GVE (release date: November 24, 2017)
By Bob Marovich
Liz McComb is one of the finest exporters of American soul and gospel to Europe. For her first-ever holiday album, Merry Christmas, she has mined traditional carols as well as Christmas songs from the African American experience and recorded them in Paris.
The album is resplendent with delicate arrangements that accentuate the musicality of the singer and her team of musicians. There are no less than three keyboard players who participate—McComb included—and all are excellent. And Jean Wellers’ deft jazz guitar work makes “The Christmas Song” feel as if it is being sung in front of a blazing fireplace, while Harold Johnson’s staccato spurts of organ give “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” a gospel dusting.
Gospel is the dominant style on McComb’s “Joy to the World” and “Oh What a Pretty Little Baby.” The latter sounds inspired by James Cleveland and the Angelic Choir’s 1968 recording of the carol, though here it is a tad brisker. McComb flexes her gospel chops on “When Was Jesus Born,” and “Walk in the Light” is so straight-ahead gospel, you can almost picture McComb’s mother, the Reverend Fannie McComb, orchestrating the altar call in her Cleveland church.
One of the album’s most inventive arrangements is “Little Drummer Boy.” True to the original in melody, the song benefits from Afro-Caribbean percussion that enhances the whole tenor of the piece.
The album concludes with a love song to McComb’s adopted home of France, where she has worked since the 1980s. She sings “Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant” in both French and English, offering yet another glimpse into her multi-faceted musicianship. In an era of sugar-fueled, hyperbolic holiday music shouting at you from department store speakers, Merry Christmas is as welcoming as a single lighted candle in a window on a wintry night.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Oh What a Pretty Little Baby,” “Walk in the Light”
See also: Liz McComb – Spirit of New Orleans (2008)