Axolotl: The axolotl, also known as a Mexican salamander (Ambystoma mexicanum) or a Mexican walking fish, is aneotenic salamander, closely related to the tiger salamander.
Don't worry - you'll need this.
If you have children of a certain age, born in the years 1998 - 2008ish, you'll know The Wiggles. You probably still have their songs running about in your head, and can't help saying "yummy yummy" whenever you hear someone say "fruit salad". With the two youngest Bingles being children of 1998 and 2001, we were fully entrenched in Wigglemania for several years.
For the rest of you who may not be as informed, The Wiggles were four gentlemen from Australia - Greg, Anthony, Murray, and Jeff - who produced extraordinarily successful children's television programming. Their videos (first on VHS, then DVD) took America by storm, as did The Wiggles live performance tours. The great thing about The Wiggles was that parents could, and we certainly did, enjoy their programs as much as our children. The Wiggles had an absolutely perfect touch with their music and dancing, and the messages about safety, history, and just plain fun. The Wiggles were great!
Which brings us to a new Christmas album, due for release on November 24th, "Here Comes Christmas!" by Greg Page. Greg was the original Yellow Wiggle (each Wiggle wore a distinctive color, to make it easy for the kids to identify them) and their main vocalist. After being away from performing for a few years due to health issues, Greg has returned to the entertainment biz with "Here Comes Christmas!", an album of 22(!) Christmas songs, plus four bonus songs from Greg's new children's program "Butterscotch's Playground".
When I listen to a new Christmas album for the first time, I may have several reactions. Usually, I like it, I may like it a lot. Sometimes, there is a song or two that makes me smile and just gives me a good, happy feeling. Although I like almost every Christmas record that comes my way, at least in some aspect, the special ones have a couple tracks that bring about a smile.
Greg Page's album makes me smile, beginning to end, and makes me feel good through my heart and soul. I love it.
"Here Comes Christmas!" bursts with all of the unmitigated happiness of childhood Christmas memories. It's the upbeat, jingly soundtrack of all your best Christmas mornings when you were but a wee child, so excited about what lay in wait under the tree.
The songs are aimed at an audience of children in their arrangements and Greg's vocal performance. The arrangements, generally, have quick tempos, easy, straight-ahead beats, and crisp, happy-sounding instrumental work. With a few exceptions, the musicians don't stray from the tunes we all know and love. Greg Page's voice has a very natural, controlled resonance, and he clearly enunciates the lyrics while never sounding clipped or stilted. The result is a set of songs easy for children to learn, sing along with, and dance to. If little Audrey didn't know the all the words to "Let It Snow", Greg Page is here to help.
Although the album may be primarily aimed at the little tots, it is completely enjoyable by Christmas music fans of all ages. Some records for children, honestly, will make you want to poke pointed sticks in your ears. There is none of that here. Greg's vocals are so pleasing, soothing, and happy, they make this record fun for everyone. Although Greg sticks to the tune in a refreshingly simple way, he does take a few liberties here and there with rhythm, melody, and phrasing, which keeps the songbook continually interesting. On a few songs, including the Christmas closer "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", Greg is joined by children singing along.
I also found it notable that, in several songs where we are used to hearing a key change, Greg stays in the initial key throughout the song. I think this is another way to engage young children with the song - it makes it easier for them to learn the melody and sing along.
The album contains three original songs plus 19 classic Christmas songs, and then the four bonus tracks. There are three songs I want to highlight. First, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". It starts as a fairly straightforward version, but then about halfway through Greg takes us into a 'Reindeer Dance" break! This, together with some "Yipee!"s and Santa's voice, make this "Rudolph" very refreshing.
Second is "I Saw Three Ships". Easily the most unique arrangement on the album is kind of an up-tempo surreal doo-wop take. Yeah, you'll just have to listen.
Last is Greg's updated version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas". In this completely pleasant arrangement, Greg replaces the old, weary gifts with a menagerie of animals - puppy dogs, cows-a-mooing, horses neighing, and, yes, "four axolatls". Axolatls. Hilariously brilliant.
"Here Comes Christmas!" is the happiest Christmas record I've heard this season. I just love it. My fourteen year old daughter (yes, a teenager) was doing a small-space version of the reindeer dance in the car. It's great for children, grown-ups, and all who have never lost the child-like glee of the Christmas season. Even if that glee is buried by a rough day at work or the unfortunate anxieties and conflicts that can occur during the holidays, Greg Page's new record is a sure way to bring it out and make any day better.
A few words about the extra tracks: these four songs, especially "Get Down Low and Go Go Go", will demonstrate what Greg and The Wiggles were all about and why they were so good. "Get Down Low..." is a simple melody with an upbeat tempo and easy lyrics that teach our children a hugely valuable lesson - safety during a fire. It's an example of the perfect touch Greg has with children's music. Greg Page was and is a musician, a teacher, and a fine, gentle man who is a friend to the children of the world.
Greg Page on the Web
Yellow Entertainment - Buy the album!
CD provided by Waldmania!
"Here Comes Christmas!" will be released on November 24.
A Merry Axolatl: