The problem with too many multi-artist compilation albums is they tend to feel like catalogueswhich, ironically enough, is not endearing in a Christmas album. Justin Time For Christmas 4
suffers from this sin, so to speak, then complicates it in a further bit of irony: the handful of artists who turn in performances worthy of further investigation don't seem to have corresponding albumsthese are one-shot contributions.
Give the Justin Time label credit, to be sure, for mostly avoiding songs the throngs at the mall will be exposed to endlessly. But the album jumps around a few too many genres and is too inconsistent to get much airtime in a year-to-year holiday library.
Figuring out what works and what doesn't is as simple as listening to two tracks that string short sections from several songs into medleys. The Rob McConnell Tentet's "Christmas Medley" is a largely forgettable big band mishmash because it play things too close to the vest. Quartango's "Pandora's Christmas Box," on the other hand, is a standout composition with varying tango rhythms and outstanding playing by the string musicians in constructing the group's sound canvas.
Carmen Lundy and saxophonist Mark Shim are a commendable pairing on "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," as Lundy takes a high-energy, wide-ranging approach and Shim gets more time for gritty R&B soloing than is typical on a holiday album. Vocalist Ranee Lee and pianist Brian Dickinson make nearly as fine a pairing on "O Little Town Of Bethlehem," and Johanne Blouin proves the fire doesn't have to go out when the ballads begin on her rendition of "Sainte Nuit" (Silent Night).
But songs like Adam Karch's "Christmas Prayer" are middling to lackluster and Hank Jones' "The Christmas Song" is a forgettable two minutes of solo piano not given any opportunity to shine or develop. And give Coral Egan points for trying, but her blues/ballad version of "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" is less fun than the original in every possible way.
Obviously these holiday collections are finding an audience, given this is the label's fourth, and Justin Time benefits from having a generally strong roster of musicians to draw from. Not much can be done about the wide-ranging stylesand this can be a strength if the material is strong enoughbut they might consider "themes" such as traditional or modernistic on future collectionsand apply a bit tougher standards to what makes the final cut.
Personnel: Various artists - lead performers listed with the tracks they perform.