There are two event projects that urban record labels once did very well, but we get them less and less as the years go by: the R&B holiday album and the black movie original soundtrack. Well, the Best Man Holiday Original Motion Picture Soundtrack manages to get both completely right and reminds us of all we’ve been missing. Not since some of the unexpected gems from the original soundtrack for This Christmas and classic urban holiday albums like Handel’s A Soulful Messiah, have so many elements fallen so pristinely into place. Along with the surprisingly good Mary J. Blige holiday album, A Mary Christmas, the Best Man Holiday Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the perfect spike for your holiday nog.
First let me say with the exuberance of a Chemistry Team geek getting invited to the prom by the high school quarterback that the slowed down, orchestral duet of Stevie Wonder’s “As” with Anthony Hamilton and a very reined-in Marsha Ambrosius is all by itself worth every bit of coin this project requires for purchase. Together these two are such magic on a production that is as full and soul nourishing as any Sunday sermon has a right to be. On an album ornamented with live instrumentation and pitch-perfect vocals, it’s not alone.
One by one, the royals of R&B and young newcomers step to the mike and give these holiday originals and Christmas classics every bit of their due. Jayda Brown and Jasmine Watkins children’s version of “O Holy Night” is about as precious as kittens being presented their first saucer of milk. Ne-Yo taps his inner early Marvin Gaye and croons a vaguely doo wop “I Want To Come Home for Christmas” that picks up the pace for the bridge to become a Jackson 5 swing. Emeli Sande delivers a warm, no-fuss piano ballad take of “Winter Wonderland” that will have you reaching for the hot chocolate and your Granny’s homemade quilt. With all the church girl she can muster, Monica lays it down against a bed of sumptuous strings for a Macy’s Day Parade-worthy “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Sitting behind the keys, John Legend does his best impression of…well…John Legend for the minimalist devotional, “Shelter.” Fantasia kicks it up a notch on the Motown backbeat revivalist soul of “What Christmas Means To Me,” in what is one of her cleanest, straight-ahead vocals to-date. A feel-good Charlie Wilson singing doubles and three-part harmonies with himself may be the best part of “I Still Have You,” a flawless urban adult contemporary swing. On “Christmas I’ll Be Steppin’” R. Kelly goes from swinging to stepping with ease in a throwback to his mid-career steppers classics. Both Jordin Sparks and Mario surprise the most with vocals that definitely elevate these young stars artistic profile, with Mario especially coming across as a Stevie Wonder doppleganger in tone and with riffs I didn’t know the youngblood had in him.
Mary J. Blige shares the requisite Donny Hathaway cover of “This Christmas” from her fine new holiday release, ensuring this album touches on several ‘70s Christmas classics as well as some old favorites. With New Edition’s “Can You Stand The Rain” thrown in as a nod to an accapella performance in the forthcoming Malcolm Lee film sequel to a black family favorite, The Best Man, the soundtrack for The Best Man Holiday is sure to keep families of all walks of life smiling bright for many years to come. Highly recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson