American ensemble’s second coming to the seasonal melodic messages brings on a joyous success and then some.
For all its merry intents and purposes, 2011’s "Old World Christmas" – Scott Jeffers’ first official venture into the Yuletide repertoire as a follow-up to his family’s years of caroling – didn’t feel too impressive, because the collective failed to filly capture the season’s spirit and move it Eastwards. Yet time of happiness can’t be marred with disappointment, and Scott’s never been the one to easily surrender anyway, so three years down the line he attempted to tune into euphoria once again, giving original material precedence over traditional repertoire, and this was rather wise, proving Jeffers is a master of folk tune.
So while the oasis-bound excitement of opener “Shepherds And Angels” – where Scott’s vocals are nested in the buzz oud and darbuka produce to lift the refrain of “Hallelujah” and pass it to the choir and desert orchestra – seems merely alluring, Jeffers’ tremendous, drone-tinged reimagining of “The Little Drummer Boy” to which he appended the frenetic Celtic swirl of “Celebration” turns the perennial into a hypnotic epic that’s worth the price of admission alone. And if the acoustic balladry behind “Christmas Wish” – which is warmed by the singer’s comforting voice and violin before electric riffs come on – is touching, the strings-charmed instrumental variations on the the heel-clicking coupling of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” with “King Wenceslas” evoke pastoral raptures, and the liturgical treatment of the marriage of “Come All Ye Faithful” with “King Of Angels” amount to Mozartian chamber wonder.
On the other end of cultural spectrum lie the mirage-dry, albeit highly emotional, “For This Child We Sing” and “Auld Lang Syne” which are easy to envisage as being performed by the Three Magi and their retinue, but the high-flying “Hoshana” and soulful “Starry Night” embrace contemporary pop values, and “Gold, Frankincense And Myrrh” is magically enchanting, especially when Scott’s supple singing melts in the listener’s ears. That’s how the season’s spirit should manifest itself – that’s why this album’s called simply “Christmas”: never banal or obvious, this album has an aura of a major achievement.