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Christmas In Black And White - Click to view!In making Christmas albums, there's a delicate balance that must be observed: how does an artist maintain the timeless feel of the season while crafting a new holiday sound? Nicole C. Mullen manages to walk the wire of tradition and newness quite well in her Christmas record, Christmas in Black and White. She takes the styles of yesterday, mixes them with her distinct flair, and creates an album that isn't afraid to experiment with a holiday steeped in musical convention.

Mullen's own style comes to the forefront on the title track. With a smooth R&B groove as a background, Mullen speaks Luke 1:26-38, sounding almost like a recording of spoken-word art. "St. Nick's Groove" sits in the same vein: a father tells the story of St. Nicholas to his children while a bass line and sleigh bells keep an urban beat. Another song that implements talking rather than singing is "Gifts From You." What sounds to be Mullen's entire family fills the studio and helps her sing/speak the track. The catchy melody centers on the chorus: "I got a Christmas tree full of gifts from you / I got a Christmas tree full of gifts from you / I got a Christmas tree full of gifts from you / Wrapped up in skin of every shade and hue." Even Mullen's Caucasian husband gets in on the vocal action. It's almost as if we've entered the holiday gathering of the entire blended clan, and they've happened to break into song between servings of turkey and biscuits. These tracks hold that distinct "down-in-da-city" flair, and while it isn't often heard in Christmas albums, it works well for this record.

For those who want the traditional feel, there's "The Christmas Song," complete with violins, upright bass, and jazz piano. Mullen and her father duet in a sweet, smooth rendition that captures the classic sound. Or take "Angels We Have Heard on High," which begins with staccato vocals a cappella that still hold the jazzy atmosphere permeating this entire recording. Then comes the string concerto moment, tying together the fragmented female vocals. It's a marriage of traditional and modern sound that works quite nicely. Mullen even covers my favorite Christmas carol, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." A delicious classical guitar and solid vocals complete this soothing song of promise and hope. The simplicity of the arrangement makes the song sparkle all the more.

If you're like me and in search of a fresh approach to an ancient celebration, you'll want to select Christmas in Black and White. Nicole C. Mullen's voice is as stunning as ever, and the music is crafted to complement her production. It is an album of diversity blended with tradition, taking the black and white truth of Christ's birth and delivering it in a new expression of praise.
- Hollie Stewart
December 2004
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