Singer-songwriter John Legend decided to gift his listeners an early Christmas present by releasing his new album A Legendary Christmas on Friday. Is he supporting the trend of celebrating Christmas earlier and earlier? Yes. But as someone who listens to Christmas music all year round, I am happy with his decision.
At about this time every year, there’s an influx of artists releasing Christmas albums. And every year proves that many of them are disappointing flops. Luckily, though, Legend’s listeners unwrapped a delightful gift of eight covers of Christmas classics and six original songs.
Legend’s golden voice wraps his listeners in a cheerful holiday hug, and beautiful strings and horns support his silky sound. The album feels quite jazzy, as his upbeat festivity is infectious. It is impossible to listen to this record — no matter the time of year — and not get a jolt of joyful Christmas energy. Legend’s soulful style makes it seem like he was born to release Christmas music. I only wonder why we had to wait so long to experience it.
It feels impossible to listen to a new holiday album and not automatically compare it to classics, like the well-loved album Christmas by the holiday music master Michael Bublé. Legend’s style is very similar to Bublé’s. While A Legendary Christmas is a great success, saying it is better than Bublé’s work is a stretch.
A Legendary Christmas channels elements of both classic and modern holiday music. Legend covers songs mostly released in the 1940s through the 1970s, but his new music blends surprisingly well with the old classics. Most contemporary artists release their own Christmas songs that sound superficial and fail to embody the timelessness of those released decades ago. Legend does not follow that trend, proven by songs like “Wrap Me Up in Your Love” and “By Christmas Eve.”
The album opens with “What Christmas Means to Me,” a song popularized by Stevie Wonder. The track actually features Wonder on the harmonica and kicks off Legend’s Christmas celebration with an upbeat funk. Listeners can immediately sense the originality that Legend brings to traditional Christmas music. He continues the up-town soul style on the second track “Silver Bells.”
Legend’s stylistic flair is masterful as he transitions through different styles and genres. His tribute to Otis Redding and The Jackson 5 on the track “Merry Christmas Baby/Give Love on Christmas Day” has a bluesy sound. He also embraces Motown elements in numerous songs such as “Bring Me Love” and Marvin Gaye’s “Purple Snowflakes.”
While many of the songs Legend chose to cover are featured on almost every Christmas album, he also chose to include some that are less mainstream. This was a wise decision that resulted in huge success, as he effectively pays tribute to Redding, The Jackson 5 and Gaye.
Legend still delivers on the covers of those more traditional songs, as expected. The smooth jazz of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” maintains the album’s cheery energy. His rendition of “Christmas Time Is Here” is a memorable standout. It definitely contrasts with the well-known and loved original by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, but it still holds its own as a great version.
By the end of the album, I found myself itching for December, eagerly wishing for the season of gift-wrapping and tree decorating to arrive. For now, I will just have to pass the time before the holiday season by listening to the album on repeat and drinking hot cocoa.