BWW Album Review: Lea Michele's CHRISTMAS IN THE CITY Brings Holiday Charm
It's pretty much a rite of passage for vocalists to put together a holiday album, and this year, it's Lea Michele's turn, with Christmas in the City. For the most part, it's a perfectly lovely addition to the Christmas genre. While it doesn't bring much new to the table, it captures all the joyful and wistful spirit that one would expect out of a holiday album.
Although Michele is undoubtedly a wonderful singer and can belt with the best of them, the best tracks on this album are the softer, gentler tracks, rather than the big, upbeat songs. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is just the right level of bittersweet, and "Silent Night" includes a beautiful, haunting choral backing. These choices - including the album's final track, "O Holy Night" - are much better choices than the perky, almost cheesy stuff like "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" or the inexplicable "Do You Want To Build a Snowman" (just because a song is about snow doesn't make it a holiday song).
Along with all the Christmas standards, Michele does bring an original song to the album. "Christmas in New York," on which she's credited as a co-writer, is an upbeat, playful paean to - as you might guess - Manhattan at Christmastime. There's a delightful specificity to the lyrics, painting the kinds of images one definitely associates with a New York holiday season (without any of the less-glamorous parts of a New York winter). It's no place for cynicism, but for a sweet sort of cheery optimism. It fits comfortably in the contemporary-pop Christmas genre.
It's not just Michele on the album: three tracks feature her duetting with fellow TV and Broadway stars. Her rendition of "White Christmas" with Glee co-star Darren Criss, has an upbeat, jazzy vibe to it. I admit to being a bit of a purist when it comes to this song - all the recent pop-ified versions of it tend to feel unnecessary and irritating - but this version finds a sweet spot between the overdone-ness of other covers and the simplicity of the original. She also reunites with Spring Awakening star and longtime pal Jonathan Groff for "I'll Be Home For Christmas," which proves to be a highlight of the album. Groff and Michele's voices blend exquisitely, and their obvious comfort in performing together is evident in every note. Finally, she pairs with Tony winner Cynthia Erivo on "Angels We Have Heard On High," which is, truly, the closest Christmas music has to a vocal showcase. Both Erivo and Michele sound lovely, singing separately and apart, but there's a veneer of over-processing that clouds the track. These are two big-voiced Broadway divas - just let them sing.
That, ultimately, is the biggest issue with the album as a whole. Aside from a few of the gentler tracks, there's a bit too much glossiness to the music and the style of the album as a whole. It carries that sound of hyper-processing and a tad too much digital adjusting, to the point that some tracks sound almost too polished and a little phony as a result. Don't get me wrong - it's still a perfectly good holiday album. But, as a result of these style choices, it often feels more like a mass-produced shiny ornament than a treasured, unique heirloom.