A trio of festive album reviews with If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album, Leslie Odom Jr – The Christmas Album and Michael Ball & Alfie Boe – Together at Christmas
“Oh, my love, we live in troubled days”
No word of a lie, since starting to play Christmas music last week, I’ve listened to If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album everyday, it truly is that joyous. It’s a brilliant twist on the Christmas album that takes a slightly left-field approach to its festive track selection and then thoroughly imbues it all with the irrepressible spirit and way down musicality of Anaïs Mitchell’s soul-raising Hadestown. Led by the gorgeous voices of Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Kay Trinidad and Jewelle Blackman, aka The Fates, and featuring the rest of the cast of the show’s Broadway production, the album features original songs from Mitchell, Gonzalez-Nacer and the show’s MD Liam Robinson alongside festive staples and some Marvin Gaye, Leonard Cohen and Sara Bareilles for good measure.
What really makes If The Fates Allow… sing is the way in which the sound of Hadestown is folded into the record – never mind the Ghost of Christmas Past, this collection is haunted by the spirits of Christmas Ancients. Musical motifs from the show shimmer beautifully in unexpected places and it is just spine-tinglingly effective; so too the iconic brass sounds that pepper ‘Thank God It’s Christmas’, an ingenious way of reinterpreting familiar songs through an inimitable musical identity. A cynic might demur at such an exercise in brand extension but they would just be wrong. Just listen to Patrick Page’s profundo on Cohen’s profound ‘Come Healing’ with its harmonious backing, or the ragtime-influenced take on ‘Sleigh Ride’, or the hushed splendour and lyrical incisiveness of Mitchell original ‘Song of the Magi’. Surely destined to become a perennial festive favourite whether you’re way down underground or livin’ it up on top.
There’s something mildly ironic about Leslie Odom Jr naming this release ‘The’ Christmas Album when it is in fact his second holiday album (or even third if you count the re-release of Simply Christmas). Somewhat surprisingly, the best songs here are the two self-penned tracks – the fun groove of ‘Snow’ and the reverent feeling of ‘Heaven & Earth’ bookend the album beautifully. Inbetween, ‘Little Drummer Boy’ performed with the Mzansi Youth Choir and his duet with wife Nicolette Robinson on traditional Chanukah song ‘Ma’oz Tzur’ push this festive collection to more interesting places than slightly meandering takes on the likes of ‘O Holy Night and ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
Given that Michael Ball and Alfie Boe nailed the number one spot with the release of their album Together at Christmas, a review is hardly necessary. But I have enjoyed their double act over their last three albums so I couldn’t resist dipping in to their festive frolics. It plays out pretty much as you would expect – the pair booming through heavily orchestral takes on the usual festive suspects – and it works in some places (‘O Holy Night’ might actually summon angels) and not in others (they’d run for the hills at the sound of ‘Mistletoe and Wine’). If what you want from your Christmas album is the sound of the familiar, and it’s not surprising that many do, then you’re in the right place here.