Release Date: September 30th 2022
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas
- Let It Snow
- What Christmas Means To Me
- Winter Wonderland
- Jingle Bells
- Away In A Manger
- The Christmas Song
- If You Believe
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
- Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
- O Little Town Of Bethlehem
- White Christmas
- In The Bleak Midwinter
- Bring On Christmas Day
- Silent Night
Every year when December rolls around, the Christmas tree goes up (in homes and in shopping centres), Christmas sales have started once Black Friday finishes, while in cafes, grocery stores and other food places, you can buy fruit cake and other Christmas goodies. Perhaps the commercialisation of Christmas starts in October and November (and sometimes as early as September if ever there is a Christmas album that releases around the end of September!); but one thing is for certain. Michael Buble’s Christmas album from 2011 still reigns supreme. And no matter how much we cringe inwardly or outwardly at this album; the fact is that Michael’s holiday project has etched its way into Christmas folklore- for better or for worse. When you listen or re-listen to a Christmas album year upon year upon year; I’d have to say that it loses its replay value, and that is the same with Christmas from Michael. Thankfully, as with every year, there are plenty of alternative Christmas albums that you can listen to if Michael’s project doesn’t resonate with you. Artists like Pistol Annies, Robbie Williams, Blake Shelton, Lady A, Amanda Shires, Darren Criss, Tori Kelly, Goo Goo Dolls, for KING & COUNTRY, Delta Goodrem and Pentatonix (5 Christmas albums and counting!), have all released holiday projects (plus many more artists!); and so the list is endless of artists you can listen to for inspiration and comfort around the holidays and around Jesus’ birth. Fast forward to now and here we are with another alternative to Michael’s ‘standard’ and possibly outdated Christmas project. British singer/songwriter Joss Stone (famous for her jazz and R&B style) isn’t that popular outside of the U.K. We are set to review her most recent all-new studio album Never Forget My Love hopefully before the end of this year, but by and large, Joss is largely known to her fans and that’s it. You can read about Joss on Wikipedia, but as Joss has released her new Christmas album Merry Christmas, Love (ironically in September this year, maybe subconsciously perpetuating the commercialisation of Christmas!); why not dive in deep into one of the most powerful, emotive, heart-warming and inspiring Christmas albums of the year?
Making this record has honestly been a dream come true. It’s been years and years playing in my head and now finally I get to hear it in reality. It seems to be very true that good things come to those who wait! All the Christmas stars have aligned and put me in the right place at the right time with the right team of people to make this music shine magic in every direction. I just hope people enjoy hearing it as much as I have making it.
To tell you the truth, I’m not really into jazz music nor R&B music nor soul music, but Joss’s Christmas album (like Norah’s from last year!) has really inspired me to at least explore these genres a bit more. Album opener “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” is a 30 second spoken word interlude, which sets the tone for a very Christmas-y jazzy album; while the ‘real’ opener is the soothing, reflective and moving “Let It Snow”- a holiday song to its core where Joss enthusiastically encourages the snow to snow this Christmas as a sign of her stable relationships with the people around her that she cares about. A track that isn’t my favourite outright as a song, Joss brightens the melody up immensely with her jazz sound and her powerful vocals, as this version does put me in the mood for celebrating Christmas; while the holiday tunes keep on coming with the gospel-like joyous and celebratory track “What Christmas Means To Me”, a rendition that to me is only second to the superb vocal masterpiece that belongs to Danny Gokey (while Mandisa’s version is a close third), as Joss delivers an exemplary and exquisite melody that is sure to bring a smile to my face and probably many other faces this year and in the many years to come.
Holiday songs “Winter Wonderland”, “Jingle Bells”, and “The Christmas Song” follow- and while all of these holiday songs can appear to be stale on the whole; Joss breathes new life into these timeless classics. “Winter Wonderland” is a captivating, swaying 50’s/60’s keys led jazz track, “Jingle Bells” is a laid-back, traditional song filled with fun, happiness and laughter, and album highlight “The Christmas Song”, originally by Nat King Cole, is a piano led ballad and accentuates Joss’s sublime and out-of-this-world vocals. Joss doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, and to be fair, Michael Buble’s Christmas is overall more ‘happy’ and ‘joyous’ at this point; there’s still something in Joss’s album thus far that inspires and permeates to my soul in a crazily awesome way. When you hear a ‘mainstream’ artist covering a worshipful Christmas carol, sometimes you wonder about the faith of the person singing the song. Yet even if they are or are not believers, the song still touches your soul, and that’s the case with “Away In A Manger” from Joss. It isn’t known if Joss is a Christian or not, but I guess it doesn’t matter, as this rendition is a piano ballad that is incredibly soothing, with Joss passionately and quietly singing out ‘…be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask You to stay, close by me forever, and love me, I pray, bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, and fit us for Heaven to live with You there…’, amongst a spine-tingling and chilling gospel choir that is every bit as resonating as they are powerful and impacting.
Likewise, with the worshipful “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, Joss once again employs a stirring and fervent gospel choir, and delivers a heavenly performance, as she facilitates bringing us into an unbridled and raw worshipful moment with our Lord and Saviour for all that he has done for us. The originally-penned “If You Believe”, a piano ballad and a hard-hitting track in the same vein musically and thematically as Josh Groban’s “Believe”, is an ode to Santa Claus, a melody directed to the young children and the assertion that ‘…Santa’s got a sleigh together, he is on his way to you, he won’t make you wait forever, just one night will do, if you believe, then you will hear the angеls’ drum, if you believe, then you will see a reindeer run, if you believe, do you believe?…’ (even though we all know that Santa isn’t real… yes even the children know this in their hearts!), while the playful and tongue-in-cheek track “Snow” is a song by Irving Berlin, and an obscure one at that that we all wouldn’t have heard of in the slightest. Though objectively near flawless, the holiday song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is completely unnecessary here given the sheer number of covers that you could also be lost in, even though Joss’s vocals shine and her passion here is undeniable. “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”, complete with a makeover of the melody, is a heartfelt rendition that is utterly transfixing and moving; while Joss also delivers greatly with the slower-ballad-like piano led jazz melody “White Christmas”, an underrated holiday track in its own right.
An obscure Christmas track is “In The Bleak Midwinter” (I’ve only heard Paul Colman cover this song!), but Joss presents us with by far the most unique and eclectic track on the entire album- as she reflects upon the true reason for the season, that ‘…if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part, yet what I can I give Him, I’ll give Him my heart…’. The hymn like bagpipes and violin laden original melody “Bring On Christmas Day” is a song that musically brings a smile to my face, and is one that Rend Collective would record, as Joss passionately sings about the importance and value of family, that ‘…we made it home, so many of us don’t, we gotta count our blessings as they come, never alone, when the world gets too heavy to run, somehow, we’re still hanging right on, just bring on Christmas day, throw your fears away, open up your door, ask for nothing more, and bring on Christmas day…’. Merry Christmas, Love then ends with the most over-recorded carol that everybody knows– which is “Silent Night”. Of that I need to say nothing more. This rendition is beautifully sung and brilliantly recorded, but once you’ve heard one version, you’ve heard them all, am I right?
Growing up there were lots of different types of music played at home. My dad liked James Brown, Solomon Burke and a lot of reggae, while my mum listened to a lot of big female voices such as Anita Baker and Whitney Houston.
One brother was into hip hop, my other brother was into teenage rock and roll stuff and my sister Lucy was into pop like Boyzone. I just played what I liked from what I heard. In the UK we are such a melting pot, aren’t we? But it was the more soulful voices – Dusty and Aretha – I connected with. I named my dog Dusty after Dusty Springfield.
I can’t believe it [that Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Soul Sessions debut hit album]. I do want to mark it but I don’t want to do a predictable Soul Sessions 3, even though 10 years ago I did Soul Sessions 2. I was only 16 when I released the first one and looking back my voice wasn’t great, so now it’s matured maybe I could rework some of the tracks. Even though they were all obscure covers I’m so pleased I did it as it taught me a lot about soul music.
It is true that I’m not really a fan of jazz music or soul music or even R&B (although Joss Stone’s Christmas album is more ‘big-band’ than any of the other three genres!), and that statement is true still. But it also is true that I found Joss Stone’s Merry Christmas, Love to be one of the most compelling, moving, and inspiring Christmas albums of the year thus far (and an assertion that probably won’t change much by the end of the year when I and my brother review more Christmas albums. It’s a dichotomous feeling, really, and I’m not really sure how to define such a sublime and moving and exquisite album, from a genre I don’t normally listen to. But rules were made to be broken I guess… and so I say, listen to this album and listen to Joss Stone’s discography in greater depth like I will be in the coming months. That’s not a suggestion everyone, but a directive. And that’s it. That’s all. You’ll definitely thank me later. And thus, as we sit back and worship Jesus simply because of who He is, let us bask in the awesomeness of this near-flawless Christmas album. Truly, there’s nothing better in my opinion! Well done, Joss, you deserve all the praise and accolades for this truly remarkable album!
I am very focused on my ‘life dreams’. I need my career because I’ve got to keep the lights on and provide for my family but as far as music goes, I can feel fulfilled musically by going to a pub with a friend and his guitar and make 50 bucks and be fine.
I don’t need 40,000 people screaming my name, I just need to keep it alive to fulfill my musical needs. When I was growing up, I wanted loads of kids but I couldn’t find the right man so I got to 30, living in Devon, and said to mum: ‘I’m moving to America and I’m not coming back until I have a husband and a child.’ I had to change something, so I did. I just want love in my life – always. I can be very focused.
Because of the lockdowns it’s been really difficult to get in the same room as Dave Stewart but we’ve made it work. Dave just asked me if I fancied doing it. I’ve been working with him since I was a kid writing material for an album called Homemade Jam, when I was living in Devon.
We never finished it but there were some songs from that period we’ve revisited that fit perfectly in the musical. It’s a beautiful love story, taking the theme of travel and time and what it’s like missing someone and not seeing someone for a chunk of time – how it can hurt your heart. The ‘wife’ in the musical is also an artist, which resonated with me. It tells the story of how she comes into her own as a woman.
5 songs to listen to: What Christmas Means To Me, If You Believe, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, In The Bleak Midwinter, Bring On Christmas Day
RIYL: Adele, Lauren Daigle, Kelly Clarkson, Jason Mraz, Colbie Caillat, Gavin DeGraw, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Demi Lovato