Luther Vandross – This Is Christmas
Rather than a do a rehash of many of the obvious traditional tunes that fill special holiday albums by contemporary performers, maestro Luther Vandross opted for the task of creating no fewer than 7 of the 10 tracks included on his 1995 Christmas release. The result is an album that demonstrates why Vandross is still considered the preeminent black male vocalist of close to three decades: as on typical Vandross recordings, the production is crisp and strong and the vocals are flawless. As usual, he employs the cream of musicians and background vocalists (including the inimitable Cissy Houston and Darlene Love, who is featured on the Motown-like duet “I Listen to the Bells“)–the perfect backdrop for Vandross’s distinctive sound, exemplified on the standout title track. “The Mistle Toe Jam” has the party-like feel of Vandross sides like “Bad Boy” and the more recent “Nights in Harlem,” while “Every Year, Every Christmas” (cowritten with Richard Marx) is a soulful slow jam. A surprising reading of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “My Favorite Things” shows that if Vandross ever chose to, he could easily do a fine album of jazz standards, while “O Come All Ye Faithful” (featuring an all-star choir that includes Valerie Simpson) is given the album’s most traditional reading. Standouts include the gorgeous “Please Come Home for Christmas” and the almost funky “A Kiss for Christmas.”
Easily one of the best Christmas albums around.
A1 With A Christmas Heart 4.04
A2 This Is Christmas 4.45
A3 The MistleTOE JAM (Everybody Kiss Somebody) 4.45
A4 Every Year, Every Christmas 5.06
A5 My Favorite Things 5.57
B1 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas 5.07
B2 I Listen To The Bells 6.06
B3 Please Come Home For Christmas 3.37
B4 A Kiss For Christmas 4.12
B5 O’ Come All Ye Faithful 4.19
In the mid-90s, it seemed that every high-profile R&B act was releasing Christmas albums for a quick buck, but this is truly one of the very best. With ten songs, seven are originals written by Luther, so it makes for a very memorable listen among a sea of generic albums with nearly identical tracklists. “This Is Christmas” does not explore the Christian side of Christmas (the only song that even mentions Christ is his performance of “O Come All Ye Faithful“), but songs are split between one of two types: the slow Christmas love ballads and the upbeat Christmas party tunes. Production is wonderful throughout, often simple and consisting of well-written piano parts. The songs are both well-written and often catchy, quite memorable, which in my mind are all great signs of a good Christmas song. Guests are minimal, only one duet exists among the tracklist. I highly recommend “This Is Christmas,” one of my favorite Christmas albums.
The disc opens with “With a Christmas Heart,” a slow and dramatic piece about the power of love at Christmas. He delivers a truly inspiring performance here. The title tune isn’t quite as good but is another keeper, slow and thoughtful. You’ll love “The Mistletoe Jam (Everybody Kiss Somebody),” a fast and funky party-starter that reflects Luther at his best. “Every Year, Every Christmas” is a classic ballad about a man’s Christmas feelings after a breakup, it’s excellent. He sings his own upbeat interpretation of John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things,” then moves into a wonderful version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” My favorite song on this album is “I Listen to the Bells,” a cleverly written pop duet with Darlene Love. The two trade off lines over a fast, soaring track about a Christmas breakup. Clarence Clemons of E-Street Band fame makes an appearance on saxophone. “Please Come Home for Christmas” and “A Kiss for Christmas” don’t stand out quite as much, but are both pretty good, and his performance of “O Come All Ye Faithful” is just short of stunning, with old-fashioned production.
This album gets non-stop rotation from me every year around Christmas, and it’s a really fun holiday record. I highly recommend it to those Christians who love Luther and 90s R&B.