We wanted to put in a good word for the inimitable and irrepressible uke duo of Craig Chee & Sarah Maisel, who have just released a mellow but spirited new holiday album called Christmas Island. This is their first release since their fine 2018 album of standards, Honeysuckle Rose.
The pair cover a lot of stylistic ground over the course of the album’s ten tracks, including the classic Hawaiian Christmas tune, “Mele Kalikimaka”; a peppy, almost cha-cha version of “White Chistmas”; “Let It Snow” performed as a jazzy waltz; a steel guitar-accented romp on “Christmas Island” (somewhat similar to the famous Leon Redbone interpretation); the humorous 1953 novelty number “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”; a smokey duet on “The Christmas Song”; “Winter Wonderland,” which opens with some nifty whistling by Sarah; a medley of two Chanukah songs; a rhythmically different take on “Sleigh Ride,” and a mellow reading of “Merry Christmas Darling.”
Sarah handles the bulk of the lead vocals (would I be out of line to compare her range and approach somewhat to Karen Carpenter, who recorded one of the most popular holiday albums of all time in the late ’70s, Christmas Portrait), but Craig gets his opportunities, too, and the two of them harmonize divinely. Naturally, there’s superb ukulele playing throughout: Both play custom Kanile’a instruments, Craig a tenor, Sarah a bari-tenor. Kudos, as well, to the cast of supporting players, particularly bassist Milo Fultz.
All in all, it’s a fun, relaxing outing that is sure to put almost anyone in a good mood! And I love that cover illustration by Nancy Blauers! —Blair Jackson
You can purchase a download of the album through Amazon, a physical CD or download through Craig & Sarah’s website, and you’ll also see on that page that they have a Digital Songbook that will allow you to learn their versions of all those wonderful tunes!
Listen to Craig & Sarah’s version of the song “Christmas Island” below: