Saturday, December 24, 2011

MY TOP 40 Christmas Albums Plus . . .

OK, so I lied. I said I would give you my top 20. This was a much harder list to make than I thought initially. There is a lot of GREAT Christmas music available and a good deal of it seems timeless in the sense that it is not necessary to have the latest and hippest sounds and production in order for the project to bring joy and meaning to the Christmas season. So, I offer you my Top 30 with a Bonus 11. My choices are simply that . . . mine. Based on so many things . . . memories from different stages in my life, childhood, teenage years, young adulthood and the present. I am not saying these are the BEST Christmas albums from a critical standpoint. I feel so blessed to count many of the artists and musicians that have contributed so much on this list as friends. The list will probably change for next year as new discoveries are made and old ones are rediscovered.
I had visions of grandeur that I would include a picture of each project as well - maybe next year!
Merry Christmas everyone!
TOP 30
1. BING CROSBY ~ WHITE CHRISTMAS ~ How do you argue with a classic?
2. ANDREA BOCCELI ~ MY CHRISTMAS ~ Some of the duets are stunning ~ the one with Mary J. Blige on "What Child Is This" is particularly great ~ The DVD is a must have as well.
3. KATHY MATTEA ~ GOOD NEWS ~ A grammy award winning album, Kathy's strong vocals and great songs make this a new classic
4. AMY GRANT ~ A CHRISTMAS ALBUM ~The Christmas album that defined the next generation in our family ~ how can you argue with "Tender Tennessee Christmas"?
5. MICHAEL BUBLE ~ CHRISTMAS ~ A "recreation" of when albums were done live off the floor ~ The DVD is great as well!
6. JOSH GROBAN ~ NOEL ~ Beautiful production, great vocals, "Thankful" is a highlight
7. THE CHRISTMAS ALBUM ~ SPARROW COMPILATION ~ Whiteheart's version of Little Drummer Boy kicks some serious butt! ~ Great vocal from Rick Florian ~ and the cover is priceless!
8. OVER THE RHINE ~ SNOW ANGELS ~ One of my favorite all time female vocalists and Linford is pretty cool too!
9. VINCE GILL ~ HOME FOR CHRISTMAS ~ The crystal clear tenor of Vince Gill and some great playing to boot!
10. CARPENTERS ~ CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT ~ Do sibling harmonies get any better that Karen and Richard Carpenter? . . . beautiful!
11. HARRY CONNICK ~ WHEN MY HEART FINDS CHRISTMAS ~ Bringing a little "Nawlins" to a Christmas near you
12. STEVE BELL ~ THE FEAST OF SEASONS ~ An under rated Canadian Singer/Songwriter ~ Mary's Magnificat always brings tears to Cathy's eyes
13. NAT KING COLE ~ CHRISTMAS ALBUM ~ Who better to sing the "Christmas Song" ~ Chestnuts roasting by an open fire . . . classic!
14. PERRY COMO ~ A PERRY COMO CHRISTMAS ~ Another classic from when I was a kid ~ the smooth, soothing vocal sounds and old style Hollywood Arrangements
17. AMY GRANT ~ HOME FOR CHRISTMAS ~ A wonderfully orchestrated project ~ Ronn Huff at his finest!
18. RUSS TAFF ~ A CHRISTMAS SONG ~ One of the best male voices . . . period.
19. TWILA PARIS ~ IT'S THE THOUGHT ~ Another project from when our kids were little that meant a lot.
20. VINCE GILL ~ BREATH OF HEAVEN: A CHRISTMAS COLLECTION ~ rarely does an artist make more than one good Christmas album in their career ~ this follow up does not disappoint!
21. WYNONNA ~ A CLASSIC CHRISTMAS ~ The distinctive vocals of Wynonna served up with some fine songs and production
22. EVIE ~ COME ON RING THOSE BELLS ~ We got this album when I was in High School ~ part of the soundtrack of my life ~ saw her live in Des Moines in November 1979
23. BRUCE COCKBURN ~ CHRISTMAS ~ An eclectic project from another Canadian ~ a new classic in our house
24. TRISHA YEARWOOD ~ THE SWEETEST GIFT ~ One of the finest female voices in country music
25. THE ANDREWS SISTERS ~ CHRISTMAS ~ Another very familiar sound from my childhood ~ takes me right back!
26. LITTLE DRUMMER BOY ~ THE HARRY SIMEONE CHORALE ~ One of the first Christmas LP's that I have a recollection of as a child ~ the record played thousands of times at our house over the years!
27. SUFJAN STEVENS ~ SONGS FOR CHRISTMAS ~ boxed set ~ 5 discs of Christmas goodness ~ if you are looking for something different ~ this is it!
28. JAMES TAYLOR ~ AT CHRISTMAS ~ Sweet Baby James ~ Mellow and warm
29. GLAD ~ THE VOICES OF CHRISTMAS ~ Tight harmonies!
30. ANNE MURRAY WITH THE LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ~ THE SEASON WILL NEVER GROW OLD ~ the distinctive sounds of one of Canada's best loved female vocalists
31. ENYA ~ AND WINTER CAME ~ If you like ethereal ~ this is for you
32. SARA McLACHLAN ~ WINTERSONG ~ The angelic sounds of another of Canada's great female vocalists puts her unique spin on music for the season
33. DONNA SUMMER ~ CHRISTMAS SPIRIT ~ From Love to Love You Baby to a beautiful Christmas album ~ a very little known Christmas project from a soulful singer ~ great orchestrations!
35. PHIL SPECTOR ~ A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR YOU ~ Produced for the whopping budget of Fifty Six thousand dollars, Spector offers up his "Wall of Sound" for the Christmas season
36. JULIE ANDREWS ~ CHRISTMAS WITH JULIE ANDREWS ~ From that distinctive voice in Sound of Music comes this Christmas offering
37. SHERYL CROW ~ HOME FOR CHRISTMAS ~ The "Rock Chick" does Christmas ~ quite well actually!
38. BEACH BOYS ~ CHRISTMAS WITH THE BEACH BOYS ~ classic Beach Boy harmonies and arrangements ~ Brian Wilson celebrates the season!
39. WHITNEY HOUSTON ~ ONE WISH: THE HOLIDAY ALBUM ~ no denying that in her day Whitney could SING!!
40. STING ~ ON A WINTERS NIGHT ~ Full points to Sting for ambition ~ This is actually three pieces ~ The Documentary DVD, The Live Concert DVD and the Audio CD ~ The shots of Durham Cathedral are stunning ~ if you get a chance to hear Sting's "Gabriels Message" off of A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS ~ RED ~ it is well worth the trouble finding.
41. CELINE DION ~ THESE ARE SPECIAL TIMES ~ another of Canada's finest singers at her best
42. A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Original Sound Track Recording Of The CBS Television Special

 And NEW for 2012

48. The Blind Boys of Alabama ~ Go Tell It On The Mountain
49. Diana Krall ~ Christmas Songs
50. Lady Antebellum ~ On This Winter's Night 
51. Rod Stewart ~ Mary Christmas, Baby 
52. Sufjan Stevens ~ Silver & Gold
53. Cee Lo Green ~ Cee Lo's Magic Moment
54. Richard Marx ~ Christmas Spirit
55. Annie Lennox ~ A Christmas Cornucopia
56. Shawn Colvin ~ Holiday Songs and Lullabies

And NEW for 2013 - (These are not necessarily all new release per se, but include some recent discoveries as well.)

57. Carole King ~ A Holiday Carole (Deluxe Edition) - from the iconic voice that brought us one of my top records of all time, (Tapestry) comes a new Christmas project full of some old familiar songs as well as some brand new ones.

58. Joshua Bell ~
Musical Gifts From Joshua Bell and Friends ~ In this brand new celebration of the season, Bell is paired with a variety of special guests including Gloria Estefan, Alison Krauss, Kristin Chenoweth, trumpeter Chris Botti, jazz greats Chick Corea and Branford Marsalis, opera stars Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming, Michael Feinstein and a cappella group Straight No Chaser. Not your everyday violin project!

59. Mary J Blige ~ A Very Mary Christmas -
One of my very favorite female R&B singer in the current roster of singers, Mary J Blige could probably sing the phone book and I would buy a copy. Produced by the uber talented, David Foster, this is exactly the type of singer and production he excels at - you won't be dissapointed.

60. Emmylou Harris ~
Light In the Stable

"First released in 1979, Light of the Stable has survived the passage of time and received much acclaim over the years. Updated in 2004 with three new tunes and insightful liner notes, its light now shines even brighter. A host of well-known voices and players join Harris on Christmas songs both familiar and unexpected. Among her guests are Dolly Parton, Rodney Crowell, Neil Young, Ricky Skaggs, James Burton, and Kate and Anna McGarrigle, the latter of whose lovely arrangements of the traditional "Cherry Tree Carol" and their own "Man Is an Island" are two of the bonus tracks.
Given its history and craft, Light of the Stable is more than just a seasonal collection. In many ways, it's shaped the sound of country Christmas records for the 25 years since its original release--yet the warm glow of its own artistry has never wavered. Consider it a little masterpiece". ~ Martin Keller

61. The Three Tenors ~  The Three Tenors Christmas ~
José Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti deliver 21 songs of traditional sacred music and secular numbers in a remarkable 1999 live recording from the opulent Viennese concert hall (Konzerthaus), with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and a renowned choir. For those who like a taste of the classics done in a traditional classical style.

62. Steve Bell - Keening For The Dawn
~  Steve Bell's first Christmas project, The Feast of Seasons is an all time favorite around our house every year at Christmas. His follow up Christmas project has some delightful songs and production on it as well and could very well work its way to the top of our list. In the Bleak Mid Winter is one of the stand out tracks on this project.

63. Harry Conick Jr. ~ What A Night! ~ This guy has a lot of Christmas projects! Solid production and a sweet duet with his daughter, Sarah Kate, who was 11 at the time. Some great songs and solid production make this a project worth adding to your collection. If you can find a copy of the deluxe edition, it has a nice DVD included about the making of the album.

NEW FOR 2015

64. TRAIN ~ CHRISTMAS IN TAHOE ~ A nice diversion from traditional holiday tunes with some traditional songs included as well. Sung by the umistakable voice of Pat Monahan, this album is sure to please young and old alike.

© 2011 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Prairie established a purchasing department sometime in the 1930's. Roy Davidson, along with Ed Kittridge and Fergus Kirk, were some of the early pioneers who started going to Calgary to purchase directly from the wholesalers, saving the school considerable money. In the beginning, Roy would take his own pickup truck until the school was able to purchase one for that purpose.

Every Tuesday evening, the school's truck and semi-trailer would return from Calgary laden with all manner of goods for the school. Office, plumbing, electrical, building and grocery supplies would all be unloaded at the various departments around the campus. The school's purchasing agents would keep their eye out for sales on furniture and other products. Tom Ewing, Walter Honecker, Warren Doud, Sam Gillespie, Buford Marsh, Hank Jaegers and Brian Bates were some of the men I remember from those years. They had a circuit they would follow to find the super deals. These were the real "bargain hunters" long before there was any reality TV show by that name.

A weekly visit to the Staff Store was somewhat akin to spinning a roulette wheel. You just might hit the jackpot! One never knew what awaited. The smell of fresh bread and earthy vegetables along with fresh produce provided a veritable cornucopia of delights for a young boy.

The store sold a great variety of items including baked goods, vegetables, fruit, tin cans of soup and some dry goods like towels, dishes, thread and material of various kinds. Big blocks of cheese were purchased in bulk and divided up into one pound portions. Milk, eggs and meat were supplied by the Institute's own farm.

Possibly the most important fixture in the whole place was the candy counter. Deep inside this glass case were Mars Bars, Hot Tamales, squares of sponge toffee, Sweet Tarts, Nibs, licorice shoe strings, Lifesavers and other delights that were sure to keep the local dentists happy and in business for years to come.

The store also had a whole section that was referred to as damaged freight. This could be anything from tins of beans and soup that had been slightly dented to boxes of cereal. There were also "mystery" cans - unidentified cans that had lost their labels somewhere along the way. You took your chances when you purchased them. The contents wouldn't be revealed until after you had arrived home and they were opened. You might get a can of green beans or cherries.

Prairie staff members were not exactly on the top of the pay scale in those days and these bargains were a real blessing and often helped staff to make ends meet from month to month. A hard working group manned the Staff Store. Goldie Lewis, Max Beam, Leonard Miner, Elizabeth Wilson, Joel Durance, Jack Whitehead, John Krohn, Merv Ratz and Gordon MacDonald were some of the staff and students that worked there. These people had the hearts of servants as they stocked shelves, ran the till and boxed up the groceries. For a while they even ran a door to door delivery service.

Jars of pre-mixed peanut butter and jelly, cases of Nestle's Quik strawberry powder, yule logs, peppermint and spumoni ice cream seemed to be in stock for months. I'm sure you've heard of pumpkin pie ice-cream? One year they had a whole shipment of that . . . I guess it had never really caught on! There were freezer loads of Creamsicles in unusual fruit flavors like blueberry and peach. Boxes of crackers, cereals of all kinds, salad dressings and cans of fruit often lined the shelves of the damaged freight section. Like the early bird getting the worm, those who made the effort to get there as the store opened were sure to find the bargains.

Up the stairs and to the left was the butcher shop. Sawdust covered the old wooden floors. There, Gus Honecker and his wife Ila, butchered and packaged meat and loaded it into the big walk-in freezers for use by the school or for sale in the store. Below the butcher shop was the pasteurizing plant, bottling fresh milk that was delivered to the staff homes, sold in the store and used in the dining hall. Bob Wunsch and Hector Hanna kept the plant humming right along. There always seemed to be a flurry of activity there as bottles were cleaned, refilled and loaded onto the milk truck for distribution.

From the school's bakery came fresh brown and white bread, buns, dinner rolls and desserts. Lloyd Christie, Albert Ehman and Harry Klosse's peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal and raisin cookies and apple turnovers always made a welcome snack. Grandma's standard lunch, when we dropped in to visit after school, was peanut butter sandwiches on brown bread, an apple and a couple of Harry Klosse's cookies.

Japanese oranges or tangerines were a luxury item when I was growing up. It was very special at Christmas to have a box or two of these delicacies. Many a child and family would hope and pray that they would be able to afford at least one box at the Christmas season. In December, 1974 the purchasing department at Prairie received a call from a supplier in Calgary. An entire freight car load of oranges had been misdirected and if Prairie would send their truck and trailer into the city, they were welcome to the entire lot at no charge.

This was an incredible provision and we were able to buy the little wooden crates full of the delicious fruit, each individually wrapped in green tissue paper. The cost . . . 10 cents a box! The modest price was to help cover the cost of freight and handling. Kids and adults alike inhaled oranges for breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks. There were a lot of folk who spent considerably more time on the porcelain throne than they had planned that Christmas! Oranges were frozen, made into juice and used in jello, milkshakes and various forms of baking. A host of other creative ideas were implemented to make the best use of these juicy morsels before they spoiled.

At the staff meeting the next week, one mother stood and thanked God for providing the answer to her little girl's prayer. Another stood and thanked God for the answer to her own prayer. I, for one, will never forget "The Day It Rained Oranges".

Note: I want to thank my own Mother for the title of this story.

© 2012 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


"The Queen of Desserts" may have been an apt title to describe my Mother, although I was fortunate to marry a wife and have a daughter who are both known for their delightful culinary skills in that department as well. Mom put a lot of creativity and work into the fine art of the dessert and its presentation.

My parents entertained frequently and throughout the year Mom would labor in the kitchen turning out Hungarian Crumb Cake, Baked Alaska, Chocolate Crunch, Angel Food Cake with ice cream and strawberries, cobblers of various kinds, Apple, Banana and Rhubarb Custard pies, shortbread, doughnuts and steamed pudding. At Easter she would make her special sunflower coffee cake, resplendent in yellow icing, with brown chocolate sprinkles at the center.

At Christmas the work would start weeks before, making Russian Teacakes, Almond Roca, chocolates, peanut brittle, fudge, divinity, mints, rosettes, nuts and bolts and fruitcake. We kids would help pull taffy, decorate cookies and wrap the candy. Many of these treats were shared with neighbors, friends and relatives, but there was always plenty for our own consumption. Mom took a great deal of pleasure  in finding new recipes and trying them out on our family. I never remember anyone complaining! She would have loved Martha Stewart and  all the cooking shows that are available these days. Back then she was her own "Martha Stewart".

It was the spring of 1974 and I had just turned 13. That time in one's life where you're an expert on just about everything and have no problem letting others know about it. Mom had been carefully crafting a new recipe and it was the day of its debut for our family before she rolled it out for company. After the main course, she brought out a tray of fine looking, elegant goblets. These tall vessels contained a beautiful parfait. Bright colors of layered jello, pudding and custard topped with whipped cream and a cherry rounded out the presentation. We couldn't wait to get started! Mom set the tray down and handed one of the parfaits to each of us. She then asked us if we had noticed the new goblets. I can't say that we had as we were more interested in the contents. Mom was always buying dishes in large quantities as it was not unusual for us to entertain 12 or more people at one time. She had found a sale on a dozen of these tall elegant goblets and was rightly proud of her find.

Paying some attention now to the goblets, I announced that they sure looked like plastic to me. The sides appeared far too thin to be glass. I took my spoon and lightly tapped the side of the goblet. "Steve", Mom said, "You be careful, that's glass". "That can't be glass," I said, as I tapped a little harder. "It sounds like plastic to me". "Please be careful or you'll break it", Mom continued. I insisted that it was plastic. Eager  to prove my point, I tapped with a little more vigor . . . Clink . . . to my surprise, there lay a small chunk of glass on top of what was left of my dessert. Oops! . . . I guess I was wrong. I felt bad, but the damage was done and super glue was not going to fix the problem. Mom was  very disappointed, Dad was upset and I was embarrassed.

Did Dad take me out to the wood shed to teach me a lesson? Did Mom make me buy a new goblet? Did I have to do penance for the next year? None of the above. Mom came up with a very clever punishment and one that may have been more meaningful in the long term than some of the others. She washed out the goblet, complete with the shattered piece and placed it on the dresser in my bedroom. Everyday, when I went to get a pair of socks or underwear, there was a clear reminder that just maybe I didn't know it all and there's a reason that we are given people in our lives for guidance and advice.

How many times in life or in business have we thought we knew it all? Maybe a partner, business colleague or friend has clearly warned us, even numerous times, that the results of our actions could have devastating consequences. We plow forward, tinkling the glass until it's too late. The damage is done.

I still like my desserts but I try to be a little more careful about how much I think I know.

Special Gift just for you from the Rendall Vault:


1 cup margarine
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
Beat margarine until smooth
Sift dry ingredients 4 times
Add to margarine, work with hands until mixture cracks
Roll out to about 1/2 inch and cut in shapes or squares
Bake at 325 for 20 minutes

© 2012 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.