Artist:  Take 6
Title:  The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Label:  Take 6 Records

Knowing there will be parties for hosting and marshmallows for toasting, Take 6 is back with The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, this ten-time GRAMMY-winning a cappella group's third holiday album in twenty-three years. In comparison to past efforts He Is Christmas (1991) and We Wish You a Merry Christmas (1999), it's the hap-happiest of them all, largely focused on being of good cheer, but still duly reverent to the real reason for the season on two of ten tracks.

The be-bopping title opener is (not surprisingly) a pitch perfect icebreaker that's quickly followed by an impressive bossa nova interpretation of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas"; at this point you've already forgotten some people use instruments on their records. "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" is a standout selection thanks to a stellar arrangement and the ongoing comical banter between Take 6 members Alvin Chea (bass) and Claude McKnight (tenor) about the latter's deep desire to handle the song's low part; Dr. Seuss would approve of their silliness. "Sleigh Ride" gets a fun R&B vocal workout, making "pumpkin" an eight syllable word when they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie.

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" sounds even sweeter in snappy doo-wop form, and the voice imitating a mellow trumpet on "Jingle Bells" adds a delightfully cool touch. Take 6 channels Bobby McFerrin on Tchaikovsky's "The Sugarplum Dance" from The Nutcracker, stirring up playful sound effects and adding considerable inventiveness to a lyric-less classic. The spiritual side of December shines through on "It Came upon a Midnight Clear" and a hearty rendition of "I Saw Three Ships" that adds in some fine scatting plus joyful snippets of "What Child Is This?" and Redeemed." The set closes with "Christmas Time Is Here"—not the version these guys recorded in 2000 for jazz pianist David Benoit's Here's to You, Charlie Brown, but a more relaxed new take featuring talented female singer Shelea Frazier.

Entrusted in the past to duet with legends like Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, and still entertaining fans around the world, there's no doubt Take 6 has what it takes to brighten your upcoming holiday festivities. In the crowded field of Christmas albums, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year stands apart as exceptionally well done and poised to endure in the wonderful years ahead.


**This review first published on November 30, 2010.