Still Still Still
Reviews & Press
Rebecca Spencer has always been a storyteller in a league with the likes of Christine Andreas and Barbara Cook. Here, she shines a light on intelligent, worthy holiday-themed songs that otherwise might have been overlooked. Along with collaborator Philip Fortenberry, she fuses them medley-style with traditional and classic gems. She also ventures into some obscure territory that many other singers wouldn’t chance. Her well-chosen offerings are pluperfect, starting with the impeccable production value of the recording itself, which is obvious from the first chord.
Not every singer gets to record using the same soundboard created for Michael Jackson on his Thriller album. Spencer did and, under the brilliant guidance of gifted arranger-pianist Fortenberry and her intelligent musicians, the results are exceptional on Still, Still, Still, a pristine collection of holiday songs that sound like classics from another era.
Mixing 25 traditional and contemporary hymns, classics, and originals in the lineup, it all celebrates the holiday spirit in the best way—at a time when it is needed most. After what has obviously been a loving process, Spencer and her team came up with an imaginative narrative and sound that echoes a cathedral with tone poems on winter themes.
Opening with Fortenberry’s majestic chords heralding “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” it’s obvious that this angelic mezzo is in the best of hands. Throughout, most of the cuts are performed like olde English art songs. This is particularly so on a warmly sung medley joining “There’s Still My Joy” with the traditional “O Tannenbaum.” Other nuggets range from a prayerful “walk-on-in-spite-of-everything” type canticle, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” with an infectious music box underpinning on a fugue-like theme of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” that slides into the traditional classic beauty with Spencer’s ethereal vocals. Simplistically, the disc becomes a humble reflection of the human hope that the season offers.
“Sure on This Shining Night” is achingly beautiful with a riveting piano intro leading into a cello supporting Spencer on “Silent Night” that suggests the vocal equivalent of a slowly unfolding flower. Other exceptional standouts include: the title cut paired with Beethoven’s “Pathetique”; the bucolic theme from the movie On Golden Pondleading into “Would It Still Be Christmas?.” The premiere of Keith Thompson’s “Peace for Christmastime This Year” is a beauty that is refreshing, timely, and contemporary “…this song is so simple, the message is clear—let there be peace on earth this Christmastime this year….”
There’s more on this disc that spans the centuries and brings it home to the world we live in. And, it’s all about as perfect as a Christmas album can be.
Not enough can be said about the sheer beauty of Fortenberry’s arrangements (some conceived with Spencer) and his prodigious keyboard touch. This recording is the definition of collaboration at its finest. Other superb musicians include Moonlight Tran (cello) and Eric Tewalt (soprano saxophone), with Thompson serving as orchestral arranger for cello and soprano sax.
~ John Hoglund
Having just finished listening to Rebecca Spencer's new incredible Christmas CD, "Still, Still, Still," I felt compelled to sit down to write to praise it. First off, I love the picture and the front cover of the CD. She looks like a traveler who has set out on a journey to understanding the many meanings of the Christmas season. It is a marvelous collaboration between her long-time friend and colleague, extraordinarily-talented pianist and arranger, Philip Fortenberry. The artistry between the two of them is magnificent. You simply cannot tell when one stops, and the other takes over--it is that seamless. Keith Thompson is also credited with the orchestral arrangements, which are perfect. The CD is a delicious mix of the both the celebration and the mystery of Christmas.
In her notes about the CD, Rebecca states "each through-composed arrangement was conceived as a tone poem," and that's exactly what it feels like when listening to this glorious CD. Often Fortenberry will use a different, but related song to lead into the song Rebecca is actually singing--like Samuel Barber's "Sure On This Shining Night" which leads into "Silent Night." Or Dave Grusin's hauntingly beautiful reflective music from the movie, "On Golden Pond." Although the CD includes some familiar Christmas songs, Rebecca has reached outside the box to give us other songs for our consideration, and their appropriateness for inclusion on a Christmas CD. And right she is! Rebecca--who has an extraordinarily big singing range uses exquisite restraint and sings in her toasty, warm lower range--always in the service of whatever songs she has chosen to sing on this beautiful CD. She could have hauled off and sung into the rafters, but one gets the sense of how "still, still, still" she remains in serving the mood of the music of the season, which gives her CD the same warm, satisfying feeling that Karen Carpenter often did to her listeners--you felt Karen was in a room with no one else but you.
It also feels like she's taken a page from the Barbra Streisand songbook in how the entire CD is conceived, arranged, packaged, and sung. Streisand wants you to have a complete "experience" with her CDs, and Rebecca's CD gives you the exact same feeling. You feel like you've serendipitously been plopped down in an intimate, magical Christmas concert at a small candle-lit chapel by two artists at the height of their artistry, and you walk away feeling you came away with more than you imagined possible.
After listening to this CD, you feel like you're the luckiest person in the world for having heard it. If you're looking for a gift for the heart, I can't recommend this CD highly enough. Don't miss it. And, even if you don't give it as a gift, don't miss the opportunity to get one for yourself. Once you hear it, you won't be able to stop playing it.~ Phil Hall