Barry Manilow – The Classic Christmas Album (Arista / Legacy)
This Classic Christmas Album draws from Manilow’s three holiday albums – Because It’s Christmas (1990), A Christmas Gift of Love (2002), and In the Swing of Christmas (2009). The opening track is an all acapella rendering of “Silver Bells,” made more impressive when you realize that all the voices are Manilow himself. Same for a medley of “Joy to the World/Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – we don’t often think of the singer as a master of harmony, but these two tracks are stunning.
The big band material works best. Not a surprise – Manilow always seemed to be a throwback to the Great American Songbook days, and big arrangements of tracks like “Happy Holiday/White Christmas” are perfect for his delivery. It’s when he attempts ballads where things fall flat – there’s too much power on tracks like “The Christmas Waltz” and especially the Joni Mitchell nugget “River,” when a gentle touch was needed. Things are saved by the goofy rendition of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” where he manages to name-check Elton John, Billy Joel and Sting. There’s also a couple of songs that are uncharacteristically glum – “Silent Night/I Guess There Ain’t No Santa Claus” is just about the saddest song ever composed for the holidays. Also surprising is the inclusion of “It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve” all the way back from 1977’s Barry Manilow Live. –Tony Peters