With one of the most beautiful voices ever to grace the American Idol stage, Katharine McPhee battled all the way to the finals during season five in 2006. Ultimately finishing second to Taylor Hicks, McPhee has kept herself very busy in the last four years. Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You is her latest project, a truly excellent collection of holiday music.
McPhee and her producers have wisely chosen to keep the arrangements simple. Artists often shorten the shelf life of their Christmas-themed releases by layering on current production styles. Thankfully this isn't the case here, with a classic sense of style that will play equally well in years to come. McPhee is in excellent voice throughout, delivering nuanced interpretations of ten songs. Even if you haven't closely followed her post-Idol career, this is a perfect opportunity to become reacquainted.
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is an ideal opener, featuring trumpet accompaniment by Grammy-nominated Chris Botti. A swinging take on "Jingle Bells" is perhaps the highlight of the album, with a belting McPhee vocal. The quietest numbers are effective as well, especially a delicate reading of "O Holy Night."
McPhee contributed one original tune, "It's Not Christmas Without You" (co-written by Michelle Lewis and Doug Petty), that fits right in. More often than not, "new" Christmas songs stick out like a sore thumb; an unfamiliar weak spot. Not so here, as McPhee and company have crafted a strong melody and backed it with unfussy instrumentation. The title track is a cover of Billy Squier's holiday favorite, allowing for a bit of electric guitar to creep into the piano-dominated album. Frank Loesser's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" is a great choice, as the New Year holiday is often overlooked on such releases.
Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You is a welcome addition to the yearly onslaught of holiday releases. With so much to wade through every year, lovers of Christmas music can't be blamed for not knowing what to add to their collection. Katharine McPhee has kept things simple. By doing so she has produced an album that captures the spirit of the season. And it won't sound dated next year, or ten years from now for that matter.