Isley Brothers - I'll Be Home For Christmas (2007)

Isley Brothers
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Modern Christmas CDs, like Christina Aguilera albums, are virtually made for iPods.  Download the singles and leave the rest alone. 

The holiday release formula used by artist after artist for the past two decades has remained unchanged:  The album must be exactly 10 songs in length, must include one or two new songs and must otherwise cover holiday standards.  And not just any standards, but the SAME standards that every other act covers. In the R&B world, that means each artist sings some combination of "The Christmas Song," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Silent Night" and "White Christmas," with an occasional Donny Hathaway tribute on "This Christmas."  So for every transcendant Christmas album like Kelly Price's One Family, there are ten enjoyable but unremarkable ones like the Isleys' new I'll Be Home for Christmas.

Modern Christmas CDs, like Christina Aguilera albums, are virtually made for iPods.  Download the singles and leave the rest alone. 

The holiday release formula used by artist after artist for the past two decades has remained unchanged:  The album must be exactly 10 songs in length, must include one or two new songs and must otherwise cover holiday standards.  And not just any standards, but the SAME standards that every other act covers. In the R&B world, that means each artist sings some combination of "The Christmas Song," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Silent Night" and "White Christmas," with an occasional Donny Hathaway tribute on "This Christmas."  So for every transcendant Christmas album like Kelly Price's One Family, there are ten enjoyable but unremarkable ones like the Isleys' new I'll Be Home for Christmas.

To its credit, I'll Be Home was clearly put together by legendary hitmakers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with some thought behind it, and it certainly benefits from their clever arrangements and tempo changes.  The disc reaches its highest point on the two original Jam/Lewis compositions, "What Can I Buy You" and the excellent midtempo cut "I'm In Love" (which only bears a passing resemblance to a holiday song).  And Ronald Isley's solid vocals make the jazzy take on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" and the six minute "Isley Christmas Medley" work relatively well.  But there's only so much that can be done with the largely uninspired traditional selections on the disc, most of which have been released so many times by so many artists that they now sound like commercial jingles.

Jam and Lewis's production makes I'll Be Home For Christmas slightly more interesting than most modern holiday releases, but that's a pretty low bar.  The two new songs are absolutely worth downloading, but the rest is, for the most part, interchangeable with the dozens (maybe hundreds) of other versions of the same songs that have been released by R&B artists this decade.  Mildly recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 
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