*Gregory Porter – Christmas Wish (Blue Note)
Kicking off our Holiday Music Roundup 2023 is singer/songwriter Gregory Porter who delivers a profoundly inspired and varied 12-song Christmas offering that is sure to satisfy, filled with songs that range from jazz to soul to traditional orchestral and Sunday-go-to-meetin’ spiritual. Most welcome are three original compositions from Porter. “Everything’s Not Lost” is a sobering original that states despite our world-weary blues, the holidays are here to bring comfort and joy. The Title track “Christmas Wish” is an organ-fortified Sunday Christmas hand-clapper. And “Heart for Christmas” is the album’s finale Kumbaya with a sweet Asian motif. Other highlights are back-to-back Motown Christmas classics: Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas” and Marin Gaye’s “Purple Snowflakes” – both benefitting tremendously from drummer Emmanuel Harrold’s spirited funky drumming. The Vince Guaraldi classic “Christmas Time Is Here (made famous in the “A Charlie Brown Christmas” special) is rendered here as a lovely call and response number featuring three female backing singers plus a harmonica solo by Gregoire Maret and a bass solo by Jahmal Nichols, the latter a touching nod to the 1965 instrumental recording by Guaraldi. Nat King Cole fan Porter reworks “A Cradle in Bethlehem” in waltz time. The album opening “Silent Night” is a lovely arrangement with the Kingdom Orchestra. Plus Porter sings “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” with Samara Joy.
Robert Glasper – In December (Apple Music)
The master of the expansive Hip Hop-Soul-jazz Experiment delivers a super moody and introspective headphone excursion of 3 original compositions and 3 inebriating arrangements of Christmas standards for nocturnal sleigh riders as part of our Holiday Music Roundup 2023. Following a brief reflective piano solo intro “Fireside,” the P dovetails into a medley of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/Carol of the Bells” sung by actress Cynthia Erivo (the Whitney Houston movie), nutmeg spiced with a taste of winter-chill whistling. Next is “Make it Home,” a duet featuring PJ Morton & Sevyn Streeter about Christmas being incomplete without the one you love. “Memories with Mama” is a touching spoken word piece set to music featuring Tarriona “Tank” Ball – all about longing for the spirit of Christmases past. Next, Alex Isley (daughter of Ernie Isley) reminds us “he rules the world” on a night cruise thru “Joy to the World.” The Baylor Project (drummer Marcus Baylor and his vocalist wife Jean Baylor, formerly of Zhane’) come correctly with “The Little Drummer Boy.” Best of all is a collaboration between Glasper and singer/songwriter/actress Andra Day titled “December” – a sensual grown folks Christmas list: “And I don’t want toys no more / I just want an open door / A safe place… / Is my anxiety lovable / Is my body touchable / I just want it to be worth it all / Is that too much to ask?” With not one clunker in the batch, Grammy-winner “Black Radio” Glasper breaks the mold.
Gary Taylor – “Christmas That I Know” (Morning Crew)
It’s been 17 years since singer/songwriter extraordinaire Gary Taylor has graced us with new music. This year, he returns with one special song – a heartful holiday song, “Christmas That I Know.” It’s one we just had to include on our Holiday Music Roundup 2023. Coming complete with a lovely-lovely animated video by Femi (@FEROmedia UK), this is top-shelf Taylor – an intimate vocal delivery, warm chord changes, tasty tinkling piano, excellent use of space…and lyrics that gently tuck you inside a snow globe of slow-motion memories falling from Heaven. Sample Lyric: “We’ll spend a late night in a quiet room sipping egg nog and rum / As the fire slowly puts itself to sleep / As the children lie in bed upstairs dreaming Santa Claus to come / We’ll place our gifts of love beneath the Christmas tree…” File this under 4 minutes of Sensual Christmas Soul.
Pentatonix – The Greatest Christmas Hits
Pentatonix is a dynamic vocal quintet from Arlington, Texas. On this album, they are the modern times’ answer to The New Christy Minstrels – a top-notch vocal ensemble taking a very hip approach to Christmas songs for 2023. This group has delivered several past EPs of holiday songs. Their latest is on another level. The EP opens with a breathtaking medley of “Pure Imagination” (the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse gem from “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory”) with “Christmas Time is Here” (the Vince Guaraldi/Lee Mendelson classic from “A Charlie Brown Christmas). They also recorded a sweeping and dynamic arrangement of Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” with a Christmas twist. There is also a marching version of the spiritual “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” the mother’s lullaby “Little Toy Trains” and the project’s video single, “Please Santa Please.”
Cher – Christmas (Warner Music)
I really dig this holiday album from legacy pop star, Cher. I grew up watching her `70s television shows. Cher’s Christmas – her 27th studio album, first in ten years, and her very first Christmas album ever – feels like a commercial-free “The Cher Christmas Hour” TV special to me! What I love about Cher is she has never been stuck in one genre. She sings many styles with heart and gusto. So, when she does “Run, Rudolph, Run,” Chuck Berry will not be rollin’ over in his grave – it really rocks! When she teams up with Stevie Wonder (singing and blowing harmonica) for “What Christmas Means to Me,” the electricity between them crackles through your speakers. When she slows it down for the melancholy “Home” with Michael Bublé, it’s one from the heart, completely schmaltz-free. And when she and Cyndi Lauper go to town on “Put a Little Holiday in Your Heart,” you absolutely want to shake your blues away. Other highlights of this 13-song jamboree include “Drop Top Sleigh Ride” with Tyga, the electronica dance number “DJ Play a Christmas Song,” a soulful spin through Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home For Christmas,” and the sassy “I Like Christmas.”
War – “Yes, it’s Christmas” (Avenue/Rhino)
Lonnie Jordan, the only founding member of the group using the name War, has rewritten the band’s 1976 classic, “Summer,” as a winter holiday sing-a-long single, adding new words plus sleigh bells over the original track.ng new words plus sleigh bells over the original track.
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