17 November 2008

O Holy Night!

Sandi Patty Shines in O Holy Night
By Kristin Battestella

Those that listen to Christian music certainly know who Sandi Patty is. The booming soprano was the beloved of the Contemporary Christian music for most of the eighties, until personal scandals disappointed many fans and almost brought an end to her career. For those that turned away or audiences not interested in Christian music, I urge you to reconsider with Patty’s 1996 Christmas release O Holy Night!

Angels We Have Heard On High starts the album off in big fashion. Sandi Patty, however, doesn’t blow out the beautiful orchestra or choir behind her. Sure she doesn’t need anything else but her opera trained voice to carry an excellent tune, but the coming together of vocals and music adds heavenly reverence worthy of this hymn’s title.

Not many can properly handle Carol Of The Bells. It can be a very dark song and too chant like if done wrong. Thankfully, you can actually understand Patty’s lyrics without sacrificing the tough range this tune requires. The orchestra takes on the proper booms and crescendos, giving the feel of a real Carnegie performance.

Next is a Home For The Holidays / I’ll Be Home For Christmas medley, followed by another combo of White Christmas and Winter Wonderland. These secular staples are lovely among themselves, but Home for the Holidays is too slow. Why restrict one of our generation’s great voices when there are plenty of holiday tunes most folks can’t sing? I’ll Be Home For Christmas is also slowed down so Patty can hold a note or two, but it should really be on its own.

White Christmas is too marshmallow for my taste. It has unnecessary fluffy echoes and ooos and aahhs. Let Irving Berlin’s lyrics speak for themselves. Thankfully, the medley moves quickly to Winter Wonderland. Here we have the proper tempo and a chance to be a bit louder and have some fun.
O Holy Night
If you need only one reason to purchase this album O Holy Night is it. On this title track Sandi Patty finds herself in the high company of Kate Smith and Luciano Pavarotti. Not many people can make the range that this beautiful carol asks. Patty’s rendition has all the highs and lows and over the top backing in perfect companionship. If this song doesn’t stir your Christmas spirit nothing will. I wish it was longer, and it should be the big finale, not lost in the middle.

After such a show stopper, Patty slows again with I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day. I expected this to be the childlike refrain from ‘I Saw Three Ships’ but instead it’s the 19th century lyrics from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem. Very powerful both musically and lyrically, but Patty is tough to understand here. Look up the words online and read the history after your listen for complete holiday reverence.

Fortunately, we do get a bit of fun with My Favorite Things. Again Patty proves her worth by equaling-if not surpassing- Julie Andrews. The mix of Nutcracker music from the orchestra is a lovely holiday touch, too.

Silver Bells is again a bit uneven in tempo, and Patty takes some liberty with the arrangement to make room for her voice. Normally you can sing along to this one, but here you can only listen. But it’s a really great listen!

I have the Nat King Cole Christmas record, so anyone else’s rendition of The Christmas Song seems wrong to me. No matter how lovely Patty is, it’s not Nat! Also, after such a show stopper with O Holy Night, why are we doing such lightweight songs? Naturally it’s not easy to work the vocals Patty can reach, but you keep waiting for her to breakout. I shouldn’t complain. It’s still an absolutely wonderful rendition, with the simplest music to compliment these essential lyrics.

Child Of Peace was an original song from Patty for this album. The choir is perfect behind her, and the lyrics are packed with religious reverence. More people should get to know this song. Simple yet lovely.

Star of Bethlehem is meant to be the big finale, but for all its original lyrical beauty, it just sounds like another contemporary Christian tune from Patty. Where are the rest of the big carols? It’s also the longest individual song presented, and a bit obvious in its politics. Horrible to say, but Sandi Patty doesn’t need to make a statement with lyrics. She could sing the phone book and make it sound good. The big notes are here, but going out with a Christmas staple would have been a better conclusion to the album.
I don’t like much contemporary Christian music myself, and regardless of what you think of Sandi Patty personally (she got divorced, big deal!), her voice cannot be denied. I had several Sandi Patti records and tapes growing up, including this cassette. I was fortunate enough to find a used copy of the CD reissue right after my tape got chewed. The original release and a reissue appear out of print, but if you can find a copy, Sandi Patti’s O Holy Night! is a powerful addition to your Christmas music collection.


thebonebreaker said...

Excellent Review!!

My wife loves Christmas music - I'll have to see if I can find a copy of this. . .

Thanks for sharing!

Kristin Snouffer said...

Hi Bone.

I hadn't done any music reviews in awhile, and 'tis the season, so, why not?