John Legend, A Legendary Christmas

 

by John Gaddis

The holiday season is upon us and the amount of holiday music seems to be aplenty this year.  In the mix is the new John Legend holiday album A Legendary Christmas.  Legend is known for his collaborations and this holiday offering features two equally delightful collaborations with Stevie Wonder and Esperanza Spalding.  Ornamented with fourteen songs, the album is comprised of eight Christmas classics and six original tracks by Legend. The album is executive-produced by neo-soul singer/producer Raphael Saadiq.  Prior to the album’s announcement, Legend had just become the first African-American male to win an EGOT – an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. On October 11, 2018, Legend premiered two lead singles from the album, “Bring Me Love” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” simultaneously on VEVO.

Stevie Wonder guests on the first tune, “What Christmas Means to Me,” in which he plays the harmonica.  This classic is actually the name of several different Christmas songs. The most-covered version was written by Allen Story, Anna Gordy Gaye, and George Gordy. Ironically, Wonder covered the tune on his holiday album Someday at Christmas in 1967.  The pair are inspired together.  Legend is never more soulful; his vocal inflections add to the soul-based authenticity.  The arrangement is a particularly groovy throwback feel that offers a driving beat and blistering bass grooves.  Wonder’s harmonica solo is nothing short of spectacular, his note choices are the icing on the red velvet cake.

Esperanza Spalding sings on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a companion video was released on VEVO in anticipation of the full LP.  Legend’s voice is deep and sensual, while Spalding floats atop with jazzy inflections that add interest to the song’s overall melody. They meld together sonically quite well with skillfully executed vocal lines and symbiotic harmony.  Of the many times this tune has been cranked out in version after version, Legend and Spalding’s version stands up with a superlative reading.

The album offers a mix of upbeat and festive lyrics, all wrapped up in a hopeful and positive selection of well-crafted tunes.  Tunes like “Bring Me Love,” finds Legend co-writing with Meghan Trainor, Walter Rollins, and Steve Nelson.  A solid mashup of “Merry Christmas Baby/ Give Love on Christmas Day” is a jump swinging ditty good time.  Whereas, “Purple Snowflakes,” written by Clarence O. Pauling / David Hamilton is a mid-tempo ballad.  Famously covered by Marvin Gaye, Legend employs his head voice with great result, like Gaye his soulfulness is matchless.

Worth adding to your holiday playlist? No doubt, there isn’t even an inkling of Grinch spirit lurking in the grooves of this well-appointed, fourteen-song album.  Destined to be a classic, time will tell.  Legend has certainly put together a program of equally unforgettable tunes and performances, this one might just be the album to rival Mariah Carey’s, original Merry Christmas album from the all-time top selling holiday slot.

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