[15 December 2011]
There is little that can offer more comfort around Christmastime than to hear the greats singing classic Christmas songs, and Tony Bennett is one of the greatest of the greats. His voice is unfailingly warm and evocative, and his style dances around the melodies of well-worn songs while never, ever abandoning those melodies. He is a master of giving the people what they want, and The Classic Christmas Album offers a compelling case that 40 years of constant performances and near-universal adulation haven’t dulled his skills at doing just that. Still, trying to jump across 40 years is bound to jar on occasion. The Tony Bennett of the near-perfect 1968 recording Snowfall wows with breath control and the occasional display of surprising high range—album closer “White Christmas” is, for example, an incredible display of refusal to take a breath. While the Tony Bennett of the 2000s has a lower range that’s just as impressive as the Tony Bennett of the ‘60s, those high notes aren’t the same, and you can really hear the discrepancy if you’re using the disc for anything other than wallpaper. On one hand, it’s an argument for just going out and purchasing Snowfall, which was re-released just a few years ago; on the other hand, the multiple voices and settings actually lend The Classic Christmas Album some variety, a trait necessary in an 18-track collection. Throw in an utterly regal lost-to-time Snowfall-era recording of “What Child is This”, and the album very nearly becomes essential, particularly to the Bennett completist. It may not be the classic Christmas album, as its title claims, but it is most certainly a classic Christmas album.