EP Review: Holiday

CommonUnion59 is made up of two people: Steve McKenzie and Laura Malasig. They're from San Francisco, and have just released an EP entitled Holiday, which, naturally, contains music for the holiday season. Unfortunately, holiday albums are usually overlooked, simply because every band and every singer/songwriter feels obligated to do one. And more often than not, the results are arbitrary and slightly boring because everybody does covers of the same old songs. Luckily, CommonUnion59 does something different on Holiday.

The driving force of CommonUnion59 is Malasig's voice. It's not what most people would describe as a "strong female voice," but it doesn't have to be. There's a magnetic quality to Malasig's voice that captivates and pleases the listener's ear. There's an elusive familiarity to her voice, a familiarity that commands attention. It's a hybrid of Karen Carpenter and Taylor Swift. Others have described Malasig's voice as reminiscent of Stevie Nicks, Linda Ronstadt and even Art Garfunkel, with its easy intimacy. All the comparisons are apt, but in truth Malasig's voice is sui generis, one of kind.

The first track on Holiday is 'You and Me,' which combines three influences: a country western feel, a folksy twang and a traditional Christmas melody. The result is excellent. Malasig's voice is rich, its exquisite lilting tones always under control. The song begins with an acoustic guitar and Malasig's singular tones. Then a cross-stick snare joins in, followed by more instruments. The chorus is good but not perfect, as McKenzie's voice doesn't blend well. Overall, though, 'You and Me' is a good, romantic holiday tune, speaking eloquently of the importance of love.

The second track is 'The Spirit of Christmas.' Here, Malasig's voice, affable and intent, undulating to the motion of the music - or perhaps it's the other way around - the motion of her voice generates the foundation of the melody? It's difficult to tell. But it doesn't matter because her voice is like liquid velvet: smooth and simple, lush and complex. As the song ramps up to the chorus, Malasig's delightful vocals soar as the background voices join in. The harmonies are wonderful.

The songs on Holiday cover the spectrum of human emotions during the holiday season: love, happiness, hope, charity and the sensation provided by giving for the sheer joy of giving, along with the miracle of life. The arrangements are simple and straight forward. It's holiday music, which means music without pretense or agenda. No awards, no number one on the Top 40; just the expression of pure pleasure, a celebration of being human and, for a brief moment, totally unselfish. The result is a stellar album. Holiday is truly a gift.