2000 Christmas Album Roundup

Each year brings with it a supply of Christmas projects. Headlining the group this year is new material from Yolanda Adams, Ben Tankard, and various members of the Winans family. We'll cover them all and more, so keep on checking back to this page for additions.

Christmas reviews from previous years are also still available. And there's also a special review page for those classic Christmas albums.

John H. Smith
Christmas Instrumentally Spoken
Axxan Records

Christmas Instrumentally Spoken Very smooth, very soulful, noted NY producer and guitarist John H. Smith delivers just the right mix of instrumental seasonal flava, spiced with some of the state's most respected Gospel vocalists, and featuring an assortment of additional psalmists including sax man Mel Holder.

Nancey Jackson, UNITY, Melonie Daniels, CD Hawkins Singers and Tracey Mosley share the limelight on respective familiar carols. And the feathered vocal touches of Marsha McClurkin transport "Angels We Have Heard On High" into a dreamy stratosphere. "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" is one of two cuts also found on the James Hall Christmas project, only it gets a different treatment here, courtesy of the CD Hawkins Singers. (The other song is the John Smith and Ayanna George creation, "Trust In God"). Deserving of special mention is the exotically-grooved "Drummer Boy" with Tracy Mosley and UNITY jazzing it up.

A sweet offering from tracks 1 through 8, this is a worthy addition to any Christmas collection.

Dominic Amato
A Soulful Sleigh Ride

A Soulful Sleigh Ride This project is halfway in size between an EP and an album. But at six tracks, it packs a snowstorm of whirling instrumental Christmas interpretations. Dominic Amato handles a brilliant sax (and guitar programming) while Ralphie Chavarria dazzles with his masterwork on keys, bass and strings.

The real gem on this platter is “What Child Is This”, delivered with a decidedly latin influence. With congas and whistles, you’ve never heard it done like this before. The familiar melodies of “Joy to the World” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” surface quickly on cuts 4 and 5, but come wrapped in a tender and complex urban jazz envelope. Guitar and piano set the appropriate expectant tone for "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". Find this project, and keep it.

Ben Tankard
Christmas Love
Verity Records

Christmas Love The signature sound of Ben Tankard comes together in seasonal format on Christmas Love. Riding throughout the 11 tracks are his synth expressions and piano musings, pulled from his extensive palette of white and black keys. It's a soothing combo of mostly original material, with the occasional nod to the familiar.

Guitar from Michael Ripolle sets off a quiet Christmas storm on "Guitar For Christmas"; he also adds to the quiet rhythms that accompany Tankard on "Melody of Bethlehem". Vocalist Michael Taylor simmers the simple but very effective title cut into warmth. It's one of the album's most memorable moments. The Tribe of Benjamin add their vocal prowess to "Let's Have Christmas". While a couple of cuts tend to be forgotten quickly ("My Favorite Things", "White Christmas"), there are more strong points than weak on Christmas Love. Proof? Just take one listen to "Away In A Manger".

Various Winans
Christmas...Our Gifts To You
ATF Records

Christmas...Our Gifts To You This is a Christmas dream team of vocalists: The Winans Family (CeCe, Marvin, Ronald, Angie, Debbie, Mom, Pop) with friends such as Darwin Hobbs, Kirk and Kevin Whalum, The Katinas, Paul Jackson Jr., Pharis Evans Jr., Ann McCrary, Sharon Moore-Caldwell and Joey Kibble. With the production of Victor and Cedric Caldwell supporting the entire 13-track effort, and arrangements that come to life, you have a ‘must have’.

“O Come All Ye Faithful” with CeCe on lead and The Katinas and Hobbs vocally backing the bass-kickin’ track is a winner, as is Hobbs’ own solo offering on “Little Drummer Boy”, an extended track which he takes to soulful extremes with help from Pharis Evans Jr. on drums. Marvin Winans' warm vocals make his interpretation of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” a joy, and brother Ron’s slow duet with Adrian Smith (see review) on “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” is an inspired gem.

“Angels We Have Heard On High” is an unusual take, with Kevin Whalum taking sparse solo lead, and also scatting a vocal bass line. Kirk Whalum takes the melody to heaven on sax, with organ and drum accompaniment. A weakness cannot be found on this project.

Yolanda Adams
Christmas With Yolanda Adams

Christmas With Yolanda Adams 2000 proved to be Yolanda's year, so it's fitting that she rounds it out with her first Christmas album. It's already a chart-topper.

Christmas classics stack the project, with Buster and Shavoni doing an impeccable production job of giving Yolanda free reign to work her vocals around them all. "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" is a show-stopper, with its lightly urban groove, simmering improvised background vocals and patterned phrasing of lyrics from Adams. Nothing fancy, just some real nice interpretations.

The supporting cast (West Angeles C.O.G.I.C. Choir, Ricky Grundy Singers, and pslamists such as Greg Phillinganes, Ricky Grundy, Paul Jackson Jr. and Andrew Gouché) enhance the seasonal flavas of the project, especially notable on the "Joy Medley" and the original "Born This Day". At 10 studio tracks, this project is the obvious pick of the crop. It's Yolanda.

Sacred Holidays

Sacred Holidays JeffMajors, Gospel harpist, brings his particularly distinctive classical sounds to his third project. If you're familiar with his two previous releases, then you won't be surprised at what you here on these twelve tracks: classical harp variously set to light rhythms and accompanied by full orchestra, soothing choir, and occasional soulful solo vocals.

Most of the cuts on this project lend themselves to a pop/urban feel. Marking the project is the original tune that serves as the opening track. "Pretty Little Baby" is penned by Majors and stirringly sung by LaTrice Verrett. It's an enthusiastic piece that should fit it in well in nearly any radio format, urban included. Majors contributes two other originals: the encouraging "Don't Cry This Christmas" featuring Walter Sigler, and the softly reflective title cut.

Songs such as "O'Come Emmanuel" and "Holy, Holy, Holy" are particularly suited to the vibe that a harp brings, and Majors takes advantage of this. Rounding out the project are interpretations of other familiar carols and Christmas melodies ("O'Tannenbaum", "First Noel", "Little Drummer Boy").

Union Baptist Church Mass Choir
Glory To God in the Highest...Live!
Class A Music Productions

Glory To God in the Highest The church choir of Union Baptist of White Plains, New York took it upon themselves the ambitious project of recording an album of Christmas material. The result is something of which they can be proud.

On Glory To God In The Highest...Live!, the mass choir presents a varied selection of seasonal tunes, taken from a myriad of sources. Included are cover versions of some of Kirk Franklin’s popular contemporary classics from his Christmas album, originals and innovative arrangements of standards from producer Lisa Nelson, and a version of the Hallelujah Chorus.

Instrumental accompaniment ranges from organ (John Peters) to full Gospel band, to orchestral keyboards, as appropriate to the song. Soloists present well for the most part, and as for Union Mass, credit them with a heartened live church choir sound that will bring the warmth of recognition to most who listen to this project.

— reviewed by Stan North—

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