The songs for this collection are from the 1940 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church. Tom and Stephen Chapin, along with John Wallace, first started singing them fifty years ago when they performed in the Choir of Boys and Men at Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights, New York.
In the mid 1970’s the Chapin family would tour the neighborhood each Christmas, caroling with a mix of brass and stringed instruments and a group of three dozen fellow enthusiasts. Good times and lasting friendships were the usual result. It is that same energetic spirit and the continuing commitment to the music that is evident throughout this musical collection and endues it with an irresistible quality.
Due to the busy schedules of the artists performing on this CD, it was necessary to record in six states and two countries. Each artist takes a turn at lead vocal. Tom and Stephen Chapin, brothers of the late Harry Chapin, sing most of the male parts along with their long-time band member, John Wallace. They are counter- balanced by the addition of Tom’s daughters, Jessica, Abigail, and Lily, known as the Chapin Sisters with their spirit and purity of tone.
Of special note is a satin-gown version of “Deck the Halls” sung by Jen Chapin with her grandfather, Jim Chapin and Lou Marini partying along. “O Holy Night” sung by John Wallace is a re-creation of Mr. Tanner’s fateful Town Hall debut according to the Harry Chapin song.
The sub-title “Variations” is more than apt. These are not your grandmother’s Christmas carols. From the moment that “Silent Night” starts its 5/4 thumb piano continuo, and the voices and instruments start rolling along over it, and the dramatic swell into the solo, it is apparent that arranger Stephen Chapin has imparted this familiar yearend repertoire with a fresh sense of exploration and discovery.
Songs are stood on their head, shaken up a bit, and then cleverly reconstructed. A perfect example is “Angels We Have Heard”. This carol, performed by the Chapin Sisters, with Abigail singing the verses, is at a slower tempo, in a minor key, with the traditional chorus melody playing under the verses. The effect is haunting and deeply evocative.
There is an intriguing version of “We Three Kings” that has a whirlwind of musical activity swirling through it. Three different languages, a 7/4 chorus of angels, and a 7/8 percussion figure all manage to coexist within the song.
In “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, the Chapin Sisters start with a syncopated acapella verse over a beat that best belongs on a rap record. Lou Marini and the Chapin brothers join the fray and they all end up singing as one over a jaunty shuffle.
There is more, much more. This CD is destined to become a treasured part of the holiday season for anyone who purchases it.