Album: Leona Lewis – “Christmas, with love” (2013)

I haven’t quite got that festive feeling still, I’m cutting it a bit fine perhaps. Or maybe I’m just not in the mood for a Christmas album – if indeed I ever am. I’ve listened to some horrors over the years, so if anyone was capable of winning me over, it was Leona Lewis.

Her career has been limping along for a little while, a crying shame really as she’s one of the UK’s best voices. With previous album “Glassheart” not quite catching fire, it was perhaps a sensible decision to rehabilitate her in the public eye with something a bit more crowd-pleasing. Actually a Christmas album is still a bit of a risky venture in the UK, where the genre hasn’t quite blown up compared to the USA. But with Michael Buble doing great business with his attempt last year, the timing was pretty good.

A high-profile slot on the X-Factor sent Leona back into the top 3 for the first time in years, so it remains to be seen if the album might follow suit. But here goes…

09 One more sleep – That lead single is a rare thing, a conscious (and plausible) effort to get a hit with an original Christmas song. She goes down the “Faux-town” route with a wonderfully easy rhythm, and a gorgeous little bridge. The sleigh bells are laid on a bit thick but this is one of the better attempts at an Xmas hit I’ve heard for a long while.

07 Winter wonderland – There are plenty of the usual Xmas standards to be had on this album. I think the production on this one is a bit too noisy, Leona’s almost in danger of being drowned out by the raucous instrumentation. Not quite getting this one, they haven’t got the balance right.

06 White Christmas – I mean you don’t have to do these songs just like the most famous versions, but I’m not sure I quite like this Motown re-imagining of one of the biggest Xmas songs of them all. It’s just been jammed into a dreary 50s rock’n’roll downtempo, it’s not big on subtlety and forces Leona into a lumbering rhythm that she has to pad out with exhausting adlibs. It’s like Vonda Shepard with a megaphone.

07 Your Hallelujah – Another original (I think) and something a bit more seasonal and dignified. This is more what I’d hoped for from a Leona crowdpleasing album. It just fits her voice so much better, I love her timing – something that she was obliged to break on the previous track. It’s a pretty little waltz, not going to be a modern classic or anything but very nice.

08 Christmas (Baby please come home) – More throwback festivities now, and a song I wasn’t really familiar with until Buble did it. This is a lot better than her other swingathons, it just feels like a much better fit for her. Still not my genre of choice but I do like this one a lot more than I expected.

07 Mr Right – Last original song, but still in keeping with the 50s/60s theme. I do keep getting these Vonda Shepard vibes here, where did that come from? It’s not as brazen an attempt to bask in Mariah’s “AIWFCIY” reflected glow but we’re in the same ballpark I think. Enjoyable but the Christmas classics are a tough crowd to get into.

09 O Holy Night – I’ve never been one for the carol songs so much, but I’ve really started to like the various versions of this one, this is the old-school I feel I can appreciate more. It’s exactly how you’d imagine Leona singing “O Holy Night”, and fortunately for me that’s a very good thing as it gives her a chance to show how beautiful a vocalist she is.

07 I wish it could be Christmas everyday – It was good while it lasted, time to take on the UK’s (second) favourite 70s shout-a-thon. It takes a little while before that oppressive production beats you over the head, but it still gets you. It’s a good song, but leaves Leona to just keep up rather than give much individuality to it.

09 Ave Maria – What a curveball, I’ve never heard Leona sing like this before. Pure and heavenly, I wish she would perform this live somewhere, really amazing stuff. Sure “Ave Maria” (along with “O Holy Night” sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the rest, but in this case it’s for all the right reasons.

09 Silent Night – It’s like the Christmas album I wanted to hear has been mixed up with something else. After the full-on Christmas onslaught of most of the album, we close on two simply-sung carols. As expected she does it brilliantly with a totally acapella performance. Haunting and beautiful, this is her real strength.

Well I got through it – I think she’s still a superb artist, I think the trouble I had with this album was really the choice of artistic direction it went in. There are certainly no shortage of listeners I’m sure would love this album, but I guess I’m just old-fashioned when it comes to my favourite female voices.

For me, the album only really shines when Leona’s vocals are the main attraction, and there are too many moments where she’s competing with the suffocating production instead of being complemented by it. But in saying that, it’s only half an hour long, and I’ve heard worse collections.

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