Monday, November 28, 2005

James Taylor – A Christmas Album (2004)

The following review first appeared online in November 2004. Therefore some of the information about how to obtain a copy is now out of date. A year after this review first appeared the album is now considered a collector's item. Unless you can find a few leftover copies at your local Hallmark store the album appears to be available only at places such as Amazon.

James Taylor's first ever Christmas CD, simply titled A Christmas Album, is now available only at Hallmark stores. I have bought some of these Hallmark Christmas CDs in past years and they are usually mediocre or worse, partially because only half of the tracks are by the featured artist. The remaining tracks usually feature the London Symphony Orchestra who, at least on these Christmas CDs, is a group with very plodding arrangements. However, this year Hallmark has outdone themselves. A Christmas Album features JT on all 11 tracks, is produced by jazzman Dave Grusin, and features trumpeter Chris Botti on "Winter Wonderland," Natalie Cole on "Baby It's Cold Outside," and harmonica player Toots Theilemans on “The Christmas Song.” Other jazz stalwarts such as guitarists John Pizzarelli and Michael Landau are prominently featured throughout the album as is Grusin’s piano. This is Grusin’s CD almost as much as it is Taylor’s because he did all of the producing and arranging and wrote the CD's only original song, “Who Comes This Night.”

The CD’s tone is typical Taylor, meaning it never strays too far from his trademark soft folky rock but this one has a touch of smooth jazz sprinkled throughout because of the Grusin influence. Taylor tries to kick it up a notch at least once every album and this time he pulls it off with a bluesy version of “Jingle Bells.”

As always, the CD will be sold this year in Hallmark stores only, and next year at non-Hallmark stores that carry its product line, and then it is over. Done! Finished! Out of print forever! I have a feeling Taylor's will sell much faster than than any of the previous Hallmark Christmas CDs so run out right now and buy your copy because this may be the last Taylor music we see for awhile. For the first time in his long career he is without a label. He and Columbia parted ways after releasing October Road in 2002.

I know this sounds like a commercial but the word needs to spread. The album is $10.95 if you purchase it alone but the price drops to $6.95 if you buy three greeting cards. This time of year most of us will probably purchase at least that many so this disc is a potential steal.

Both JT and Grusin have seen to it that this album is far superior to any of the previous Hallmark limited edition holiday releases. If you like James Taylor you will like this album.

3 comments:

  1. I have a copy of Baby It's Cold Outside featuring Bobby Caldwell and Vanessa Williams on vocals. It's... okay. I've never much cared for the song actually-- regardless of who is performing it. I think even if Peter Cetera or Jason Scheff were to perform it with Stevie Nicks or some other female vocalist that I actually like, I'd still have to take a pass.

    I do dig Chris Botti's trumpet playing. I have some of his material in mp3s. It's good background music-- but to me Botti is to the trumpet what Kenny G is to the saxaphone. However, I'd much rather have a Botti CD than a Kenny G CD playing in the background.

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  2. I saw a pile of these two days ago at Kohl's in Doylestown PA for the normal price of $7.99 w/three Hallmark card purchase. So this might be still readily available in the Kohl's chain.

    Incidentally, as much as I love JT and his music, I guess my expectations were too high on this one and I found it disappointing, primarily due to the song choices. I could listen to James sing the phone book, but that prospect seems preferable to some of the lame songs he got stuck with here.

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  3. Y'all are high. These Hallmark offerings are wonderful, engaging holiday treats for no other reason than that Hallmark has recruited legendary artists to perform our favorites (and some not-so-well known renderings) in unexpected ways. It makes for wonderful background holiday music.

    And the earlier CDs were excellent with their non-main artist cuts. I loved the London Symphony Orchestra and others - it made for nice break between the other tracks by the featured artist. What started out as a well-crafted variety of styles has been dumbed down somewhat, apparently due to complaints by listeners like you all, that don't get it.

    Now, if we could only find a listing of back CDs (I am missing several of them), identified as annual Hallmark Christmas CDs, and a way to order them, I'd be thrilled!

    (I like your Cetera/Scheff idea!)

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