Friday, November 19, 2021

Music Review: Happiness is...Christmas! by Kristin Chenoweth

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Many new Christmas songs
Cons: A bit slow overall
The Bottom Line:
More Kristin Christmas
With mostly new to me songs
Sung beautifully

Happiness Is…New Christmas Music from Kristin Chenoweth

Over the last decade or so, Kristin Chenoweth’s first Christmas release has become a favorite of mine.  (Okay, so I have lots of favorites when it comes to Christmas music.)  When I discovered that she had a new Christmas release this year, I bought it immediately.  While Happiness Is…Christmas! isn’t quite as good as her first one, it is growing on me.

The disc starts out with the title track, and Broadway fans will recognize the music.  “Happiness (is Christmas)” takes the song “Happiness” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and gives it seasonally appropriate lyrics about the joys of making memories and spending time with family and friends.  To make it even better, it is paired with “Christmas Time is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas.  This is a wonderful opening track, and Kristin’s connection with the play (being Sally in the Broadway revival), makes it even better.

Things continue well with “Why Couldn’t It Be Christmas Every Day?”  This is a bouncy, fun cover of the song.  Kristin slows things down for a cover of “Merry Christmas, Darling” from the Carpenters before giving us the jazzy and fun “(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) the Man with the Bag.”  There are hints of “Jingle Bell Rock” in that song for added fun.

It’s at this point that the disc slows down.  While these songs are beautiful, they tend to drag a bit.  This section kicks off with “The Stories That You Told.”  Best I can tell, this is a completely new track.  This is a very melancholy song, reflecting on stories told in the past that won’t be shared again, at least from the original storyteller.  It is bittersweet, but the bitter outweighs the sweet for me.

“The Little Road to Bethlehem” is beautiful, but again, it is slow, and I just don’t connect with it.  At least not yet.  I have a feeling this one might grow on me.

Kristin is joined by Keb’ Mo’ for the bluesy “Merry, Christmas, Baby.”  It’s a fun arrangement, and they both are incredible singing it.  I’ve just never cared for the song.

While still slow, I do appreciate the sentiment for a better world that is captured in “Christmas Lullaby.”

Speaking of lovely sentiment, there’s “We Are Lights.”  Yes, this is the song originally recorded by the Wicked cast and written by Stephen Schwartz.  And yes, it is technically a Chanukah song.  But that’s not a problem as the reminder to blaze for others is one that everyone needs, regardless of faith and regardless of season.

I’m still trying to figure out what I think of “Santa, I’ve Got a Bone to Pick with You!”  On the one hand, this original song is fun and funny.  The melody is likely to get stuck in your head, and it is a much-needed boost of energy at this point in the disc.  On the other hand, some of the lyrics are a bit too much, at least for me.  Overall, I do enjoy this one as Kristin gets some gripes about past presents off her chest.

We finally get to another track that is solely a traditional Christmas song.  I love “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and I’m not surprised to find that Kristin’s version is another great take.  Its easy-going jazz fits the song perfectly.

The disc closes with “My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year).”  This is a simple arrangement, with the focus on Kristin and a guitar accompaniment.  It’s always nice to get a New Year’s song, and this is a lovely one.

I think there are two things keeping this from being a winner right out of the gate for me.  The biggest issue is the pacing of the songs.  There are more slow tracks than fast ones.  I like a good variety, and I don’t feel we quite got that here.  On the other hand, the songs are all beautiful.  Kristin’s voice is amazing and brings the lyrics to life so it’s hard to complain.  Overall, this would be good quiet background music at a Christmas party.

The other issue is a double-edged sword.  When I get a disc that is more original tracks or tracks I’m not familiar with, it always takes it a while to feel like Christmas.  This is almost all songs I’m not already familiar with.  On the other hand, with the size of my Christmas music collection, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  I’m already beginning to overcome this issue, and I have a feeling in a few years, I’ll be able to put this disc on any time and feel like it is Christmas.

I’m glad I got Happiness is…Christmas!  It’s already growing on me.  While I don’t think it will top Kristin’s original Christmas release, fans will be thrilled to add it to their Christmas rotation.

CD Length: 47:38
1. Happiness (is Christmas)/Christmas Time is Here
2. Why Couldn’t It Be Christmas Every Day?
3. Merry Christmas, Darling
4. (Everybody’s Waitin’ For) the Man with the Bag/Jingle Bell Rock
5. The Stories That You Told
6. The Little Road to Bethlehem
7. Merry Christmas Baby (with Keb’ Mo’)
8. Christmas Lullaby
9. We are Lights
10. Santa, I’ve Got a Bone to Pick with You!
11. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
12. My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year)

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