Take 6 - The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Take 6
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I've always found it tough to listen to, much less review, a Christmas album in October. In Detroit, we generally spend that month in post-Summer denial, convinced that if we stay positive, the days will not get shorter and the snow will never come.  But my natural October aversion aside, it was impossible to avoid smiling while hearing the joyous tones of Take 6 on their second holiday album, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

I've always found it tough to listen to, much less review, a Christmas album in October. In Detroit, we generally spend that month in post-Summer denial, convinced that if we stay positive, the days will not get shorter and the snow will never come.  But my natural October aversion aside, it was impossible to avoid smiling while hearing the joyous tones of Take 6 on their second holiday album, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Too often, Christmas albums provide an easy, cheap way for an artist to phone in a performance of tired holiday retreads (Donny Hathway's "This Christmas" has become the urban Christmas CD version of saying grace before meals; it is required every time, even if you're daydreaming about your food).  The best releases of the past two decades - a prime example being Kelly Price's marvelous One Family - have been those where the artists have put in the work, writing and performing new Christmas-inspired material.  However, the guys of Take 6 flip the script here, providing an album of well worn holiday classics but twisting them into a joyous, upbeat, jazz-tinged album filled with their heavenly harmonies.

Most noticeable from the get-go on Wonderful is that the group members appear to be having fun. Instead of faithful, eye-rolling versions of "White Christmas," "Sleigh Ride" and the title track, Take 6 takes those classics all over the place, delivering surprisingly fresh versions of songs that haven't sounded fresh in a long time, but which here seem to pop from the speakers. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that a group known for its modern Gospel classics here spends most of the time on secular holiday songs, keeping the tenor of the album light and bouncy on tracks like a "Grinch" medley and "The Sugarplum Dance."  They move into Christian songs only on convincing versions of "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" and "I Saw Three Ships," before ending in fine fashion with "Christmas Time Is Here," a usually difficult song that the group brings to life with singer/pianist Shelea Frazier.

The talented members of Take 6 have at times over their two decades of recording seemed like they were running out of ideas. Then every few years they issue an album that reminds us all why we fell in love with their gloriously counter cultural take on modern music in the first place. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is another of those anchor albums for the sextet and may be the best holiday music you hear this year outside of church. Highly recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

 

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