Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Christmas Is the Time
Genres: Special Interest, Pop, R&B, Classical, Broadway & Vocalists
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Gregor von Kallahann | 10/07/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Nearly every established popular singer is expected to do a holiday album at some point in his/her career. Lou Rawls actually has multiple Yuletide releases out there (although some may be discount repackagings)and on the face of it, who could argue with that? A distinctive singer who's both soulful AND smooth, Rawls would seem to be the perfect artist to tackle standard and not so standard holiday fare.
Well, that's how it would work in theory. But there is a fundamental problem with holiday music that every interpretive singer has to deal with--namely, what distinctive new twists can you bring to these most standard of standards. What's going to make your take on"Silent Night" or "I'll Be Home Fro Christmas" (or any number of seasonal classics and/or warhorses) at all special?
Usually, the singer in question pretty much opts to do pretty much what he (or she) does best. So in Rawls' case, some smooth but soulful interpretations would seem to be the order of the day. And he supplies us here with ample examples of same. The readings of both the secular and sacred carols have all the classic Lou Rawls moves. Which is to say, they are reasonably straightforward readings with a jazz tinge here and a soulful filigree there.
Not surprisingly, some of this works, and some of it doesn't. The more secular tunes like "Silver Bells" and "Winter Wonderland" lend themselves to the Rawls treatment pretty readily. "The First Noel," "Joy To the World," and "O Holy Night" are less successful. I have heard full gospel choirs do wonderfully imaginative and inspiring takes on all of these carols, so I'm not being a strict traditionalist here. But Rawls' versions of these classics lie somewhere in between your standard, straightforward interpretation and an all-out gospel version. And in that, they prove to be neither fish nor fowl.
Which is not to say they are "foul." They are, for the most part, perfectly enjoyable. If I had ever heard Rawls perform any of these arrangements in the context of a holiday concert, say, or on a TV special I'm sure I would have loved them. But as a CD to be played over and over again? Well, I'm not so sure.
If anyone read all the reviews I post, he or she might recall that I once posted a review of another Lou Rawls Xmas album (MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS) in which I offered mild criticism that its relative lack of sacred songs made for a somewhat breezy listening experience. To be sure, CHRISTMAS IS THE TIME's roster of songs is much more balanced between the spiritual and the worldly and should, theoretically, work better. It works well enough, but the slightly breezy quality is still there, even on the more sacred selections.
And the reason, I'm guessing, is that Rawls and his producers felt that compunction to bring something NEW and something definitively LOU RAWLS to the numbers. Actually, there was no such need. Rawls' distinctive voice, singing the standard carols straight would have more than sufficed. His relatively straightforward take on "Silent Night" suggests as much.
The secular stuff works pretty well, though. That includes the title tune, a very nice self-penned modern-day carol (written in collaboration with Jeff Colella) which is the album's sole original number (and every Christmas record needs at least one of those too). Overall, the CD is well worth a listen, especially for fans of the late great popular singer. But Rawls and crew never quite get over the curse of the holiday album here. There are flashes of originality, but despite the trademark vocal moves, there is little here to make this holiday record different from all other holiday records. Except, of course, that it IS Lou Rawls, and that's something of a selling point in itself."