Music Review 01: Kristin Chenoweth -- A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas

I've been a Kristin Chenoweth fan for a few years -- ever since I first saw her on the West Wing. I learned she could sing when she appeared on the Conan O'Brien show. She's has an amazingly powerful voice, that is all the more shocking because of how physically small she is. Her career runs well beyond TV, though. She has extensive stage experience and just released her third album.

Last week's Pushing Daisies ended with Chenoweth's Olive Snook singing the Bangles "Eternal Flame," one of my favorite songs from the late 80s (yeah, yeah, I like cheesey stuff). That's probably why her new album jumped out at me at Best Buy this evening.

Her third album is A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas. It's a solid album, with a mix of traditional, entertaining, and Christian music.

I was a little disappointed with how it opened. The opening track, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is a traditional song that most artists put on their albums. Chenoweth does a nice job with it. It's pleasant to listen to. But it's nothing special. She doesn't do much to make it her own.

She follows that up with "Christmas Island," an amusing song that Chenoweth has some fun with. She shows off more of her vocal range here.

She follows that with "The Christmas Waltz" and "Do You Hear what I Hear?" Again, this is pretty standard stuff. It's all good, but it lacks the spunkiness she brings to TV roles, interviews, and even those awful Old Navy commercials. Perhaps I shouldn't expect that in her music, but it's one of the things that makes her performances unique. And she has the voice for it.

That spunkiness does come out later in the album, beginning with "Sleigh Ride/Marshmellow World" and continues into "Sing" and "Silver Bells." This middle section is where the album picks up steam and Chenoweth begins to "own" the songs she is singing.

That feeds into "Come on Ring Those Bells," a country song. This gives some nice variety to the album. Additionally, while most traditional Christmas songs focus on Jesus' birth, you don't see that in as many contempory Christmas songs. It is the main focus of this song, however, and marks another shift in the album, and it becomes a more Christian focused album.

She follows that with "What Child is This?" another traditional song, and it has a fairly traditional feel, but at the same time, Chenoweth does put her own sound on it. Again, it's a great opportunity to demonstrate her impressive range.

"Home on Christmas Day" is next and has more of a stage feel to it, with sweeping melodies and recurring themes.

It leads into "Born on Christmas Day" another song focused on the Nativity and the birth of the King of Kings. I mean this in a good way -- have you ever heard a song playing over the closing credits of a movie and thought, "That's a great song. Why didn't I hear more of it in the movie? Maybe I should get the sound track." That's what this song reminds me of.

Chenoweth closes with "Sleep Well Little Children/What a Wonderful World." She does a nice job wrapping up the album here and let's her voice soar.

My biggest problem with the album is the way it opens -- it's too ordinary. I would have preferred Chenoweth really grab the opening and make a statement with it. Some songs from the middle of the album might have made a better choice. Or if she put a different spin or more attitude into the songs she did open with.

But maybe that doesn't matter. I'll be listening to these songs with the rest of my Christmas music for the next month, but I'll probably be listening to the genre on random play, where album order is meaningless. Is that how most people listen to music these days? Or do most people still listen to albums from beginning to end?

Overall, it's a solid album. If you are a fan of her voice, or you want to flesh out your Christmas music collection, it's worthwhile. And it's fun.

I'm not disappointed; I want to be clear on that. I do enjoy it. But it's not as big or original as I think it could have been.


Anonymous said...

She did an amazing job in 'Wicked'...so funny, and what a voice...

Jon Clarke said...

Debbie Gibson, move over.

Anonymous said...

How does such a tiny frame produce such a powerful voice?
It totally amazes me -
Another example ... totally off in the opposite direction is Axl Rose (from GNR.)
The first time I heard him years ago -
I was floored by the voice that came out of his mouth.
Unbelievable power these two tiny people have!

I'm Poe Bicycle. said...

Yeah, I agree with your review. A supremely competent album, she knows what she's doing, but she doesn't quite manage to put her personality into many of the songs.

I'm a shuffler, playlist-wise. Always have been. Most of the albums I own have never been listened to from start to finish. I tend to shuffle by artist.

Steve Borgman said...

I'll have to look her up on Pandora!

Lazy Housewife said...

Never listened to her music but I just saw her in Four Christmases. She's adorable.

tahtimbo said...

I have been a fan of hers ever since I saw her in The Music Man.

Dwacon said...

She sings?