Christmas songs are like chocolate mousse, intense and rich. A little bit goes a long way. The tasty morsels in Christmas From the Heart are strong experiences, not music that you play in the background at a party. This is music that demands your whole, undivided attention.
It can be left to others to look at the big picture and to put this album into perspective in terms of David’s career. I’ve chosen to take the small view and to look at only two songs – those two songs that I was most excited to hear.
O HOLY NIGHT
Many of us have strong memories of O Holy Night from the Los Angeles Tree Lighting ceremony last December. This was the first time for many of us when that song came alive; it was the first time that those words and melodies seared our souls. Remember the chills at “Fall on your knees” (1:38)? Remember those extra few notes and the added passion on the word “night” (4:42)? Remember that high note on “Noel” – pure and clear and glorious (4:55)?
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Burdened or blessed by those intense memories, any subsequent version is bound to be compared and contrasted. The Christmas album version, unfortunately, seems a bit overblown, and oddly, a bit flat. In Los Angeles there was a rawness, a passion and immediacy to David’s singing that isn’t quite there in the recorded version. This of course may simply be the difference between a live performance and a recording. The audience connection, that energy David seems to thrive on, is missing in the studio. But the main complaint is the overblown arrangement. This should be the mantra for anyone working with David: less is more, less is more, less is more. Come on guys, tone down the surging strings – this Voice doesn’t need it. Just let him sing with as little accompaniment as possible. The perfect example of this aesthetic is his recent masterpiece, Contigo en la Distancia. An elegant but understated guitar accompaniment left David room to fill the entire emotional space of the song with just his voice.
What can I say about Ave Maria? After I listened to it the first time I was completely spent, slayed, emotionally undone. Listening to that song took everything out of me. David took me up to the clouds and we floated together in pure bliss. And the children’s voices only added to the heavenly experience.
David apparently spent five hours recording Ave Maria. As he said in a recent article, it is not an easy song to sing. Those interval leaps and high notes would be challenging to any highly trained singer. David somehow manages to enter this classical music world with confidence and clarity of purpose. This song is far removed from the pop genre that has been his bread and butter for the past year, but he conquers all. His voice is pure and unearthly in its power and beauty. He opens up with full warmth on the high notes. His low notes caress and comfort. When he repeatedly sings the words “Sancta Maria” he conjures up all the motherly love from the universe, and surrounds you with the peace of residing within that love. And then there is the surprise of a little pop-style melisma, elegant and subtle. There’s a catch in his voice just before the second “Amen.” This is the David we know and love from Contigo, with just a dash of the pop David, combining to create something of exquisite and intimate beauty.
Thanks to Jennifer Barry for the photos & photo etchings. <3