My Favorite Time of the Year
Dionne Warwick has been recording popular music for 40 years now, and believe it or not, this is her first Christmas album. “I am truly excited and I, like so many others, wonder what took me so long,” said Warwick of the project. “Well, the wait is over, and I am certain all will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed doing it.”
Warwick truly does love the holiday season and that shines through on this set, her second for independent record label DMI Records. The disc includes mostly standard holiday fare, but Warwick’s interpretations are fresh and up to date. The album has a jazzy feel overall, and especially on the three tracks featuring saxophonist Dave Koz. These include “Joy to the World,” “Winter Wonderland” and “White Christmas.” The latter is a virtual duet between Warwick’s solid voice and Koz’s strong sax.
Speaking of duets, others here include gospel great CeCe Winans on “I Believe in Christmas,” the one original composition on the album (Winans wrote it just for Warwick) and Warwick’s good girlfriend Gladys Knight on a sensational version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
It may have taken four decades for this album to be made, but check it out and you’ll agree it was worth the wait.
Christmas Time Is Here
Blue Note Records
Speaking of jazz, Dianne Reeves is a sho nuff jazz vocalist extraordinaire. Like Warwick’s album, the 11 songs included here are all standards, but as JazzReview.com so aptly put it, “A close listen to the arrangements reveals that there is a lot of Dianne Reeves in the music as she injects her combination of jazz, pop, Brazilian samba and calypso into it.” Reeves has taken her share of hits for refusing to allow herself to be pigeonholed into one particular genre. Listeners of this album, however, will surely welcome the versatility she brings to these traditional tunes.
From the samba rhythm on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” to the straight ahead scatting she does on “Let It Snow,” Reeves ebullient Christmas spirit is contagious. She’ll melt your reluctance and have you snapping your fingers to the beat before you know it.
“I love Christmas,” Reeves said. “I love being with my family during the holiday season, and yet I’m all too often performing out-of-town during that time of year. Last year Christmas was spent on a stage in Tokyo. This year, I decided I wanted to be in others hearts and homes, and at the same time – stay at home!”
Silver and Gold
In stark contrast to Warwick, Vanessa Williams is only on the second decade of her career and yet “Silver and Gold” is her second Christmas album. The first, 1996’s “Star Bright,” focused – like the two albums featured here – on standards. But with this new album, Williams ventures into new territory. Two of the tracks here, “December Lullaby” and “Rise Up, Shepherd and Follow,” which features members of the Broadway Inspirational Voices Choir, were written by the album’s producer, longtime Williams collaborator Rob Mathes. Another fun one is “Merry Christmas, Darling,” a remake of the Carpenters classic.
The Irish whistling/guitar duo Cormac Breatnach and Martin Dunlea is featured on two tracks, and Brian McKnight trades off vocal duties with Williams on “Joy to the World.” This album comes complete with all the trimmings, the requisite choirs and googobs of string arrangements. At times, the heavy-handed accompaniment competes with Williams’ vocals as opposed to merely complementing them. This is an unfortunate flaw on an otherwise listener friendly album.
“Silver and Gold” is Williams’ first album in seven years. The release also marks Williams’ first for Lava/Atlantic. Her next set, a collection of covers of 70s love songs, is due in stores in time for Valentine’s Day.