A Judge Daniel MacDonald Christmas usually involves less singing and more eggnog.
Our reviews of Chris Isaak: Baja Sessions (published September 8th, 2004), Chris Isaak: Greatest Hits Live (published August 24th, 2009), and Chris Isaak: Live / Greatest Hits (Blu-ray) (published January 5th, 2012) are also available.
Chris Isaak: "You're going to see a lot of talent on this stage
Part of the Soundstage series of televised concerts, Chris Isaak Christmas is about as unpretentious a holiday special as you're likely to see. The country-tinged crooner strolls through eleven Christmas classics and unveils five original tunes, all with the help of friends (and visitors to Isaak's three-season television program, The Chris Isaak Show) Michael Bublé, Brian McKnight, and the legendary Stevie Nicks.
Isaak's aw-shucks stage presence and the cool confidence of his longtime backing band make the program as warm and comforting as an Irish coffee and a candy cane. Sure, it's pretty clear that this 2004 Soundstage appearance is primarily intended to drive interest in Isaak's (at the time) recently released Christmas album—and it worked; I was looking for it on iTunes immediately after finishing the disc—but if the quality is there, there's nothing wrong with that. And the quality most definitely is there.
The set list is strong, hitting the expected titles ("The Christmas Song," "Let it Snow"), and a few lesser-known seasonal delights ("Mele Kalikimaka," "Last Month of the Year"). Further, Isaak's original songs blend seamlessly in with the established favorites: "Washington Square" is a pleasing ode to military families with members abroad; "Christmas on TV" references It's A Wonderful Life while "Gotta Be Good" is a fun ditty aimed at keeping kids in line while they wait for the big day (Isaak jokes that the song's original title was, "Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off."). Isaak has a good rapport with his special guests, giving Brian McKnight a hard time about the size of his watch and offering a disclaimer that even though he and Bublé are singing "Let it Snow" together, they're not singing it to each other. Clearly everyone involved is having lots of fun.
With the deliberate pace of a sleigh ride, Isaak and company turn in a pleasing, low-key performance that's pretty hard to take issue with. The full set list:
• "Blue Christmas"
The program was shot in high definition and transferred to DVD at a relatively high bit rate, leading to a pleasingly detailed image, sharp and bright with no glaring compression issues. Everything's well lit on stage, so there are few tricky shadow details or high contrast shots to deal with, but this is an above-average transfer nonetheless. Audio's the most important element of a concert film, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track comes through with an immersive, balanced presentation that will fill your living room with holiday cheer. There's no clipping or tearing to be found, and the music is nicely spread throughout all channels, with the surrounds especially coming to life when the crowd cheers. I was initially disappointed to see there was no DTS option, but it's hard to imagine how this audio mix could be improved upon.
Chris Isaak Christmas is an easy recommendation, a thoroughly enjoyable hour of music that's the antithesis of stuffy, self-important holiday fare. Check this one out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
• Bonus Song: "I'll Be Home for Christmas"
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