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Soul Express Album of the Month in November 2008

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It's Christmas
US Verve Forecast, 2008

1) I'll Go - w. Richard Smallwood 2) Children Go Where I Send Thee 3) Give Love on Christmas Day 4) Be There for Christmas 5) This Christmas (Could Be the One) 6) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 7) What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? 8) It's Christmas 9) What a Wonderful World 10) Please Come Home for Christmas - w. Keb' Mo'11) Silent Night 12) Thank You

For yours truly, Ledisi's Verve debut Lost & Found was a slight disappointment, since it seemed that Verve was trying to play it safe and only introduce Ledisi to R&B chart music buyers. But when the end result was that Ledisi reached the top ten of Billboard R&B album chart and was nominated for Grammy in two different categories, "Best New Artist" and "Best R&B Album", Ledisi was hardly disappointed herself!

Anyway, on the previous album the record company had dropped almost all the real instruments, but on this Xmas set Ledisi is backed by excellent jazz and soul musicians like Gerald Albright, Michael White, Greg Smith, Larry Kimpel, Ray Fuller and George Duke, so this is finally the musical atmosphere I wished Verve would provide for Ledisi. Furthermore, the good news is that this album does not only contain traditional Christmas songs, but Ledisi has also co-written four excellent new songs, all of which are outstanding.

Ledisi also covers the Motown Xmas chestnut Give Love on Christmas Day, originally performed by The Jackson 5, but also recorded by Johnny Gill, New Edition and The Temptations, and I have to admit that I have learnt to like the melody and Ledisi interprets the tune in her unique, passionate manner over the string and horns flavoured background. Beautiful.

The first new song Be There for Christmas reminds me of Steve Harley's funky Rufus-influenced production style, while Ledisi delivers her gutsy vocals over the brass-drenched backdrop with tenor and baritone saxes, a trombone and a trumpet. Errol Cooney plays the short guitar solo. All the music on the album has been recorded live in the studio.

This Christmas (Could Be the One) is a neat ballad tune written by Lorenzo Johnson together with Ledisi, and the acoustic piano based backing is almost as delicious as the musical setting on Anita Baker's Christmas album. Still, even much better is the peak of the album, the title track It's Christmas, which is written by Ledisi with George Duke, and this will be a timeless masterpiece in the years to come. The new composition is of classic status, and the refined jazzy instrumentation is just perfect, but naturally Ledisi herself steals the show with her gorgeous, colourful vocalising. Certainly one of the most arresting moments in soul (and jazz) music in recent years.

Ledisi herself cites the closing cut Thank You as "the hardest song I’ve ever sung"; the track is a rootsy upbeat plodder with a gospel-ly feel. Personally, I prefer the peaceful seasonal tunes on the album, especially Ledisi's beautiful jazz-inclined interpretations of the Louis Armstrong evergreen What a Wonderful World - featuring Christian Scott on trumpet - the much-covered Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and the song which is familiar from Lou Rawls' repertoire, What Are You Doing on New Years Eve?. Considering the fact that Ledisi recorded the whole project in three days, these readings are amazingly profound.

Another must-have item for all Ledisi fans.

- Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express

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