STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN
"All I Really Want for Christmas"
"The Christmas Sessions"
Christian pop star Steven Curtis Chapman's latest release has an obviously heartfelt agenda. The parent of three adopted Asian girls, Chapman is an advocate for orphans around the world. So it isn't surprising that the title track here, written from the perspective of a child in search of a home, addresses the cause: "All I want for Christmas," Chapman sings, "is a family." Nor is it surprising that one of Chapman's kids has a cute spoken word cameo as the album opens. Alas, it's not the sort of thing that invites repeat spins.
Chapman's personal mission, though, isn't always evident as he moves through this pleasant if uneven collection of holiday perennials and newly penned seasonal themes. When everything clicks, which is more often than not, Chapman favors loping country-tinged beats ("Silver Bells"), rousing gospel harmonies ("Go Tell It on the Mountain") and lighthearted swing pulses ("Winter Wonderland"). When the album stalls, routine strings-swept pop productions are usually to blame, with "The Night Before Christmas" a prime example.
The Christian pop sextet MercyMe opted for even bigger sonics while recording "The Christmas Sessions." In fact, the album's opening three-song salvo is capped by a multilayered arrangement of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" that sounds as if it were tailored for a Super Bowl halftime show. But then along comes a medley of "Winter Wonderland" and "White Christmas," gleefully belted out by singer Bart Millard, that somehow manages to seem even more appropriate for the occasion. Maybe that's why Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here," which sports a brassy Chicago-like arrangement, comes across as one of the album's comparatively subdued highlights.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Sunday at the Patriot Center.