Review Summary: "We have 21 people on stage: a six-piece rock band, eight-piece string section, six singers and a narrator. The narrator reads poetry in between the songs, so it flows together and ties the storyline together."Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Christmas Eve and Other Stories
Paul O'Neill: Composer, Lyricist, Producer
Robert Kinkel: Composer, Co-Producer, Keyboardist
Jon Oliva: Composer
"We have 21 people on stage: a six-piece rock band, eight-piece string section, six singers and a narrator," Kinkel says. "The narrator reads poetry in between the songs, so it flows together and ties the storyline together."
Guitar - Al Pitrelli
Guitar - Alex Skolnick
Guitar - Angus Clark
String Mstr. - Anna Phoebe
Keyboards - Bob Kinkel
Narrator - Bryan Hicks
Keyboards - Carmine Giglio
Guitar - Chris Caffery
Vocals - Danielle Landherr
Bass - Dave Z
Vocals - Graham Tracey
Vocals - Guy LeMonnier
Vocals - James Lewis
Keyboards - Jane Mangini
Vocals - Jay Pierce
Drums - Jeff Plate
Vocals - Jennifer Cella
Vocals - Jill Gioia
Bass - John Lee Middleton
Drums - John O. Reilly
Vocals - Kristin Gorman
Vocals - Marcus DeLoach
String Mstr. - Mark Wood
Keyboards - Mee Eun Kim
Vocals - Michael Lanning
Vocals - Stephanie Linn
Vocals - Steve Broderick
Vocals - Tany Ling
Vocals - Tommy Farese
Narrator - Tony Gaynor
Despite their penchant for re-envisioning traditional Christmas carols, this band is anything but traditional. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra was formed in 1996 by Paul O'Neill, Jon Oliva, and Robert Kinkel. The band seeks to break down the boundaries of the traditional rock opera in order to tell a story with elements of Broadway, R & B, and stadium rock. Christmas Eve and Other Stories
was released in 1996, so given the seasonal nature of the band, this was likely their debut album. Yet the utilization of the most accomplished musical virtuosos and ultra-slick recording techniques have rendered this album as professional as any veteran rockstar's comeback record.
Originally Posted by composer Paul O'Neill
The purpose of art is to create an emotional response in the person that is exposed to that art. And there are three categories of art; bad art, good art and great art. Bad art will elicit no emotional response in the person that is exposed to it, i.e.; a song you hear in an elevator and it does nothing to you, a picture on a wall that gives you the same emotional response as if the wall had been blank, a movie that chews up time. Good art will make you feel an emotion that you have felt before; you see a picture of a forest and you remember the last time you went fishing with your dad, you hear a song about love and you remember the last time you were in love. Great art will make you feel an emotion you have never felt before; seeing the pieta, the world famous sculpture by Michelangelo, can cause someone to feel the pain of losing a child even if they've never had one. And when you're trying for these emotions the easiest one to trigger is anger.
Anyone can do it. Go into the street, throw a rock at someone, you will make them angry. The emotions of love, empathy and laughter are much harder to trigger, but since they operate on a deeper level, they bring a much greater reward.
As you can tell, these guys are quite serious about their art, and their album reflects that attitude in much the same way as a full moon reflects newly fallen snow on a crisp, clear winter night. The album is grand, majestic, bombastic, and beautiful all at once. The eletric guitars, while novel enough to this type of music to stand out, are not as prevalent as you may think. There are no instances of Yngwie-esque "shredding" at ridiculous speeds. Instead, the classically-influenced guitar parts are slower and more melodic, operating almost entirely within the bounds of traditional Christmas hymns such as "O Holy Night." This song in particular is one of the album's standout tracks.
Yet, the album is not entirely dependent on previously-composed works. It's actually more of a rock opera, or concept album that tells a story. Inside the CD's lyrics booklet, several lines of verse are italicized and are not spoken or sung on the album. These are transitional pieces between the songs, spoken by a narrator at TSO's live shows. Some of the album's best songs are completely original works, such as "Ornament," which contains crunching guitar chords reminiscent of Dream Theater. Yet others such as "Old City Bar" are just kind of boring.
The original songs are quite clearly hit-or-miss, much like Weird Al Yankovic's non-parody material. The similarities end there, however, as TSO's lively rendition of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Suite" far surpasses anything Weird Al has ever done. It starts out with a classical acoustic rendition of the famous melody, then launches into "The Mad Russian's Christmas." This is a fiercely metallic arrangement of the same melody, and the perfect song to put any headbanger into the Christmas spirit. The beginning track of this piece is entitled "Silent Nutcracker," which foreshadows a combination of the Christmas hymn "Silent Night" and the aforementioned ballet. Another two-for-one track entitled "Good King Joy" is a spirited combo as well, but falls a bit short in the vocal department.
Speaking of the vocals, they are one of the most inconsistent parts of this album. In true rock opera fashion, the TSO utilizes several vocalists from track to track. Unfortunately, the credits on the CD booklet and on the official website fail to mention just who sings what. I gues if you weren't picky, you could just say "Meat Loaf" for half the tracks with male vocalists, because that's the best approximation most of these songs will have. All of the singers have a very strong, operatic tone to their voices, so they should be a lot more enjoyable then some of them will end up being to many listeners. Thankfully, the album's standout tracks are mostly instrumental, so you may not even notice the questionable vocal stylings as you rock out to the best this album has to offer.
Overall, Christmas Eve and Other Stories
is an excellent Christmas album. It starts off strong, becomes slightly more subdued around the third or fourth track with mostly synth-based songs, and then powers back with the "Nutcracker" symphonies. After that, it's even more subjective, but most likely you'll really enjoy it if you've gotten that far into the album.
O Come All Ye Faithful/ O Holy Night
Mad Russian's Christmas
Any other "traditional" Christmas song on the album
I give this album a 4/5. It's extremely listenable, but only during certain times of the year.