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The Moody Blues - December CD (album) cover


The Moody Blues


Crossover Prog

2.51 | 59 ratings

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3 stars Generally speaking I'm not a big fan of novelty albums, which I would define as Christmas records, tribute albums and nostalgic collections of covers from some artist's youth. For the most part they seem like blatantly commercial tripe that don't deserve serious critical attention. There are exceptions of course and there have certainly been some longstanding Christmas albums that remain popular and well-respected even today (and of course whose presence on store shelves becomes quite prominent around the time snow begins to fly in the North).

But in this case I have to say that I don't really see where the Moody Blues had much incentive for personal or commercial gain by releasing 'December'. The band had just bid farewell to longtime member Ray Thomas and after nearly forty years were certainly not looking to make a comeback. I think the band was in a good position to put out something tasteful that reflected their elder statesmen status as well as showcased the considerable talents of Thomas' replacement, the multi-instrumentalist Norda Mullen. That plus a little digital orchestration from Italian composer Danilo Madonia (the album was recorded in Italy) make for a very solid addition to the progressive rock Christmas album collection. Ian Anderson would be proud.

The first couple tracks are Justin Hayward originals and are decent though not exactly groundbreaking. Ms. Mullen makes her presence felt for sure, and her flute playing along with Madonia's orchestral sequences make for a full-sounding arrangement. "Yes I Believe", the other Hayward tune, is similar.

Lodge offers two compositions of his own, the more traditional-sounding "On This Christmas Day" and "The Spirit of Christmas" which manages to come off sounding like something of a Moodies outtake from the band's earlier, heady days.

Beyond that the group takes on a few covers, the first time they've done that since the very earliest days of the group in the mid-sixties. The most notable is the John Lennon classic "Happy Xmas (War is Over)", delivered here with Lodge, Hayward and Graeme Edge providing the backing vocals to replace the children's choir Lennon employed. It's not quite the same, but this is such an iconic song that you can't help but smile listening to Lodge and Edge try to hit something approaching the same octave as a bunch of English kids. A charming rendition that makes you want to sing along (in fact, I did the first time I heard it).

The Irving Berlin classic 'White Christmas" made so famous by Bing Crosby before I was even born, the song Berlin considered one of the greatest tunes ever (he may have been right). Here again its hard to get the well-known Crosby version out of your head while listening to the more modern Moodies take, but again its also hard not to tap your toes and sing along, especially as the snow is blowing around outside amid the colored Christmas lights as the sun is setting. Come to think of it, I'm kind of surprised that a band like the Moodies that were so skillful in tugging heartstrings didn't think to put out a Christmas album years before this one.

Some of the other inclusions are more English in character, including the Rossetti carol "In the Bleak Midwinter" and the Renaissance-era "When a Child Is Born", neither of which is particularly popular outside the United Kingdom. Still, this is a British band and these are quite beautiful songs that the band acquits well with acoustic guitar, piano and tender vocals.

In all I like this album, even having already said I don't typically take to Christmas albums much. The songs suit a band like the Moody Blues quite well and they don't try to turn the effort into something crass and commercial. For that they have my respect and appreciation. Happy holidays if it's the holidays when you read this; if not, bookmark it and come back in December. This album is worth checking out then.

Peace (on Earth, good will toward men)

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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