Down Christmas Layne

Down Christmas LaneAustin cabaret act Hedda Layne gives one of the nicest gifts of all. On her website, she’s offering a free album download of holiday music. With an electronica approach, Layne and producer/husband Troy Lee come out of left field to drop a whimsical package of carols to add to your collection.

Without going overboard, Layne offers nine familiar tunes, but starts with Lee’s remix of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” Lee keeps it simple, but turns the instrumental into a great techno-lite opener.

The beat hits when “Santa Baby” goes into a high energy beat that works almost too well. Layne’s voice has an appropriately vintage Betty Boop-ness to it which the song needs. The dance tone never pulls away from the song’s spirit, but instead enhances it with some punch. They delve into some robotic voice enhancement that could have gone majorly awry, but instead, Layne and Lee smartly just add in a pinch of it. The formula continues to work in the dance-floor-ready “Winter Wonderland.”

Layne stays true to traditionals “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “What Are You Doing for New Years Eve,” which balance out the the energetic numbers. Her “Silent Night” rendition, though, is a bit hit and miss. Layne has beautiful control over her voice, reaching sublime high notes, but at times she gets a little too dramatic and that feels more like she’s showing off.
She teams up with Girl Scout Troop 1149  for two songs which have a lot of heart, but are also a bit awkward.

Remember, this is not a girl’s choir, but a scout troop. Layne singing on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” works fine, but the kids are all over the place. You can sense what she’s trying to do here, but the intended cuteness factor wears thin.

The medley of “Jingle Bells/We Wish You a Merry Christmas” works far better. The girls are reigned in as they sing the chorus and the downtempo dubstep beat gives a consistent groove. Layne sometimes derails on her vocal runs, but the track finishes with surprising sophistication.

— Rich Lopez

Three stars.
To download the free tracks, visit HeddaLayne.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Safe bet

Turtle Creek Chorale plays it safe for the holidays — and it shows

concert-2

SANTA’S BACK | The Turtle Creek Chorale continues its tradition of bringing ol’ Saint Nick out for its Christmas concert, but some tweaks might make the show feel more contemporary. (Photo courtesy TCC)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Tradition is a funny thing, especially during the holidays. Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas without Charlie Brown and his sad little tree, or driving through neighborhoods to gawk at the twinkling lights. But while changing routines can shake things up, it’s also a good way to start new traditions.

In the Turtle Creek Chorale’s holiday show My Favorite Things, many of the chorus’ traditions remain intact: The poinsettia dedication, Santa Claus ho-ho-hoing it up, a sign-language version of “Silent Night,” But a spike in the egg nog would not be out of place.

To be fair, the chorale underwent some major changes in the last few months, appointing both a new executive director, David Fisher, and interim conductor, Trey Jacobs, who has had to hit the ground running with a season (and dates!) already announced. You can grant them some slack for that, but the chorale’s opening concert, while at times inspiring, could also feel anemic.

Getting off to an energetic start, a crew of members tells the audience about their indulgences before launching into the show’s title track performance. A humorous and high-spirited tone kicked off the show gloriously, followed by the gorgeously majestic “Gloria Fanfare.” Jacobs wields a confident hold over the solid-sounding voices of the chorale. But that energy takes a major nosedive with a troika of serious and somber numbers.

The small Encore group turn up the silly factor with “An Elf’s Life” but miss the mark. The voices are reliable, but the cast lacks the panache needed for the bit to soar. The number is saved by an Occupy North Pole elf that generates major laughs and applause. The first act ends almost as soon as it begins with spirits high in the always punchy “We Need a Little Christmas.”

Although I don’t quite get the monks-versus-nuns concept for “Hallelujah,” the second half opener is hilarious as singers combine flag corps and Bob Dylan, lifting lyrics on cards in choreographed fashion. Whether on purpose or not, the small mistakes with upside-down cards or missed signals add a comic layer that hopefully they’ll keep.

The same can be said for “Jingle Bells,” as members demonstrate some fancy foot-stepping — part ballet, part drill team, but charming as heck. When confusion ensues as they link arms, it ends up being flat-out hysterical, adding volumes to the light-hearted tone.

These gaffes contribute wonderful charm to the show. But they might consider reverting from the live retelling of “The Christmas Story According to Linus” to the actual recording; a man dressed as Linus just doesn’t convey the tender heart of the original. The accompanying live Nativity only reminds me of my one-line role as a shepherd in my elementary school play, and The Sound of Music’s Maria is a running gag through the show that never quite works.

At times, My Favorite Things is weighed down by an abundance of downbeat songs in succession, and a lack of contemporary tunes does allow for younger audiences (not children necessarily, either) to be reeled in. The twenty-somethings in front of me didn’t seem to connect with the show, giggling and whispering during some of the songs.

But My Favorite Things is still a solid show, even with some misguided nuances. Opening night jitters were apparent, but gave an unexpectedly welcome relief to the concert. Fisher’s poinsettia dedication was anecdotal and beautifully poetic and Jacobs handled the chorale and the audience with experienced savvy. The dreary rain and biting cold didn’t dampen the audience as that other annual chorale tradition occurred: The standing ovation.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Review: Turtle Creek Chorale’s ‘O Holy Night’

Last year, the Turtle Creek Chorale performed their holiday concert — because they kinda had to — at the newly opened Winspear Opera House. It was not a success. The acoustics in the hall did not suit choral voice. The hall, larger than the Meyerson, was not filled. The show itself was goofy, with a plot-line (I’ve forgotten what) that wasn’t very funny.

Artistic director Jonathan Palant has said this year’s concert was a kind of greatest hits — favorite songs from past seasons — as well as a homecoming to the Meyerson. And it’s not a funny show … or at least, not filled with shtick. It’s a classic holiday concert, and one well worth seeing. The final performance is tonight.

Of course, there’s the finale, “Silent Night/Peace, Peace,” which includes a soundless verse performed by the entire chorus in American Sign Language; there’s Santa (one of the best out there); there is the poinsettia dedication (182 now fill the stage representing past members). But there are few gimmicks (just the ones we like, such as flamboyant performances by a few members set to the tune “Single Ladies” and the snow effect that ended Act 1). Still, it’s not a somber concert, just a beautiful one; at intermission, I overheard several attendees remark how they enjoyed sticking with the music (Palant himself noted from the podium that he’s not the funniest guy when he’s unscripted) — and they were right.

The performance of “Auld Lang Syne” stood out most of all, as it takes a tune we think we are familiar with an added a lovely, ethereal quality with a tin whistle accompaniment that left a haunting memory in the auditorium. It’s a great way to spend an evening before the holidays.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Homeless transgender woman Jennifer Gale sings ‘Silent Night’ on the eve of her death

A photograph of Jennifer Gale is shown lying on the ground at a memorial service following her death. The broom symbolized her being swept off the streets of Austin. The service was held at the Homeless Memorial and Tree of Remembrance on the shore of Lady Bird Lake.

Two years ago tomorrow, homeless transgender woman Jennifer Gale died on the streets of Austin — from a heart attack likely caused in part by the extreme cold. Gale was a perennial political candidate who ran for Dallas mayor in 2007. She slept on the streets because the only shelter for women in Austin, run by the Salvation Army, wouldn’t house her according to her gender identity, which would have forced her to sleep and shower with men. Gale’s death prompted changes in Dallas, where the city’s homeless shelter, the Bridge, subsequently adopted a policy under which it houses people according to their gender identity. Gale was an activist and a regular speaker at City Council meetings in Austin, where she also ran for office. On the eve of her death, she stood before a City Council committee and sang “Silent Night.” This morning, the Austin City Council honored Gale by playing video of the rendition. Watch by going here and fast-forwarding to the 1:20 mark.

—  John Wright

TCC board member will match $500 donations with every song dedication at ‘O Holy Night’ show

The Turtle Creek Chorale just sent over the below notice in which board member Brian Rogers talks up family and tradition. It’s sweet. In it, he proposes a pretty original idea — sponsoring a carol as a sort of glorified dedication. For a $500 donation to the chorale, you can dedicate “Silent Night” to your parents, partner, children, etc. Kinda cool, right? Well, if you have that kinda change, definitely. To sweeten the pot though, Rogers is matching every single donation until Nov. 30. Your dedication will appear in the program, and you’ll get a framed version of it.

This can be tough, though. My favorite carol changes every year, and so far, I haven’t hunkered down with my Christmas music yet. Does Weezer’s “Holiday” count? The Turtle Creek Chorale performs its annual holiday show, O Holy Night, Dec. 15, 20 and 22 at the Meyerson. For tickets, click here.

—  Rich Lopez