A few years ago, I decided that I’d try out some Christmas albums. A tricky beast, particularly for someone as resistant to enforced jollity as I am. But sometimes some of my favourite singers release them, so it seems like as good an opportunity as any to test the freezing waters. Over the next few weeks I’ll post what I came up with in my investigations. But it’s not pretty. Let’s get this going with a nice twee start. So clearly it’s JEWEL TIME.
Let’s go back to 1999, just after Spirit. She hadn’t started fluctuating between failed slut and tedious country twanger yet, and by most measures she was on a bit of a roll. America lapped this up and it went Platinum.
Unsurprisingly she went down the wholesome God-bothering traditional route, with a majority of the tracks going to tried-and-tested Christmas standards.
To give her credit, her voice is on top form here hitting the choir notes perfectly, and that really makes some of these tracks.
Joy to the world is a rather duff rendition sung competently but a bit too Dickensian and twee for my taste, I can imagine the historical drama film-set already. O Holy Night ditches the choir and really shows how pure and lovely her voice can be. It’s an early highlight of the album.
Silent Night keeps us in rather suffocating carol-singer territory, but again it’s quite simple if utterly boring. Luckily she then strays into more contemporary circles (sort of) with Winter Wonderland. Twee still but it really suits her, I can imagine her being drippy enough to frolic in the snow in the village park or whatever. Shame she detours into country SCAT (not that kind) with her zoiby-bointy ad libs … awful, but more on THAT later.
O little town of Bethlehem doesn’t exactly excite, it’s just filler until the little gem of Ave Maria. I hadn’t got that down as something to be excited about, or even particularly Christmassy, but her voice is just gorgeous on here. A whole album would have been a bit much, but I’m sure she could have found some better filler … still, a highlight. Her operatics are really surprising, you can watch the video at the bottom of the review for a clip.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing is still alright but the album is wearing a bit thin by now. Nice enough but I’m over it. So then I endure Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. UTTER SHIT. Quirky does NOT SUIT her, especially on this load of bollocks. Mercifully it’s over in 2 minutes.
Face of Love, I see she wrote this, is it an original? I really like this, bit of a slow start but it’s got a solid chorus. Finally a glimpse of the Jewel I loved so much from Spirit. Not sure why they didn’t try to promote this as a single really, she was hot shit then wasn’t she?
A medley then, 6 minutes … JOY. Proper Christian folk-sounding fare to start with on Go tell it to the mountain, I don’t hate it, reminds me of Ally McBeal really but not my thing. A bit of From a Distance too, I always thought it was a lovely song when I heard Nanci Griffiths sing it, it would have been worth covering it on its own. But barely a minute later we are into Life Uncommon from Spirit. It’s a nice new version but not really miles from the original, good song though.
Another mini-interlude with Wonder as I wander, not really worth commenting on, blah. Gloria closes the album (bonus tracks aside), another choral piece which she does wonderfully. Not quite Ave Maria but lovely all the same.
Then a bonus of a Hands Christmas version (i.e. with Sleigh bells and choir put on top). Still, it’s a great song before we start, and the very minor interventions don’t change that. The chorus with the choir at the halfway point does add a little festive glitter so I can’t complain.
I found it hard to write a lot about this album really, it’s very safe. I don’t blame her of course, that’s exactly what this was supposed to be, and she carried it off well. It’s a slog to get through it all at once though. It just makes me want to listen to Spirit again. Which I will do, but let’s leave that until the New Year.