December 1999

Jewel - Joy: A Holiday Collection
Atlantic CD 83250
Released: 1999

by Doug Schneider

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]I must admit that I’m a sucker for whatever music Jewel does -- even if it’s 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 Jewel’s 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 Carey’s Christmas album, Jewel’s 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 we’re already familiar with, but it’s 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, they’re 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. I’m not a fan of the overall arrangement of the song, but I do like Jewel’s singing here since it’s a little more heartfelt and controlled than what was on Spirit.

Recording quality is good overall with a nice balance of clarity and detail. Jewel’s voice is captured fairly well and is not as dry or forward as it was on Spirit. It’s 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 Jewel’s records have portrayed her the way they should. This one, for example, still has some problems in the upper registers. It’s 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" I’ve 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 it’s intended for, this one’s 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 that’s perfect Christmas fare.