Salena Moran & Evan Penrod | Staff Writers
Although Halloween has barely passed, John Legend wasted no time releasing his first Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas at the end of October. With six original tunes and eight traditional classics, Legend adds his own personal touch to the release while remaining perfectly nostalgic to the season.
Perhaps the album cover itself fostered a sense of déja vu, as it appears very reminiscent of Bing Crosby’s Merry Christmas album. Legend’s face stands out against a white background as he dons a Santa hat and black bowtie. Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen teased various options for the cover, and the one they chose paid perfect homage to Crosby’s Christmas influence in music and movies.
While listening to the song content, Legend’s staple relaxed groove appears in all of the songs. For example, smooth jazz with R&B blends into the more traditional Christmas songs such as “Silver Bells” and “Merry Christmas Baby/Give Love on Christmas.” These variations bring a lively and festive quality that does not feel recycled.
The unique adaptations of Christmas classics such as “What Christmas Means to Me,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Silver Bells” almost transform these songs into new renditions that sound timeless and nostalgic in their own right. Legend discovered the key to changing these tunes to sound fresh and new to even veteran Christmas music lovers by changing aspects such as pacing and lyric progression.
The album also boasts new Christmas songs, including “By Christmas Eve,” which is a rather sorrowful and theatrical song that highlights Legend’s vocal range. Another original tune, “Bring Me Love,” provides a more upbeat sound on the album. Although Legend composed these new hits, it is unsure whether they have enough spark to make it into the top 40 charts.
An overarching aspect of the songs on this album take a more slow and methodical look on traditional classics. If listeners love jazz Christmas songs in the style of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby, this album will surely be a delight.
While the pacing may not be as fast or flourishing as Michael Buble’s Christmas (2011) or Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas (1994), it serves an entirely different mood and purpose. A Legendary Christmas almost feels like the ideal background music for a Christmas dinner setting in front of a roaring fireplace because it balances a mix of jam and groove to smooth, crooning lyricism.
Interestingly, John Legend was not the only oddly timed Christmas album release on Oct. 26, as Ingrid Michaelson released her own medley, Songs for the Season. While Michaelson roots herself in all the traditional Christmas classics, it seems that Legend is the more avant garde and stylistically different artist.
Whether an adaptation of traditional Christmas favorites or an original composition, the staying power and overall polish on Legend’s Christmas album shows a new twist to the holiday theme that may soon evolve into a pop classic of its own.