The Phantom Tollbooth

Christmas Eve and Other Stories
Artist: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Label: Lava, 1996
Time: 17 tracks / 62:12 minutes

Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a side-project of Savatage and producer/songwriter Paul O'Neill. Part of the album is a reworking of Christmas classics into a symphonic prog rock format. The album effectively combines the impact of both an orchestra and a full chorus with the harder edge of a rock 'n' roll band. You'll find everything thing from the usual rock band instruments to French horns and cellos, however, great guitar and piano work dominate most of the pieces. The original compositions add to the overall appeal. Christmas Eve and Other Stories is also a concept album based on an insert which provides a loose framework for the songs on the album:

It was Christmas Eve, and the Lord looked down from above at all at His children. It had been nearly two thousand years since the birth of his son, and turning to his youngest angel, the Lord said, 'Go down to the earth and bring back to me the one thing that best represents everything good that has been done in the name of this day.'

The Angel bowed to the Lord, and spreading his wings, descended from heaven to the world of man, all the while contemplating his mission. So much had been done in the name honoring the birth of the Christ Child. For this day, wars had temporarily ceased, cathedrals had been built and great novels had been written. With so little time, what could he possibly find to represent all this.

...Later that night, the angel returned back to heaven, and placed in the Lord's hand, the wish of a soul for the happiness of another. And as the heavenly host looked on, the Lord smiled.

The most well-known track is the instrumental track, "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" which features phrases from a number of classic Christmas songs and was inspired by the human tragedy surrounding the war in Bosnia. This track also has an interesting story associated ) with it which I won't get into here. It first appeared on Savatage's Dead Winter Dead.

"Good King Joy" is one of my favorites. The song starts with "Joy to the World," moves on to "Good King Wenceslas," and then back to "Joy to the World." Taken as a whole, the Christmas story is shared in a spirited tune with a black gospel feeling to it.

While the album may not contain the best prog-rock ever heard, the album does paint inspiring, hope-filled pictures to help us ponder the real reason for this holiday season.

By Shari Lloyd   (10/12/98)