A Christmas Album is for me a good test drive for a singer. I know I have heard some of Jessie J’s music before, but sadly for me, nothing ever stuck. And listening to her voice, I am actually impressed by its great texture – there’s a huskiness there that is quite appealing and not too vocal fry-ish. And in this album, ‘This Christmas Day,’ she has some powerful production: Babyface, Darkchild, and David Foster, just to name three. There is a white soul R & B feel to the sound, and it’s great. And the songs sound perfect, creating a mood.
Maybe that’s my problem with it – it feels more a mood than a cohesive production. For sure, tracks will fare better taken as pieces instead of part of a whole thing. I didn’t connect with the songs, even if I enjoyed listening to the tracks at the moment. Am I weird? Am I too old? At this point, the best thing I can say about the album is that it is my two-degree connection to Channing Tatum, who reportedly is her boyfriend at the moment. (Shrug)
It’s always nice to see Broadway takes on Christmas albums, and I particularly welcome a Norman Lewis one, so I was happy to listen to ‘The Norman Lewis Christmas Album.’ At the very least, we will know it will be well-sung, with Lewis’ powerhouse vocals. And Lewis gives us a packed repertoire, with eighteen tracks. And some great tracks here: a swinging and funky ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer,’ to ‘Mary Did You Know,’ to a soulful ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.’ I mean, there’s plenty of soul here for everyone’s stockings. But I wish it had more Broadway inflections. He does include show tunes like ‘Where Is Love,’ from Oliver, and ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables. I don’t know why, though, but they sound like fillers and feel kind of out of place here. Still, good playlist shuffling would give a lot of satisfaction from this album, and his fans, me included, would be delighted to spin this.
Oh, the albums you find on Spotify. ‘Classy and Sassy, A Lena Horne Tribute’ was recommended to me, and it is a collection of songs obviously giving tribute to Ms. Horne, sung by someone named Julia Breanetta Simpson. I haven’t a clue who she is, which is sometimes good because I won’t have any pre-conceived notions as I listen to the tracks. And while I think the album cover is on the amateurish side, the music, thankfully, isn’t. She sings these songs well, if not too straightforward at times. Miss Horne had a unique, distinct voice, and I wish I could say the same for Ms. Simpson. While she sings well, and in tune, it is on the blander side, compared to Lena Horne. Taken as a group of songs in an album, they are fine, but looming in the shadows of the Horne Legacy, they pale in comparison.
For some reason, I don’t know much about John Legend’s music., except for that massive hit, ‘All Of Me,’ which was the song to sing a couple of years ago. For some reason, his music doesn’t really excite me, and I really was not impressed with his ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ performance. So I go into ‘A Legendary Christmas,’ his new album of Holiday music, with tepid energy.
And after a spin or two, I can say it is a well-crafted album, well-produced, with just the right amount of commercial appeal to make it a hit. And I bet it does, since it hits all the right notes. There’s a funky, soulful feel to it, evidenced in tracks like ‘What Christmas Means To Me,’ (with Stevie Wonder, natch) and ‘Merry Christmas Baby.’ And his originals really aren’t bad – I bet a couple of plays will help them catch on. I like his duet of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ with Esperanza Spaulding, and in some of the more traditional tracks, he sounds just a bit King Cole-ish.
All in all, ti still left me a bit cold. It seems like a product, not something from heart and soul. I am sure I will hear these tracks at Target and enjoy them during those moments, but I doubt if I will pull these tracks out to listen to specifically.
I know New York-based Ingrid Michaelson has enjoyed success as a singer-songwriter on the adult contemporary field, but I don’t know much about her music. I do love teh cover of her new Holiday-themed album, ‘Songs For The Season,’ and it is what attracted me to listen to it. And I am glad I did, because this is a wonderful class-c-sounding album. She was obviously inspired by the classic arrangements of these songs, and they all sound wonderful here. We hear full orchestra arrangement of these songs (whether they were recorded as such) and it was a very pleasant musical trip. And, I feel like I can listen to this record again and find new things about it. I like her duet with Broadway actor Will Chase on ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas,’ and her other duet with Leslie Odom Jr in ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You,’ the Mariah Carey massive Holiday hit. Surprisingly, the song worked in their slowed-down arrangement without sounding gimmicky. She does fine with the rest of the songs, and I must say I even liked her one original, ‘Happy Happy Christmas.’ Above all, her album evokes a mood – not entirely melancholy, but it is very specific.
‘Broadway My Way.’ Heather Headley is the album I have been waiting for, and I knew it would be good as soon as the music started playing. I have always loved Headley’s voice (she does the best duet of ‘the Prayer’ with Andrea Bocceli, in my opinion) and her Broadway credits have been impressive. And, I just like her way with a song. She was the best thing in the London production of ‘The Bodyguard.’ and her versions of Whitney’s songs give the originals a run for their money. Check out, for example, her soul-crushing version of Brian McKnight’s ‘One Last try,’ for example.
And I love her renditions of these Broadway songs, giving them a soulful depth that in a lot of way completely transform the songs. My favorite? Quite possibly her ‘Look To The Rainbow,’ which is a total reimagining (style-wise) of the song from Finian’s Rainbow. The song never sounded more modern and more personal. A close second is her version of ‘My Home’ from Matilda, a score I normally would pass by. The rest of the album succeeds, like her jazzy take on ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonlight,’ where she peppers that song with jazz flourishes that makes the song less sounding like a Disney product. While her version of ‘For Good’ is still great, I did not really appreciate the rock riffs there, and must she recycle ‘Home,’ which was from her last album? All in all, all these songs are already on my daily listen playlist, and I wish next time she would go deeper with songs from Broadway’s Golden age, instead of the more pop=flavored modern songs. ( I mean ‘True Colors’ from Priscilla is not really a show tune) Still, I think this is my favorite theater-adjacent album of the year, and will cherish it.
I know we just finished Halloween, and have to go through Thanksgiving, but here I am, listening to my first Christmas album of the season. But whether we like it or not, it is coming. And what better first album to start with but Lyambiko’s ‘My Favourite Christmas Songs.’ I don’t know every German jazz vocal artist out there, but I have to say that she is my favorite. She has a very great way with lyric interpretation – she knows how to insert meaning and nuance to what she is interpreting. And I like what she does with these Christmas songs. And she has good taste, because her favorite Christmas songs are also mine. This is a very melancholy, introspective Holiday album, and if you knew me, that’s what I gravitate to more often than not. Even a song like ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ has a very sad context in her interpretation. All the usual suspects are here, but my favorite tracks are ‘Merry Christmas Darling,’ ‘Little Christmas Tree,’ and ‘Christmastime Is Here,’ which she duets with Luca Sestak (who is he?) I know a lot of times we feel like we are assaulted by the Mariah Carey ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You,’ but here she gives it a very subtle rendition. All in all, a fine by-the-fireplace Christmas album.