India.Arie - Christmas With Friends (with Joe Sample)

India.Arie
india_arie_-_with_joe_sample_christmas_with_friends.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

The news that a particular artist has released a Christmas CD usually elicits one of three responses: "Him/her too?", "I guess" or "About d@mn time." Part of what determines such a reception is the quality of the aforementioned performer, and that's why R&B's Acoustic Soul Siren, India.Arie, and the lauded composer and musician extraordinaire, Joe Sample, have earned the latter expression with the release of her sixth album and both artists' first-ever holiday set, Christmas With Friends. 

This debut pairing of the late, great Sample and the celebrated Arie combines her earthy alto, his anchoring instrumental prowess and a host of guest stars from across the genres (rock, pop, soul and of course jazz), resulting in ten leisurely-paced and elegantly rendered favorites of the season. 

The news that a particular artist has released a Christmas CD usually elicits one of three responses: "Him/her too?", "I guess" or "About d@mn time." Part of what determines such a reception is the quality of the aforementioned performer, and that's why R&B's Acoustic Soul Siren, India.Arie, and the lauded composer and musician extraordinaire, Joe Sample, have earned the latter expression with the release of her sixth album and both artists' first-ever holiday set, Christmas With Friends. 

This debut pairing of the late, great Sample and the celebrated Arie combines her earthy alto, his anchoring instrumental prowess and a host of guest stars from across the genres (rock, pop, soul and of course jazz), resulting in ten leisurely-paced and elegantly rendered favorites of the season. 

Thanks to her years of virtuosity, Ms. Arie sounds splendid whether alone or accompanied: Sample's glib piano work and her feathery croon transform "Let It Snow" into a dusky delight, and "The Christmas Song" is a smoke-infused ditty that could tidy up a bustling winter evening or get the mood right under a sprig of mistletoe at the cool out spot. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," featuring Kem as the first of three male-anchored diets, is so effortless that it almost feels more like a long-overdue gabfest between besties instead of a well-worn holiday classic. 

The remaining tracks, including the ragtime-reminescent "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," the nimble "Mary, Did You Know" (ft. Gene Moore Jr.) and "Auld Lang Syne," deftly demonstrate how rich India's timbre remains: "Merry Christmas Baby," with blue-eyed soul man Michael McDonald, starts languidly before ascending to a saucy vocal tango, and Tori Kelly adds spice to the lone original number, "Favorite Time Of Year." Joe Sample didn't have the time left to contribute fully throughout the project (he passed away of mesothelioma before its conclusion), but he and Arie multiplied their skill sets with a camaraderie that regales and was worthy of much more.  

Beyond the CD needing more pep in its step (its even keel could seem maddening to some if ingested all at once), Christmas With Friends gifts music lovers with a beautiful and bittersweet addition to the ever-expanding arsenal of holiday fare. The unique artistry of the late Joe Sample and India.Arie aligned for a common goal---a holiday set---and in the process, achieved an ironic feat: gifting music lovers with a treat to the ears, and heart, long before that celebrated day arrives.  Highly Recommended

By Melody Charles

 

 
Choice Cut - Kenya - "Favorite Things"
Choice Cut - Sy Smith - "Camelot"
Featured Album - Conya Doss - CLEAR
See The Nominees! - SoulTracks Readers' Choice Awards

Leave a comment!