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A NehoSoul Christmas
Artist: Bryan Duncan and the NehoSoul Band
Label: Red Road Records
Time: 10 Tracks / 41:11
Bryan Duncan and the NehoSoul Band swing into this Christmas season with a truly festive album, a NehoSoul Christmas. I remember when I met with Bryan Duncan last winter he told me he since hooking up with the NehoSoul Band he felt his career had been rejuvenated. The swinging R&B instrumentals of bassist Ricky B. Rogers, the always awesome guitar work of Walter Finch, Phil Curry tickling the keys, and drummer Sam Matthews will enrich your Christmas season and make a nice accompaniment to your eggnog and mistletoe.
The jewel that really shines on a NehoSoul Christmas is "This Christmas" an original tune penned by Duncan. The timbre of this man's soulful voice never ceases to amaze after almost three decades in the music industry. The backup vocals provided by the ladies of Song of Salomon add texture to a beautifully arranged number. This is a song (4:09) that leaves you wanting moreyou are almost pleading, 'Please tell me it isn't over already.' I see this song being at the top of the charts this Christmas season. In fact I would be very surprised if we don't find "This Christmas" on a meteoric rise to the top of the mainstream charts as well.
The opening track "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" disarms you as it begins with traditional chimes and then very quickly moves into a jump jive and wail with Duncan's voice at its R&B best. With Marc Atkinson, David Inamine and Fred Schreuders providing splendid backup vocals it is no wonder Duncan has referred to this song as his personal favorite. The use of horns is just a foretaste of things to come. If you aren't snapping your fingers and tapping your toes by the time this song ends you better check for a heartbeat.
Keyboardist Phil Curry does a great job with the arrangements on the number two track "Silent Night". In fact Curry is so outstanding on the keys throughout this album that despite what the credits said I double checked with Duncan's management team to make sure that it was not Duncan himself playing on some of the tracks.
"Winter Wonderland" may not be what you have become accustomed to in years gone by but Duncan, Jo-Anna Saloman, Aimee Salomon, and Danene Sepulveda provides us with a jazzier interpretation that will enhance your snuggling with a loved one by an open fire.
Just so you don't think this project completely abandoned sentimentality, I guarantee traditionalists will love "Christmas Time is Here." Bryan Duncan has experienced his fair share of trials in recent years, some he would admit have directly resulted from choices he has made, but it brought joy to my heart hearing him sing this song with such freshness and simplicity. He is on record as saying that he has created works more technically and musically perfect in the past but none seems to have brought him the same joy as _a NehoSoul Christmas_.
The album fills out nicely with "Little Drummer Boy," "Oh, Holy Night," and "Peace" before swinging back into action with an easy flowing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." You will want to take your loved one by the hand and waltz her around the dance floor when this tune begins to playI know I plan to.
Give yourself an early Christmas present and buy a NehoSoul Christmas. As a child my parents always let us take the edge off the excitement by letting us open one present early. There I just gave you the excuse you needed (wink).
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved
Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.
Bryan Duncan has met his match in the NehoSoul Band. Their smooth, soulful and funky backing are the perfect compliment to his blue-eyed soul. I suspect that this is the music that Duncan has wanted to make his entire life. He did well within the confines of CCM, but he sings like a bird set free with his new band.
This is exactly as advertisedóauthentic holiday soul. This isnít your standard CCM, inspirational, pop, or rock. Itís soul music with a little bit of funk, and a hint of jazz or blues. If youíre not sure what that sounds like, imagine Stevie Wonder performing smooth and slightly funky renditions of holiday classics with an all-star band complete with great backing vocals. Itís not a perfect comparison, but it gives you an idea of the sound.
The sound is just right on this CD. Thereís no overblown or maudlin production. Despite his powerful pipes, Duncanís vocals are understated but infused with that energy that is uniquely Bryan. He sounds better than ever. Song of Salomon also provide great guest vocals.
Highlights abound. One of my favorites is "Christmas Time Is Here." This is a classic that I associate with one of the Charlie Brown Christmas specials, where I first heard it. Itís a dreamy song with a touch of melancholy that Bryan handles perfectly. I donít know why more people havenít recorded it.
"Little Drummer Boy" is a captivating fusion of soul and funk that makes you want to move. Itís Bryan at his best, breathing new life into a classic. "Silent Night" and "Oh, Holy Night" donít suffer from any excess. Like all the songs, they go down smoothly. Thereís not a bad song.
On "This Christmas," the one original song by Bryan, he sings of the love that transcends the season, and itís what he wishes for us all. He closes the recording with the beautiful "What A Wonderful World."
This is one of the most unique and best offerings of the season. Itís one of the best in Bryanís career.
A staple of CCM radio in the '80s and much of the '90s, Bryan Duncan continues his journey on the comeback trail (after a live album earlier this year) with a NehoSoul Christmas. Whether or not it solicits new business, Duncan should have no trouble ingratiating himself with his old fan base.
Though a blurb on the front insert insists that Duncan and his Neho Soul'sters proffer "100% authentic Holiday soul music," they get more diverse than that appellation implies. For starters, the set opens with the Amos Milburn oldie "Christmas Comes but Once a Year," a lament for the holiday's monetary toll that could do Brian Setzer's swing band proud as it's heard here.
Toward album's end, Duncan sounds to be making plays for smooth jazz radio spins. His smoky vocals and subdued arrangements make that a possibility on what they do with "Oh, Holy Night" and "Beth Nielsen Chapman and Michael McDonald's "Peace" make that a pleasant possibility.
Elsewhere, Duncan sounds to be all about paying homage not so much to the baby Savior, but some of his (not His) R&B influences. Their "Winter Wonderland" finds the middle ground between Stevie Wonder's "HIgher Ground" and "Isn't She Lovely." The charts they bring out for "Have Youself a Merry Little Christmas" bear some resemblance to those for Natile Cole's mid-'70s debut hit, "This Will Be," but that's no bad thing.
Duncan does well by songs that few should dare try, if only because definitive versions already exist. A NehoSoul rendering of Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here" may not have you forgetting the original children's chorus version from the first Peanuts cartoon special, but Duncan does it justice. Ditto "What A Wonderful World," though anyone would be hard pressed to top Louis Armstrong at it.
Though not quite packing the resonance of hits like "Blue Skies" and "Love Takes Time," Duncan's NehoSoul Christmas present is not a waste of good aluminum. Here's to hearing him back in regular rotation soon.
Jamie Lee Rake 11/30/2005