October 6, 2008
In the interest of full disclosure, to say that I love all things Christmas is a gross understatement. I’ll put it this way, as much as I love Vince Gill, I love Christmas even more, which is the simplest and most concise way that I can offer to describe my feelings regarding the Christmas season.
So, I am grateful for the early simultaneous releases of Faith Hill’s and Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Christmas albums, which have provided me with the perfect excuses to delve into a series of Christmas related reviews that I have planned for the next three months leading up to Christmas.
Now, to the first Christmas album review, Faith Hill’s Joy To The World.
Purposefully, Faith Hill does not stray from the typical formula of Christmas albums. With the exception of one song, the familiar album title of “Joy To The World” is indicative of the direction of selecting traditional Christmas songs for the record that Hill has chosen.
The album features substantial vocal assistance from Metro Voices and The London Oratory School Boys Choir, along with the Nashville Orchestra who help to create the big band sound of the 40s and 50s. While these arrangements are not necessarily unique, they take the listener to the comfortable place of warm fires, old Christmas movies and festivities that are positively associated with the Christmas season.
For the most part, the pace of Joy To The World is calm and relaxed. Even songs such as “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland” and “Santa Clause Is Comin’ To Town” are slowed down from their usual up-tempo speeds to a loungier mid-tempo feel. “The Little Drummer Boy” is spared heavy production by altogether excluding instruments, including the ironic absence of drums, and is solely driven by a resonate vocal choir. Overall, the other classics stay faithful to their predecessors, but are buoyed by Hill’s inarguably spectacular voice.
The one original song on this record is the last track, which is a somber account of the Christmas story with a somewhat modern twist. It does not start off by portraying the events in the normally joyous light to which we are particularly accustomed. This, however, is not the central problem with the gospel flavored “A Baby Changes Everything.” If an artist is to choose to record just one original song along with a collection of classics, the original must either fit seamlessly with the classics or rise above them. Unfortunately, this song fails to accomplish either goal. Instead, it is considerably weaker than the songs before it and is, therefore, not likely to be especially memorable.
While Faith Hill is often criticized for her vocal showboating, she shows considerable restraint for this project. This is not to say that she does not use her wide vocal range to its full extent, but she shows wisdom in exercising proper restraint in the appropriate places. Her vocals are effortless and, at times, even beautiful.
For those who enjoy hearing their favorite artists interpret classic Christmas songs, this album will not be a disappointment, as Faith does an excellent job of giving the songs a warm treatment to provide just the right atmosphere for the impending Christmas season.