Endearing, if sometimes rather straightforward, Yuletide collection of pieces evergreen and fresh.
Maybe that’s because she’s a major league debutante, but this Hong Kong chanteuse’s first full-length offering is a strange proposition: it’s clearly divided in two parts – a mix of traditional tunes with usual seasonal songs is followed by the pieces Jennifer co-wrote with her producer Narada Michael Walden. The latter are enticing while the former possesses a special charm, as Ms. Saran doesn’t try to put a spin on well-known fare, channeling her soul through them instead so, although the ’70s-styled orchestral sweep and the singer’s faithfulness to the prototypes may grate, Jennifer’s spirituality serves as a saving grace here.
What her duet with Walden on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” lacks in swing is made up for with its warmth in the depth of “Mary, Did You Know” that reveals all the colors of Saran’s voice ringing to the twang of Matthew Heulitt’s guitar. There are also short mood-setting strings interludes – three carols – to counterbalance the melancholically lucid “Oh Holy Night” yet it’s a piano-led take on Amy Grant’s “Breath Of Heaven” that cuts to the emotional bone even before the hymnal chorus. The playfully wistful title track stitching familiar festive form to modern twist on it, Saran’s original material (all with a holiday name in the titles) is of pop kind, so once punchy funk has peppered “Sweetest Christmas” a nice contrast to classics refocuses the listener, and it’s hard to argue with the equally groovy sentiment of “Christmas Is Really My Thang”: Jennifer can handle the mood, indeed.
Hopefully, there’s more in store for her, but the start is nice.