Monday, October 28, 2013

Music Review: Christmas is Here by Brandon Heath

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: The old standbys are good, recalling arrangements of old
Cons: The new songs?  Bah!  Humbug!!!
The Bottom Line:
Buy for the classics
Because the new songs aren't great
Brandon's fans only

I Really Wanted to Love This Disc, but the New Songs Drag It Down

Every year in late summer, I start anxiously looking to see who is releasing new Christmas music this fall.  I was thrilled to see that Brandon Heath was releasing one this year, and I rushed out to buy it.  Sadly, Christmas Is Here didn't live up to my expectations.

I own enough Christmas music that I look for the original songs to make or break a disc for me.  And this is where the disc falls flat.  Two of the songs are more Bah Humbug than Christmas cheer.

First up is "The Day After Thanksgiving."  And I know many people agree with the sentiment in the song - wait until Black Friday to start playing Christmas music and selling stuff in the stores.  It's a catchy tune and a good mid-tempo song.  I have a feeling he was trying to go for funny, but it just comes across as grumpy.

Then there's the irony that I am complaining about this song in October on a disc that has been out for two weeks already.

Then there's "Momma Wouldn't Lie to Me."  Written from the point of view of a kid who still believes in Santa, I do think it makes a good point about what can happen to kids from being lied to about Santa.  But first, if parents aren't aware, the song could spill the beans.  And again, it feels more like a grumpy song that a song full of Christmas cheer.  That is despite the very upbeat, jazzy music.

Then there's "Just a Girl."  I'm still trying to figure out what Brandon was trying to say with this song written from the point of view of the innkeeper.

Fortunately, the rest of the tracks are great.  In fact, they more than make up for these three songs.  Brandon tried to capture the sound of the crooners of old on these tracks, so many of them feel very familiar to me already, and I love it.  For example the instruments on "The Christmas Song" sound so much like Nat King Cole's classic version I have to remind myself that he did rerecord them.  He channels Bing Crosby on "Silent Night."  And while the medley of "O Come All Ye Faithful/Angels We Have Heard on High" is new, it too sounds like the old crooners at work.

Among these tracks, my favorite is "Go Tell It on the Mountain."  I'm not usually a fan of this song, and Brandon's bluegrass version might have worked against it.  However, somehow it fits the song, and I love the way that he sings too verses together before going back to the chorus.  This might become my favorite version of the song.

The bluegrass band also appears on "In the Bleak Midwinter."  It doesn't work quite as well here, but it is a good take on a lesser recorded song.

This is a disc to wait to buy until after Christmas.  Even then, buy it for the old standbys because the new songs aren't that great.  Christmas Is Here will get mixed in with my Christmas music on iTunes, but it won't be one I rush to pull out each year.

CD Length: 34:31
1. The Day After Thanksgiving
2. The Christmas Song
3. O Little Town of Bethlehem
4. Just a Girl
5. In the Bleak Midwinter
6. Momma Wouldn't Lie to Me
7. Away in a Manger
8. Go Tell it on the Mountain
9. Silent Night
10. O Come All Ye Faithful/Angels We Have Heard on High

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