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BWW Album Review: TOGETHER AT CHRISTMAS Embraces the Holiday Spirit

A collection of holiday favorites from Michael Ball and Alfie Boe.

BWW Album Review: TOGETHER AT CHRISTMAS Embraces the Holiday Spirit

The holiday season is in full swing, and Michael Ball and Alfie Boe are here with a perfect soundtrack for the season, Together at Christmas. The duo of stage icons are teaming up again for an album of holiday favorites, and although there are a few missteps along the way, the end result is, mostly, a pleasantly charming addition to your holiday music rotation.

The album gets off to a strong start with a pair of longtime Christmas favorites: "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Together, these two songs represent some of the best of what Ball and Boe can do. Both men have an old-school style to their vocals, though Ball leans a little more pop and Boe leans more classical. When they're given the chance to embrace that old-fashioned elegance, they shine. There's a real warmth to these two songs that start the album.

Surprisingly, a few of the poppier songs work pretty well too. "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" doesn't read at first like a great fit for Ball and Boe, but they're clearly having a great time belting it out, and that enthusiasm carries them through. When they move away from the easily recognizable classics, though, some of the album's more overwrought impulses come out to play. "I Believe," for instance, tries very hard to be a soaring song of inspiration, but instead feels more like a bit of shallow bombast. You can feel the attempt at sincerity, but it just goes a little too far in the other direction and comes out feeling a little overdone. The same goes for "The Spirit of Christmas": an admirable attempt, but not quite there in the end.

Ball and Boe do, however, avoid one of my personal pet peeves when it comes to Christmas albums of recent years. The pair cover The Irving Berlin classic "White Christmas" in the middle of the album, but, rather than using the newer arrangement that's become so popular these past few years, they stick with the basics, crooning their way through the song's gentler moments. There's nothing wrong with the contemporary arrangement of the song, but I grew up watching Bing Crosby sing this song in White Christmas over and over again every Christmas season. The straightforward, simple beauty of the original version holds a very special place in my heart and pushes all sorts of emotional buttons for me, so it's really lovely to hear a new album use this arrangement and just let the song speak for itself.

The final four tracks of the album feel, in a way, like they should be reversed in order to really leave the listeners on a high note. "My Christmas Is Better Than Yours" is not one of the highlights of the album by any stretch: an overly chipper attempt at adding some pop to the mix that instead just sounds a bit goofy and doesn't suit Ball and Boe's voices at all. The album's last song, a cover of Anastasia's "Once Upon a December," sounds like a great idea on paper, and the arrangement itself is lovely. Something about the song and the performers, though, is simply a mismatch. Perhaps it's the timbre of their voices, perhaps it's the slightly shoehorned feel of a song that's not really a "Christmas" song, but something just doesn't land right, which is a shame, since that's the last impression listeners get on the album.

Instead, it would have been a stronger choice to end with "O Holy Night" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas," two tracks which really play to Ball and Boe's strengths, both as individuals and as a duo. While "O Holy Night" gives them the chance to soar, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is warmer and gentler, but both are heartfelt and deeply moving. Despite a few stumbles and song mismatches along the way, that's true of the majority of this holiday album.




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