I must admit that Im a sucker for whatever music Jewel does -- even if its Christmas music. I enjoyed both Pieces of You and Spirit for the fine songwriting and earnest musicianship. Coupled with her angelic voice and sultry presence, it all makes for a folk-singing dream girl to these eyes and ears.
This album opens with "Joy to the World," and when I heard the large-scale choral backing my heart jumped a notch, not in excitement, but in fear as though Jewel may have succumbed to the same evil temptations as Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston with their overblown, melodramatic, egomaniac presentations. Luckily "Joy to the World" settles down after the first few seconds when Jewels pristine voice joins in and all turns, well, quite joyous. Jewel plays most of the holiday favorites straight on, relying on her beautiful voice and acoustic guitar instead of hype and oddball interpretations. It works very well through tracks like "O Holy Night," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Silent Night." Compared to, say, Mariah Careys Christmas album, Jewels disc sounds like she was born to sing these songs. Furthermore, she shows some flair with a decidedly country flavor to "Winter Wonderland," and there is an interesting take on "Ave Maria." During a three-song medley she combines "Go Tell It On The Mountain" with the Julie Gold-penned "From a Distance" and finishes off with perhaps the strongest song from Spirit, "Life Uncommon."
While this collection is mainly Christmas favorites, Jewel did sneak in a few new tracks. The best is "Face of Love," which has a decidedly Jewelian sound that were already familiar with, but its good nevertheless and will probably be a radio hit. "I Wonder as I Wander" and "Gloria" are the other two new tunes, and although they are certainly not bad, theyre not quite up to snuff to my ears -- listenable but forgettable. The final track of the disc is a newly arranged "Hands" replete with Christmas bells and a choir. Im not a fan of the overall arrangement of the song, but I do like Jewels singing here since its a little more heartfelt and controlled than what was on Spirit.
Recording quality is good overall with a nice balance of clarity and detail. Jewels voice is captured fairly well and is not as dry or forward as it was on Spirit. Its positioned front and center in the stage, and the accompanying instruments are laid out in a good left-to-right stereo spread with some reasonable depth at times. Still, none of Jewels records have portrayed her the way they should. This one, for example, still has some problems in the upper registers. Its not bright, per se, but it is a little wispy and thin-sounding. On the other hand, the sound is not offensive like that of some pop recordings and will still sound very good on even modest systems.
Joy: A Holiday Collection is one of the best "major pop-star Christmas CD releases" Ive heard over the years. Sure there are some things that I can nit-pick about, but this is Christmas time and for the audience that its intended for, this ones a sure-fire winner. Furthermore, fans of Jewel will likely relish in the new tracks and the new interpretations of her older songs. Overall this is a nicely performed, uplifting collection thats perfect Christmas fare.
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