Artist:  David Phelps
Title:  O Holy Night:  A Live Holiday Celebration
Label:  Word Entertainment

Dizzying styles overshadow, but Phelps’ magnificent vocals shine …

David Phelps is a busy man. Between releasing 2005’s full-length project Life Is a Church, 2006’s Legacy of Love Live project, 2007’s One Wintry Night and No More Night:  Live in Birmingham CD/DVD combo, Phelps is pairing up the fall release of his new studio record, The Voice, with a live Christmas extravaganza taped earlier this year.

O Holy Night: A Live Holiday Celebration begins with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” filled with voices swirling around Phelps’ unmistakable tenor in a chilling a capella ode to the advent of Christ’s birth. Introducing the band, “The Singer (Let There Be Light)” slowly builds in an epic journey from Creation to the cross.

“Hallelujah” is a gospel/rock fused rendition of Handel’s famous chorus, a throwback to the “Young Messiah” tour of the early ’90s. And a very Take 6-ish “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” skips and scats into “White Christmas,” a beautifully orchestrated segue to the haunting, Tim Burton-esque original “If Christmas Never Came.”

Of the finer, quieter moments “Lully, Lullay/What Child is This?” offers up another effective vocals-only arrangement, providing a lush bedding for Phelps’ exquisite phrasing and a perfect introduction to the hair-raising “Away in a Manger/Sleep Little Baby” composite.

The only criticism for an otherwise exceptional holiday collection is O Holy Night’s dizzying orbit of styles. In an effort to conquer every popular genre, Phelps’ voice loses out. And a gorgeous instrument like his deserves the subtler context only half of this material affords.

Even still, after listening to a near perfect execution of Mark Lowry’s magnificent “Mary Did You Know?” it's no wonder Phelps is such a widely recognized and appreciated talent. O Holy Night is certainly a legitimate addition to the holiday music scene.


© 2008  All rights reserved.  Used with permission. 

**This review first published on October 30, 2008.

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