Weighing in on his second album this year, the Christmas-themed “Celebration”, Mel Washington says “I wanted to make the album sound the way Christmas sounds to me… fun and cheerful, yet somber and reflective at the same time” and in this respect he has succeeded admirably. In retrospect, my own memories of Christmas music run quite the same gauntlet, from the deeply-ingrained playful jazzy explorations of classics every kid learned from animated specials like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to the staid and holy hymns that were a part of every midnight mass. Helped in the studio by Wolfgang Zimmerman (Brave Baby), Alec Stanley (Death on Two Wheels) and others, “Celebration” is also notable for several duets with Georgia singer/ blogger Sarra Sedghi, who adds a coy effervescence to complement Mel’s snowflake-melting gravitas.
With seven songs clocking in at just under 25 minutes, this is classified as a short LP and it does its job without overstaying its welcome. “O Holy Night” starts the proceedings and the traditional carol begins with solemn strings and then adds some stately drumming. Washington’s vocals are emotionally deep, yet always accessible. “White Christmas”, thought to be the best-selling single of all time (Bing Crosby’s version) is the first duet and Mel and Sarra work the same classic territory in this horn-propelled restatement. “A Chorus of Hallelujahs” is one of the left-field tracks here, mixing up what has lately become a de rigueur cover (Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”) with the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s “Messiah”, creating fresh results. Its an inspired mash-up for a holiday album and Mel’s vocals create a quiet, driving dignity throughout. “Let it Snow” is another duet, this time with some nice guitar work, with Sedghi supplying the bubbly cheer. I have to admit, I was wondering how Mel was going to pull off “Santa Baby” when I saw the track listing, but I didn’t have to fear; Sarra takes main vocal duties and Washington provides a tongue-in-cheek reworking of the lyrics (“think of all the hotties/ that I never kissed”) to suit a male vantage point on his parts. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a flirtatious duet that suits the style of both singers and the album closes with the piano classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, probably best known in its Sinatra incarnation. It’s a serious but uplifting finale to the well-produced record.
If you still retain that childhood love for Christmas music, you can’t go wrong with “Celebration”; the ever-smoldering smoothness of Mel Washington brings familiar holiday warmth and is a reminder of that old wintry hearth. Go check out “Celebration” and warm your Christmas up this year.
Recommended if you like: Bing Crosby, Leonard Cohen, Christmas music!
Sean Knight is a native South Carolinian who has spent his life bouncing back and forth between SC and Texas, playing in bands you probably never heard of in both states and stinking up open-mic nights in the Low Country for many years. He plays, collects, listens to and probably spends too much of his life obsessing over music.