By Kristin Battestella
Though often longer than albums of yore, these more recent holiday releases provide mostly quality carols, big notes, affordable festives, and swift listening for today’s December audiences young and old.
Dream a Dream – Teen songstress Charlotte Church provides plenty of international caroling delights with O Come All Ye Faithful, The Little Drummer Boy, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and What Child is This in this hour long best seller from 2000. Church belts out the titular hit along with lighter fair such as Winter Wonderland, The Christmas Song, and a whimsical Ding Dong Merrily on High, but the treat here is in the infrequently heard Coventry Carol, Gabriel’s Message, Draw Tua Bethlehem, and Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming. Mary’s Little Boy Child and When a Child is Born remain softer melodies, and the carols keep on coming with Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, and Ave Maria. The lofty notes continue for O Holy Night before the fitting Silent Night finale. Of course, there are different track listings with The First Noel and O Tannebaum included depending on region or store exclusives, but download editions today offer the chance to pick and choose. This also isn’t exactly a laid-back listen for the kids to sing along – Church may even annoy some audiences, for not all Christmas tunes need a somewhat pretentious, so loud, and high sound that one can’t understand the usually casual or easy on the ear fair. This at times exclusive, stuffy feeling is perhaps why many people dislike carols or find them too churchly or old fashioned. Fortunately, operatic fans will delight nonetheless in the rarer carols and big arrangements here.
Joy: A Holiday Collection – Crossover singer Jewel appropriately adds happy choir motifs and keeps the traditional sounds of Joy to the World and Hark the Herald Angels Sing whilst also making this 1999 album a festive and modern 44 minutes. Where audiences perhaps expect bombastic, O Holy Night is surprisingly soft and subdued – a respectful voice and guitar are all that’s needed. Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Ave Maria, and I Wonder as I Wander continue the slow reverence, and originals tracks such as Face of Love, Gloria, and Hands keep the personal deep down and soulful. The Go Tell it on the Mountain/Life Uncommon/From a Distance medley brings an unfortunately less and less heard gospel rock out and Christian hope, but I wish these had been separate, longer tracks instead of a 6-minute medley. It’s also odd that “holiday” is part of the title when the folksy Winter Wonderland and quick Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer seem out of place amid the church going, decidedly spiritual content. Granted, some lyrics or notes will seem mumbly to those that dislike Jewel’s slightly shrill and yodel-esque singing style. However, this is a largely pleasant, tender session full of tradition that remains easy on the millennial ear.
Merry Christmas with Love – American Idol crooner Clay Aiken sets the modern easy listening tone of this 40-minute, 2004 multi million seller with an O Holy Night opener while making more room for big notes and accents around the traditional styles of Silent Night and a Hark the Herald Angels Sing/O Come All Ye Faithful medley. Aiken keeps the swanky going through Winter Wonderland, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, The Christmas Song, Sleigh Ride, and Joy to the World. Granted, there are less carols here when one might have expected Clay to take on the more difficult or rare ones. However, new, big, melancholy pop renditions of Mary Did You Know, What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve, Merry Christmas with Love, and Don’t Save It All for Christmas Day more than make up any difference. The album as a whole perhaps plays it too safe in its primary focus to deliver the mellow merriment for maximum mainstream heartstrings – rather than bringing down the house or breaking the mold with more reverence, it keeps a cookie cutter design. That said, this does a pretty darn fine job in fulfilling that sentimental December demand, certainly evidenced by the platinum status and continued success here.
Through the Many Winters: A Christmas Album – I always find it tough to listen to this 2005 40 minutes from ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, whom I normally enjoy. I thought it was just me, but after reading other reviews for this session, it seems calypso O Holy Night, funk Come O Come Emmanuel/What Month Was Jesus Born In, and a – is that bluesy? –Deck the Halls/Jingle Bells are polarizing to most audiences. The eponymous track is far, far too long at almost seven minutes, and Silent Night sounds as if its guitar has popped a few strings. The Wexford Carol and Christmas on the Bayou are, well, unintelligible at times, God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman becomes a slow jam, and why is O Tannebaum here twice with an unrecognizable Auld Lang Syne? I get that most people today may not like ultra traditional carols. Unfortunately, this experimentation for the sake of it is too grating, even extreme, and I have no idea who the audience is for this kind of holiday album. Adult contemporary listeners will have their better favorites, and younger iPod audiences won’t be bothered to find something they like in this all over the place set.