11 December 2017

Luther Vandross: The Classic Christmas Album

Luther Vandross: The Classic Christmas Album a Smooth Holiday Winner
by Kristin Battestella

The 2012 Luther Vandross: The Classic Christmas Album compilation is a smooth collection of mellow holiday standards, new hits, and rare recordings beginning with a sophisticated adult welcome in The Christmas Song. This track was originally included on A Very Special Christmas 2 in 1992, and it's perfect for a contemporary cocktail party or effortless office holiday radio play. My Favorite Things likewise takes a ditty with somewhat juvenile if charming lyrics and makes it mature. Although some of the keyboard orchestration is dated and the song goes on for too long at almost six minutes, rather than something comical this brims with grown up nostalgia reminiscing on all the sweets, treats, and seasonal magic. Of course, the mellow Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is on point with recognizable piano melodies and slow measures befitting the blossoming long notes and sad brass interlude for a breathy big finish.

Those of us who were around then will enjoy the hip holiday original The Mistletoe Jam (Everybody Kiss Somebody), however younger audiences might not appreciate this dated mid nineties groove that's also a little out of place between two slower tracks. I keep thinking rude millennials would lol wut at the opening dialogue about kissing under the mistletoe leading to having twins. Fortunately, this remains toe tapping for some dad dancing about the tree trimming or an impromptu Electric Slide after too much egg nog. The tender With a Christmas Heart references all the seasonal staples – angels, love, gifts, togetherness – with big octaves and smooth crescendos. The near operatic bellows and soft spoken dialogue balance the tearful weight before the lighthearted fun of the I Listen to the Bells duet with Darlene Love. This is the longest tune on The Classic Christmas Album at over six minutes, and that is all right with me as the upbeat festive refrains and contrasting holiday break up lyrics standout as a distinctive sixties but no less timeless sound. It's surprising Vandross only did one Christmas album and television special, as today there would be a streaming live Event for all the biggest holiday duets with each of the top vocal ladies, a double CD special, and deluxe LP to match. Damn that would have been sweet

A Kiss for Christmas continues the seasonal soul and winter romance with more mood for audiences of a certain age. The nineties styling is again slightly repetitive – too much of the orchestration sounds too alike on several tracks. However the chorus and ad libs are still darn catchy. Every Year, Every Christmas better captures the lovelorn December blues with a unique, effortless melody from frequent collaborator Richard Marx. It's easy to sway to the beat as your lip trembles at this bittersweet single, making for a great combination of holiday lyrics and any time of year power balladry. Sing it, Luther! This Is Christmas adds more Christmas spirit with hallelujahs, healing, and love because this is the perfect time of year to do so. Uplifting choir heights and heaps of sentimental positivity bring gospel glory and the first religious power to The Classic Christmas Album. In contrast, Please Come Home for Christmas is the shortest track here, and it feels like we just hear this same saccharin plea two songs ago. It's a lovely little holiday invitation for a love reunion continuing the mature, adults only theme of the album – Vandross knows his lovelorn wheelhouse and sticks to it. It's ironic then that the songs branching away from the formula are the best ones on The Classic Christmas Album.

Lone carol O' Come All Ye Faithful originally concluded 1995's This is Christmas, of which The Classic Christmas Album is sort of a reissue along with the previously re-released Home for Christmas. Fitting big notes, backing choirs, and gospel arrangements combine with the Vandross velvet pacing for a proper reverence. I wish there were more carols just to hear them so breathy smooth tenor – especially if they would all sound like this! Stay with me now, however, as all three of these holiday albums have different track listings, with “This is Christmas,” “Mistletoe Jam,” “Every Year, Every Christmas,” and “A Kiss for Christmas” not appearing on the shorter Home for Christmas. “The Christmas Song” is not on This is Christmas, nor are the three bonuses concluding The Classic Christmas Album, beginning with the previously unreleased Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas live duet with Chaka Khan. No listener is going to mind having the same song twice because hot damn. That is all that needs to be said on that one, and a gain, I'm shocked no one ever thought of capitalizing on Luther's duet popularity with an entire Christmas album of big duos.

Two odd singles from 1976 finish The Classic Christmas Album, and May Christmas Bring You Happiness is most definitely mid seventies. Fortunately, it's Hustle-esque orchestration fits the holiday love missive with an upbeat, almost tropical carefree. This could have been in the middle of the session, breaking up the heavy nineties sound with a different jingle to the jazzy. Likewise At Christmas Time has an older but no less sweet soul with Luther inviting us to hug close and turn the holiday lights down low. Are there more unreleased or lost holiday tunes from Vandross? If so, someone needs to make another Christmas album re-issue ASAP. This isn't a set to which we sing along but rather a late night December listen for when mom and dad have put the kids to bed. The Classic Christmas Album is longer than previous Luther holiday releases, and although This is Christmas is also available for streaming and download, this collection feels like the more complete album. At over an hour, Luther Vandross: The Classic Christmas Album has more than enough holiday élan for a candlelit dinner or any other sophisticated festivities.

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