[Staten Island Advance] Tony Bennett, The Jazz Funeral top CD releases

“Coolside of Yuletide”
The Young People Chorus of New York
James Yates

Throttle the pa-rum-pum-pum-pum: One more sweetly tinkling sleighbell, one more sugary fa la la la la and we’ll all have diabetes for the holidays. Is there no alternative (besides Mannheim Steamroller — just kidding) to Yuletide schmaltz? Of course there is: This award-winning 20-year-old ensemble of city schoolkids, 100 voices strong. Even as it covers the moldiest chesnuts, like “Little Drummer Boy,” the arrngements co-opt non-traditional alliances, like Caribbean and hip-hop beats. The few cuts that have traditional arrangements seem freshened by comparison. Guest singer Phil Stacy’s pop tenor (he’s an “American Idol” finalist) is perfect for the sentimenal but harmless number “Where Are My Angels. Some 65 choruses — how is this possible? — joined Rosanne Cash for “How Many Christmases?,” another new tune. But the gifted, enthusiastic kids are the reason to buy this CD. Here and there you can hear them smiling as they sing. Scrooge himself would go all soft and runny to hear them do “Home,” a musical setting of an original poem by Eric Gamalinda.