Various Artists - Christmas Goes Gospel: ‘Tis the Season (2014)

Various Artists
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After years of listening to various holiday compilations, I have come to a fairly simple conclusion:  Compilations have run more rampant than ever, especially during the Christmas season with the WOW series (Christmas: Red & Christmas: Green) and the Now That’s What I Call Christmas collection, each an infomercial’s delight that usually produces platinum sales but much less critical pleasure.  Among all this compilation traffic congestion, there are a few thoughtfully packaged projects that center on the “something for everybody” theory, often via curating particularly strong previously released material.  And Christmas Goes Gospel: ‘Tis the Season, released by Rendezvous Records, is one of those strong, thoughtful packages.

After years of listening to various holiday compilations, I have come to a fairly simple conclusion:  Compilations have run more rampant than ever, especially during the Christmas season with the WOW series (Christmas: Red & Christmas: Green) and the Now That’s What I Call Christmas collection, each an infomercial’s delight that usually produces platinum sales but much less critical pleasure.  Among all this compilation traffic congestion, there are a few thoughtfully packaged projects that center on the “something for everybody” theory, often via curating particularly strong previously released material.  And Christmas Goes Gospel: ‘Tis the Season, released by Rendezvous Records, is one of those strong, thoughtful packages.

Christmas Goes Gospel manages to blend various urban musical tastes and song choices into a satisfying experience on most counts.  “Felix Navidad/Joy to the World” bathes in a tasty jazzy samba and gives Madisa’s powerful soulful pipes more room to stretch than did her Contemporary Christian megahit from 2013, “Overcomer.”  In the high energy praise department, Donnie McClurkin releases his usual charismatic jets for “Special Gift.”  Hezekiah Walker & LFC’s “More Than a Holiday” starts on a promising note before falling into a more stilted abyss in the second half.   

Several gospel family soloists (and a duet) are represented on Christmas Goes Gospel.  CeCe Winans and Praise! present a sweet smelling worship atmosphere on “He is Emmanuel.”   On the other hand, Vickie Winans, who is usually on the money with her soulful gospel inflections, mishandles the beloved holiday treasure, “Mary Did You Know,” with over the top vocals clashing with heavy-handed arrangements.   Yet Mary Mary does not disappoint as “Carol of the Bells” floats on a mild hip-hop groove with tight vocal interplay from sisters Erica & Tina Campbell. 

There are more must-hears on Christmas Goes Gospel, such as “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” from current Rendezvous signee, Jonathan Butler, whose rich tenor and impeccable acoustic guitar sooth the senses and accentuate the impact Jesus made on the world.   Kem swiftly mixes his edgy soulful jazz ingredients into a doo wop a cappella gem, “Doo Wop Christmas,” while Take 6’s a cappella sculpting of “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” is one of the finest urban renditions of this poignant Christmas carol.   And going way back into the time machine is The Temptations’ “Silent Night,” with masterful, stylish harmonies that deserve a home in the Christmas old-school R&B/soul library.

While many compilations aim for nothing but the hits, Christmas Goes Gospel: ‘Tis the Season strikes a sweet balance of several urban styles and mostly engaging performances of well chosen tunes, though not all top selling Christmas singles.   Rendezvous Records should be commended for making all the right moves in producing a mix that will suit everyone’s brand of holiday cheer.    Solidly Recommended.

By Peggy Oliver

 
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