Christmas albums by rising stars have a wide field of potential, either to become forever-endearing classics to be played for years to come, or come off as recyclable, poorly-conceived projects that exist only to make a quick buck. Instead of opting for the latter, Tennessee's Dave Barnes makes a considerable attempt with his hat in the ring; with last spring's What We Want, What We Get showcasing his array of polished, southern-style talent, the singer/songwriter returns this November with the lighthearted, but charming, Very Merry Christmas.
Considering the style Barnes is going for, the classic Christmas favorites Barnes chooses to cover fit the bill spot on. The Mariah Carey classic "All I Want For Christmas Is You" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas" both get a southern spin that doesn't offer too many surprises in their execution but are nonetheless done well. "Family Tree" connects the cold weather to family gatherings, and "The Christmas Song," made famous by Nat King Cole, gets a respectable rendition. Even though none of the covers here are particularly profound, they fit the album's overall feel quite well.
What Barnes majors most on Very Merry Christmas, however, are the songs penned by Barnes himself. The opening title track sets the mood for the rest of the album with soft bluesy beats and sparingly placed guitar strums. Lyrically, it's a simple reminiscing about holiday traditions and fun times with family and friends that's hard not to appreciate. "Christmas Tonight" follows Barnes and guest vocalist Hillary Scott (of Lady Antebellum fame) conferring on whether to go out for Christmas festivities or stay inside where it's warm; the duet works well with the song's theme, complementing the Christmas cheer found in the track's composition. It does feel a little too similar to the popular holiday song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in its premise with its back-and-forth bits between Barnes and Scott, but the track still stands out in the pack as a clever original.
Christmastime romance finds its way into "Meet Me At the Mistletoe," but with lyric choices that feel a tad hackneyed ("the mistletoe is looking so good tonight/let's rendezvous and sneak a kiss, the time is right"), the whole track borders on trite. "I Pray On Christmas" brings a purely-gospel twang to the table with handclap beats and a background choir, and the ballad "Holiday Made For Two" longs for another's love during the yuletide season. The most spiritual track on the album, however, is found in the closing acoustic number "Mary and Joseph;" the track describes the story of the nativity while giving Mary and Joseph a quality of humanness, and it eventually leads into Jesus' death on the cross. Connecting the coming of Jesus to why He indeed came, the album is ended on more than an appropriate and worshipful note.
Very Merry Christmas is so distinctly a Dave Barnes project that there are very few real surprises flung toward the listener familiar with his previous work. Also, there's very little presented here that delves too deep into the sacredness of the holiday, but instead of missing the mark, most of the songs here succeed as fun tributes to Christmas and its celebratory nature, and they fit Barnes' musical charisma like a glove. With both southern hospitality and Christmas cheer in tow, Very Merry Christmas is a fine Christmas journey to warm up to this season.- Review date: 11/7/10, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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