For a total Christmas lover like me, the fact that there were so many Christmas records being released this year was very exciting! Christmas came early, or at least that’s what I was thinking when the announcements first came out. We expect a Christmas album to either be moving and done with reverence, or fun, jolly, and enjoyable, or a little bit of both. Jennifer Nettles’ entered the picture with her record and gave us what we needed.
Jennifer tends to get a lot of flak for some reason, I not sure why. She is indeed very talented and possesses a rich, strong, gorgeous voice. Her forays into acting have been excellent as well. All around, Jennifer not only possesses a great deal of talent, but she seems to bring a light wherever she goes. She has such a warm and bright personality, I can’t imagine anyone disliking her. All that talent and personality is on full display on her new Christmas record. “To Celebrate Christmas” has a Jazzy, Muscle Shoals sound to it, with a few horns added in there.
This holiday album features a mixture of Christmas classics, traditional hymns, and some unexpected tracks. The record kicks off with the blues infused “Go Tell It on the Mountain”, and a sultry, New Orleans inspired “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, featuring Andra Day, follows. Honestly, I would really love this song if Jennifer had done it solo. I just don’t think that Andra Day’s vocals blend well with Jen’s. The song just doesn’t work the way it’s done here. When you’re working with a person who has such a unique, “affected” voice like Andra’s, it’s really hard to bring it off and harmonize. The next collaboration on the record is just the opposite. “The Little Drummer Boy” is sweet and perfect, with Jennifer and Idina Menzel’s voices meshing beautifully together. The production on this number is also stripped down and more folk-infused.
Jennifer adds cover versions of Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home”, which has a throwback stripped down Pop sound to it, and of Dolly Parton’s “Circle of Love”, a simply done track about the birth of Jesus that adheres to the original version. “Do You Hear What I Hear” and “Merry Christmas with Love” both are softer, folk infused tracks. Jennifer’s cover of Irving Berlin’s “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” is reminiscent of the original version used in the classic Christmas movie, “White Christmas.” It’s a beautiful reminder to remember what this season is all about and to be thankful for what we have. By far, the two biggest highlights on this record, for me, are the powerful “O Holy Night” and the soft-spoken, quieter “The First Noel”.
“To Celebrate Christmas” features a different sound, one that you don’t expect a Christmas record to have, and that’s one of the reason it works so well. It’s original and interesting. Overall, this is a well done record, and definitely worth adding to your Christmas playlist.
Highlights: “O Holy Night”, “The Little Drummer Boy” (Ft. Idina Menzel), and “The First Noel”.