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Michael W. Smith
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CHRISTMASTIME (1998)
Christmastime - Click to view! When I first heard of Smitty's Christmastime, his second to date, I thought "Yes, he's finally going to do a Christmas album right." What was my problem with his 1989 Christmas? CCM radio listeners know and love "No Eye Has Seen" (an Amy Grant duet), the boychoir solo "All is Well" (reportedly Smitty's favorite of his own music) and the dominant pop cut "Gloria." Several questions haunt any listener with an ear for music (intense Smitty fans: please take no offense—the truth hurts): Why does the choir have as much volume as Michael on so many tracks? Why pound the Latin phrase "Lux Venit" when it means nothing to anyone? And, above all, why sing through your nose? An enjoyable listening experience this surely isn't. Still, the Smith instrumental work is unmatched, especially the stirring originals "Memoirs" and "First Snowfall." So on with Christmastime. Does he do it right this time around? In many ways, yes. Gone is the constant drone of a church choir, replaced by a slicker, well-produced Hollywood Cathedral Church Choir, the same one on Bryan Duncan's forever classic album Christmas is Jesus. On Christmastime, many new, passionate piano instrumentals brighten the overall feel of the record, from the tender "Hope of Israel" to the more power-injected "O Christmas Tree," a duet with Phil Keaggy providing guitar. The sweet sound of Smitty's eight year-old daughter Anna duals with the musical backdrop of enchanting choir and strings in the "Manger Medley." This and "Sing We Now of Christmas (Medley)" both impressed me with their obvious sincerity and beautiful instrumentation. The classic holiday feel comes to glorious life with The London Session Orchestra and The American Boychoir (curiously, the same talents used on Steven Curtis Chapman's holiday release. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?). However, the album does have a serious downside. Looking at the CD packaging, it is clear that Michael's creativity was stretched recording a second album this year. while Live the Life successfully captured the sound of today, Christmastime uses five previously-heard cuts, ranging from Chris Rice's '95 hit, "Welcome to Our World," to the opener "Happiest Christmas". Again, only one driving pop original is employed, it being the enchanting, infectious title track "Christmastime." This in addition to a pitiful duet with Sandi Patti. I thought maybe "Christmas Waltz" and "Jingle Bells" were an attempt to reach the crowd immersed in the new resurrection of 30's swing-jazz—but can hardly see any W's fan immersed in these. For those willing to overlook critical flaws, you may very well find Michael W. Smith's Christmastime the soundtrack to your holiday cheer.
- Josh M. Shepherd
December 1999

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