08 December 2011

When My Heart Finds Christmas

Harry’s When My Heart Find Christmas is Swanky, but a Bit of a Mixed Bag
By Kristin Battestella

My mom had Harry Connick, Jr.’s 1993 holiday hit When My Heart Finds Christmas on CD several years ago, but it seems to have disappeared in the abyss of her car and I never got to hear it.  Fortunately, I picked up a used edition cheap. Though a few of Harry’s holiday tunes are still in the swinging spirit of the season, the generic compositions can either be too bland for reverent audiences or just right for those who have Christmas without Christmas.

A typically Harry swanky and jazzy Sleigh Ride opens the set in fun fashion.  While the big notes are lively and upbeat, Harry slows down the arrangement just a touch, allowing room for his ad-lib crooner style.  It’s all still dang catchy- office party easy instead of the traditional downhill skiing fast paced Pops. When My Heart Finds Christmas, however, is slow and choirful.  The titular original is a little is a lightweight and broad on the sentiment, not quite achieving the yule power ballad status, unfortunately. But it’s nice to hear something new and poetic, if a bit romantic, and Harry has room to hold a few notes here. By contrast, It Must Have Been Ol’ Santa Claus rocks a ragtime air.  It is fast, Harry tells a fun story, and the chorus is kind of catchy.  However, this original also falls short in becoming the next big festive hit.

That Blessed Dawn of Christmas Day does better in the somber and stillness than When My Heart Finds Christmas, perhaps because it actually contains religious lyrics rather than memories of winters past.  When a holiday ballad is so slow and brooding with Harry’s lofty notes, perhaps we expect something reverent and angelic. This one is a little too slow, but pretty nonetheless.  While Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! is nothing new, of course, Harry Connick, Jr. adds his unique touch of modern big band panache.  It’s brassy, toe-tapping, reminiscent of yules of yore and contemporary Christmas all at the same time.

I didn’t realize When My Heart Finds Christmas contained The Little Drummer Boy when I picked it up- strange, as I’m usually always on the look out for this lesser heard carol.  It’s my husband’s favorite, you see, and not an easy tune to pull off. Ladies or too kiddie fun don’t work for what should be a somber and touching ode.  Thankfully, Harry does this one justice.  It’s not overly epic sweeping, but not cutesy either.  Harry keeps it smooth, low, and spiritually innocent for the season, as it should be.  Ave Maria is also enchanting as a partially instrumental and all solemn piano arrangement kept unusually simple and sweet. We don’t need lofty choirs and big notes if Harry is keeping the carol individual and personal, just him and his piano. 

The fun returns for Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, because every contemporary big band album needs a place to dance, rock out, and all the better to have some holiday fun for the kids, too!  Otherwise, it’s merely ‘eh’. The set arrangement of When my Heart Finds Christmas also seems uneven, intermixing fast swing with slowed spirituals.  I’d rather the slow reverence of What Child is This be grouped with all the carols together. At first, the rendition here also seems too unusual, but smartly placed strings cap it off just fine.  Though it allows for more tracks on the album, the selections are too short, averaging around 4 minutes or less, with mostly two minute flashes. Christmas Dreaming is fairly short and generic, too- but at least it is a forties winter traditional, the likes of Dean Martin for more easy dinner music good.  I Pray on Christmas brings Jesus into the best selling Christmas album of 1993 and gets old school down and gospel, thus doing far better than the other original compositions here.  It’s contemporary, church worthy, lifting up, and groovy all at the same time.

 Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer provides more fun for the kiddies as Harry sings along with the gang and yet also gets dang down and jazzy. Again, I wish When My Heart Finds Christmas went all one way or the other- total jazz or all carol crooner capability, but O Holy Night is the longest track here at over 6 minutes.  The length is surprising I must say, considering the somewhat superficially spiritual feel of the album. Harry offers fine orchestra music, sweet delivery, and lofty choirs- even if his arrangement doesn’t go for the tough big notes. However, What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? concludes When My Heart Finds Christmas with a pleasing and unexpected nod to the end of the year.  Again in the spirit of Sinatra, Harry taps into the previously locked market of Auld Lang Syne with this lovely, mellow, parting track.  This is how the set should have sounded!

Despite being aware of Connick’s other more recent Yuletide albums, Harry for the Holidays and What A Night! A Christmas Album, I was surprised to realize just how old this set actually is.  It isn’t the year that is the trouble, but rather the presentation.  This CD is so old; it has a booklet with liner notes and lyrics!  Wow, nineties navidad nostalgia!  Today if you buy a CD at all, it is usually a very streamlined minimum design, often in the eco friendly foldouts which sometimes amount to nothing more than a disc in cardboard.  To see the lyrics of traditional carols included just adds an extra nostalgia to When My Heart Finds Christmas, a treat that ironically isn’t all there in the music, go figure. 

There isn’t really a stand out tune on When My Heart Finds Christmas, which I find strange considering its best selling status. Hearing this mix of newer and not quite there originals with mostly easy, fun, or safe spirituals would seem to create a subpar album with little yield and shelf life almost twenty years later. Those looking for a traditional, full on nativity centric record will indeed dismiss When My Heart Finds Christmas as nothing special.  I would much rather have had a live companion album to the Harry Connick, Jr. Christmas Special TV program that aired at the time.  Harry crooning over the likes of I’ll Be Home for Christmas or The Christmas Song with guest stars sounds so sweet in comparison.  His neo-jazzy, swanky style is still unique today and should have been used to its 110% potential on Connick’s debut holiday album. In some ways, I could see this album even angering some folks for its encapsulation of all that is wrong with the December holiday season- push the commercial viability regardless of what each holiday means and whitewash what you really believe. Harry should have gone with his gut and put his sounds full force to either the pop winter standards or the mellow carols- not a ho hum blend of both.

Having said all that, the would-be casual, safe and easy December generic of When My Heart Finds Christmas works for many.  Office audiences or casual celebrants looking for a relaxed, quasi-neutral album can have the party sounds with only a hint of religious Christmas, and listeners looking for a lowdown and somber season can enjoy When My Heart Finds Christmas over a candlelit dinner, too. Are there better Christmas albums available? Yes, and you can part and parcel your preferred tracks from When My Heart Finds Christmas with available MP3 downloads. No doubt Harry Connick, Jr. fans can’t wait for December in expectation of playing his Christmas albums, and When My Heart Finds Christmas is worth at least one listen for you to pick and choose for your holiday playlist.

1 comment:

TitusL said...

Thought you might like my machinima version of A Christmas Carol
Merry Christmas