album should have some Christmas carols with new, fresh arrangements. Monroe Crossing certainly doesn’t disappoint us in this regard, and an exceptional instrumental take is given to “Angels We Have Heard On High.” The twin mandolins exquisitely breathe new life into this standard carol. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is given an upbeat jazz-like treatment that undergoes a genesis into “Jerusalem Ridge.” When Monroe Crossing takes off on a snappy 4/4 arrangement of “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” it reminded me of the energy one might find in Reno and Smiley’s bluegrass repertoire.

There is some country and bluegrass fare like “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’” and “Christmas Time Back Home.” The latter is attributed to John Duffey. A splendid song for bluegrass arrangement is Johnny Marks’ “Holly Jolly Christmas,” which became a big hit for Burl Ives when he sang it the 1965 movie, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Another winner is their version of “Silver Bells,” which showcases Lisa Fuglie’s breathtaking vocal abilities and Matt Thompson’s engaging mandolin.

To truly emphasize their innovative individualism, Monroe Crossing wisely wrote a couple very special holiday songs for this album, “The Happy Holidays” and “Heed His Father's Call.” The former, written by Mark and Lisa, is a call to lay down burdens, spread good cheer, and connect with traditions during the holidays. Mark Anderson’s “Heed His Father’s Call” provides some deliberation about the sacrifice of God’s only Son for our salvation. Although nicely adorned with four of Nick Wroblewski’s woodcut prints, the CD jacket could have been enhanced by including lyrics for their two originals. They are, however, available on their website. "The Happy Holidays" is a pleasant collection of musical jolliness and merriment that "yule" certainly enjoy. It's an album that will fill your holiday season with plenty of good cheer. (Joe Ross)

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