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Cheryl Branz has a crystalline voice that is clean, rich and warm. On The Christmas Gift, Branz and a few friends (mostly Tom Prasada-Rao, who also produced, recorded, and mixed the release) present well-executed holiday favorites in a largely acoustic, minimalist framework. This is folk/pop music that is professional and pleasing--a welcoming, holiday bouquet that should entertain broad audiences. My favorite tracks? Oh, that's easy. First, Branz presents a superb Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song), which also happens to be the album's longest cut (nearly 6 minutes!). The artist hits the right blend of purity and pain; the listener can feel Mary's fervent faith, colored by fright. The other great track is Branz's elegant Ave Maria framed by guitars, viola, and cello. Simply beautiful! Honorable mention goes to the fine Night of Silence/Silent Night combination; the interwoven harmonies (all Branz!) are quite magical. What a voice! Although Branz performs well on light-hearted fare such as Santa Baby, she is more convincing as the angelic girl-next-door than as the sassy sexpot. The Latin leanings of The Gift and Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow add a delightful kick. In fact, I was previously unfamiliar with the former, which tells the touching story of a young girl's gift of a crippled bird in a hand-made cage to the newborn king. As often happens when I work on holiday reviews, the opportunity to hear Cheryl Branz on The Christmas Gift has opened my eyes to a truly promising artist. Wonderful! Thanks for the Gift, Cheryl! --Carol Swanson (Reviewed in 2008)
Cheryl, your CD is gorgeous! It didn't hurt to include Night of Silence/Silent Night, a personal favorite. Your CD is getting one of my highest recommendations (out of 125 reviewed this year). Congratulations!
"Cheryl Branz, a cantor at St. Mary's Parish in the Spokane Valley, has a new Christmas CD out, titled The Christmas Gift. I particularly enjoyed her rendition of "Ave Maria." Several of the songs could be well used for prayer."
"You are on this week's Wave show on all stations, plus coming up next week on all Holiday Wave Shows. Great holiday album! When you're hot, you're hot! You grow girl"
Perched on a stool, Cheryl Branz strums her guitar, clearly meeting the notes in song. Her original songs easily touch the nerves of her audience as she sings about the places we've all been physically and emotionally like, "Waiting On A Miracle," "I Judge Myself" "Blindsided" and "The Elephany Song" where a large elephant in her room makes moving about difficult. "I want others to connect with my songs," she said. For the past few years, Branz has performed at dozens of venues from large festivals to private parties in Washington, Idaho, Colorado and Montana. "I'm a bit of a late bloomer in the world of being a singer/songwriter because I didn't start to play the guitar or write my first song until 2001. I was 32. My first CD of all original songs was released in 2006 and was very successful," she said. She finds that playing an instrument allows for more freedom and control. Branz grew up in Spokane and began singing in junior high and high school. She attended North Idaho College on music scholarships and transferred to the University of Northern Colorado, where she received a minor in vocal/music and a major in journalism. She married, lived in California for a couple of years, and then settled in Spokane Valley (WA) where she has a small music studio. Branz was often urged by others to put out a Christmas CD, but she was against the idea. "As a singer/songwriter, I was not comfortable with recording other people's songs, especially well-known ones." Less than a year ago, Branz did a writing exercise called "Blasting Through Your Blocks," out of the book "The Artists Way" by Julia Cameron. Long story short, she began working on a Christmas CD called "The Christmas Gift" and it was released on Nov. 13. Branz is aware that the Christmas theme has a short selling season but she did it anyway. "The Christmas Gift" was more of a gift to her parents as well as to others. "It's about giving something greater than yourself," she said. She also said that the project has opened many doors to her and that it has caused her to change her thinking. "This CD has taught me to 'get out of the way of myself' and it's freed me up to 'go where the music takes me.'" The CD consists of 11 well-known Christmas songs including "Do You Hear What I Hear," "Angels We Have Heard On High," and "winter Wonderland." A 12th song is an original called "Skating" and tells the story of Branz's mother who skated in the Ice Capades. "My parents met at the Ice Capades where they both skated." Skating was a wintertime memory for Branz because her father made an ice rink in their backyard every year with flood lights and outdoor speakers. "I was the only kid in the neighborhood with a rink in their back yard," Branz said. "The Christmas Gift" is a perfect showcase for Branz's folksy vocals, the arrangements are not simple, but not overblown and the songs are timeless and filled with emotion. "The biggest blessing was finally being in the studio and knowing that I was creating something timeless for the season. I felt so grateful that I hadn't put it off for another year, so easy to do with overwhelming projects. I had such a sense of nostalgia for the songs and their meaning. It was very emotional."

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