There’s nothing like receiving a Christmas album in early January. The management of Tommy James sent me his I Love Christmas release as a gift for reviewing his compilation album, 40 Years: The Complete Singles Collection (1966-2006). And so here we are.
The career of Tommy James has now passed the 45 year mark. He is best remembered for his work with the Shondells. They produced 19 chart hits between 1966-1970 with “Hanky Panky” and “Crimson & Clover” both reaching number one. Following the dissolution of the Shondells; Tommy James has remained active in the music industry. He continued to record and tour and has released 13 solo songs that have reached the American charts.
2004 found him issuing the CD single “I Love Christmas.” Four years later he released a full Christmas CD by the same name. He combined some traditional Christmas hymns with some well known holiday pop songs and then filled out the album with three original tunes. He may not break any new ground but the music is smooth and well performed and ultimately is a pleasant listen which sometimes is enough.
The first thing that jumped out at me was the quality of the vocals. While he is not young anymore, it seems as if his voice has a purer timbre than in his hey day. Now in his early sixties there has not been any deterioration of his vocal skills which is more than you can say for a lot of artists his age.
He chose three hymns for this album. The best is an a cappella version of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” His voice floats above a chorus which fills in the gaps nicely and gives the track a full sound. “Silent Night” does not fare as well. There is an echo in the vocal production, which I assume was intentional, plus the presentation is a little too popish for such a sacred piece of music. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is listenable but remains a very traditional rendition of this old hymn.
He is on more familiar ground with the secular songs of Christmas. His presentation of “The Christmas Song” is excellent and “Jingle Bell Rock” is a song just made for his pop inclinations. He even manages to translate the often recorded tune, “Winter Wonderland,” in an interesting way. His only miss was a bland “Little Drummer Boy.”
The three original tracks, which he co-wrote, are all strong. They are pure pop and emblematic of what one would expect from Tommy James. The four year old “I Love Christmas” is catchy with a nice beat. The saxophone which joins the track about half way through helps the song to build to an impressive conclusion. “Born On Christmas Day” tells the traditional Christmas story and has a chorus for vocal support and emphasis. “It’s Christmas Again” which was written with old band mate Mike Vale and features three original Shondells, is a nice little Christmas love song.
Over four decades into his career Tommy James is who he is and I Love Christmas fits his style well. It should please his long time fans and possibly attract a few new ones as well. I would recommend the album as a nice holiday listen. Give it a try as it’s only eleven months until Christmas.