Harry Connick, Jr.
What a Night! A Christmas Album
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2008, Volume 15, #12
Written by John Metzger
Mon December 15, 2008, 10:00 AM CST
Over the past few years, Harry Connick, Jr.’s artistic personality has been split in two. His major label efforts largely have orbited around the oversized, old-school pop of Frank Sinatra. By contrast, Connick’s jazzier explorations have been relegated to his work for Marsalis Music. Although his fame and popularity have stemmed from the former endeavors, he has sounded most engaged while making the latter ones. The issue he has been facing, of course, is one with which many performers frequently wrestle: how to maintain a consistent, commercial presence while also following a path that is creatively satisfying.
There is, perhaps, no better time for an artist to tinker around and test ideas than when he is contributing to a tribute album, crafting a new song to adorn a retrospective package, or constructing an outing devoted to stoking the spirit of the holidays. Sure enough, on What a Night! A Christmas Album, Connick takes steps, albeit small ones, to intertwine the twin strands of his career. Over the course of the 15-track endeavor, Connick leans heavily upon his charming demeanor. Although he moves effortlessly from the symphonic gracefulness of the title track to the nimble joyousness of Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, there is such an overriding sense of pristine professionalism about the set that it not only feels contrived but it also seems is if it had been designed to recreate the spectacle of a Broadway-style production.
Considering that Connick has mounted a holiday tour to support What a Night! A Christmas Album, there may be some truth to this fact. Nevertheless, the outing ought not be dismissed so readily. Although his duets with Kim Burrell on Let There Be Peace on Earth and Song for the Hopeful are too straightlaced and sappy for their own good, the bulk of the collection deftly explores a wide range of styles. With an air of playful deliberation, for example, Connick brings a fresh perspective to Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies, while his big band adds a hefty punch to Winter Wonderland, which he delivers as a whimsical duet with his 11-year-old daughter Kate. Elsewhere, he revels in the blues, soul, and gospel textures of Please Come Home for Christmas, answers Billy Eckstine’s Christmas Eve with his own Christmas Day, and pays tribute to Louis Armstrong via a cover of ’Zat You Santa Claus Connick also bridges the span between generations when, on It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, he sings like the Sinatra of the 1960s over an arrangement that clearly was inspired by his hero’s work with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
Connick’s vocals are, at times, so casual that it becomes very easy to skim the surface of What a Night! A Christmas Album and miss its strengths entirely. Aside from the attention-grabbing funk he supplies to We Three Kings — which begins as a solo piano interlude that is reminiscent of Henry Butler’s work but quickly expands exponentially to become something that sounds very different — the album’s triumphs largely lurk beneath its glossy exterior. As it turns out, Connick has developed a sharp ear for arranging music, and he’s begun to make better use of his talent as a pianist. There was a time when it seemed as if Connick was spreading himself too thin by pushing beyond music to pursue a career as an actor. Lately, though, it looks like he has regained his focus. Better still, based upon the success of What a Night! A Christmas Album, Connick’s future as an artist rather than celebrity appears to be quite bright. ˝
Of Further Interest...
What a Night! A Christmas Album is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box