BWW CD Review: Lisa Howard's THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR is The Most Wonderful Christmas CD of The Season

Like a holiday movie musical, the Tony-nominee's CD tells a great story... about how to make a perfect Christmas album!

By: Dec. 13, 2021
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BWW CD Review: Lisa Howard's THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR is The Most Wonderful Christmas CD of The Season

There was a time when it was my custom to acquire three new Christmas albums every holiday season. No more, no less, just three new holiday records, cassettes, cds would join a personal holiday music collection that took years, decades, to curate. That personal tradition ended in 2002 when all three new acquisitions of the holiday season were (to be blunt) boring. Three famous recording artists whose work I absolutely adored put out Christmas albums that I spent hard-got cash on, only to file them away, never to listen to again. For over a decade I did not buy one new holiday album, and when I did start buying them again, I made sure to sample them on iTunes (not an option, earlier in my collecting years) or, first, borrow them from a friend before spending the money. Now we have the luxury of streaming platforms like Spotify where we can listen without spending, which isn't the most rewarding way to honor an artist and help keep their larders stocked and their electricity on.

Which is why I have spent actual money on Lisa Howard's new Christmas album THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR. Lisa Howard deserves my industry, and I consider the money spent on her holiday album to be money well-spent.

Finally, finally, FINALLY somebody made a Christmas record just for me. As a man who loves many different genres of music, it is such a pleasure, such a joy (let's do that in all caps: SUCH A JOY) to have a holiday album that will satisfy my inner Show Queen, my need to dance around the kitchen while baking my Mama's Christmas cookies, the nostalgic part of my heart that is missing my parents and my youth, and the grown-up inside of me that wants to sit in Mama Ed's chair with a cup of tea, looking out the window into the night sky. Oh... and the part of me that loves the silky-smooth voice of a boy singer is really grateful for the inclusion of Derrick Baskin on three generous tracks of the album, tracks that make up a three-act play in music. With her longtime collaborator Michael Shaieb, Ms. Howard has created one of the most deeply enjoyable albums (Christmas or otherwise) to come along in a very, very long time.

The first part of the CD's success equation is the fact that Lisa Howard is genuinely easy to listen to. There have been instances in the past when a Broadway musical actor or actress goes into the studio to record an album and a person who happens to adore that Broadway musical actor or actress buys the album, only to discover that the magic of seeing that actor live in the theater is simply not present in the recording studio. It's a sad thing to have happen, and while it doesn't diminish the love the fan has for the actor, there is a void in their relationship with the actor because there is a corridor of their creativity in which the fan is unable to participate, no matter how much they want to. Lisa Howard is not that Broadway musical actor. Here is a voice that is so pretty, nay, so beautiful, that you could listen to it all day without reaching that eventuality where you have had enough belting and need to listen to some Led Zeppelin to get the treacle off. Here is a voice so palatable, so relatable, so welcoming that all of your other holiday CDs will filter out of rotation so you can get your daily happiness on with listenings to of the incredibly groovy "Santa Tell Me" and "What Christmas Means to Me" and versions of "Last Christmas" and "All I Want For Christmas" that will make you say "George Who?" and "Mariah Who?" - sacrilege! But true. Howard's covers of the famous modern-day Christmas classics are all her own, completely, and even though there will never come a day when those originals are relegated to the back burner, there is a reasonable chance the tracks will share front burners with Lisa's versions, recordings informed by acting choices and musicality that are absolutely individual to this singing actress who (blissfully!) has tapped into something that, at times, slips by some of her Broadway peers when they go into the studios to record their albums: a complete and total lack of screlting. It is so hard on the ears to listen to the recordings of singers that were sold a bill of goods that their musical performances will be valued based, solely, on how loudly and forcefully they can scream into the microphone. It's a microphone, there is no need for screaming. Listening to THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR is wonderful because Lisa Howard took her one-of-a-kind talent into a recording studio and tempered it with acting choices and technique, interpreting her musical selections in a manner that it isn't just easy on the ears: it's golden.

Michael Shaieb has done an exceptional job of orchestrating and arranging these musical monologues so as to provide Lisa with all her artistic abilities, but he and fellow producer Brent Lord have also mixed/mastered the album in a manner that keeps the levels even so that the musicians are always behind Lisa's voice, in full support of her which, one suspects, is always a primary focus of Shaeib, who even penned the sublime "The House Where I Grew Up at Christmas" for Lisa, one of the album highlights, particularly because of the flood of memories the lyrics will provide for those old enough to spend even a moment reflecting on Yuletide moments passed that remain a prominent thread in the tapestry of their lives. It's an elegant and effective pairing that the duo has maintained for many a year, and with a holiday CD that feels quite like it could be the soundtrack to a Christmas movie musical, they haven't just broken the curse of the boring Christmas albums for this writer, they have bestowed upon the Christmas CD buying community of the world an album that they will want to listen to the other eleven months of the year... not that I would know anything about listening to Christmas music in July.

Not much, I wouldn't.

Lisa Howard THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR is a 2021 release on the fatlab label. It is available on streaming platforms everywhere.

THIS is the fatlab website.

HERE is the Lisa Howard website.