REVIEW: ‘A Very Special Season’ by Diana Ross (CD, 1994)


Today’s POP RESCUE from a festive fate unknown, is the 1994 Christmas album A Very Special Season by Diana Ross, but is this album full of cheer, or will it cause you to dose off on the sofa? Read on…

This festive 14 track album opens with a flurry of strings of Winter Wonderland. The song opens with a verse that I’ve never heard before, and Diana’s beautifully rich vocals deliver this perfectly as she leads us straight into the ‘Sleigh bells ring, are you list’nin’?‘ line and beyond. There’s a full orchestra here, and I suspect that no expense was spared by EMI.

The classic White Christmas follows this, with some wonderfully breathy delicate vocals. Her vocals glisten as the orchestra gently lures you further into this familiar old Bing Crosby hit.

Next up is the first ever cover version of Wonderful Christmastime that I’ve ever heard – taking a much gentler approach than Paul McCartney’s original 1979 hit. I think I actually prefer Diana’s version to his, with it’s tip-toeing strings, brass, and child choir.

What The World Needs Now, a cover of Jackie DeShannon’s hit by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Again, Diana’s version is far more mellow and orchestrally luxurious than I’ve ever heard this song to be. The end result is an almost Christmassy version (there’s no sleigh bells here) of this non-Christmas song.

This is followed by Happy Christmas (War Is Over), a cover of the John Lennon and Yoko Ono hit. This song is rich with percussion and almost nods to Middle Eastern music, although the simple piano line comes in bringing us a fairly loyal cover version. Diana’s voice shines here yet again as she’s given a wide range to cover here. She’s joined by a child choir, and the orchestra’s string and percussion sections do overtime – although perhaps a little too much at times.

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! gives Diana a thoroughly playful little song to sing. The orchestra reminds me the kind you’d find in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, with some humorous sections. The strings swell in this song, and the double bass soon got my foot tapping as it bounces along.

Dramatic strings and brass usher in what sounds like the opening of a movie, but no… it’s a version of Amazing Grace. Suddenly all goes quiet as some strings and oboe lead us along as Diana does plenty of breathy ‘oohs‘ and ‘aah‘ here. Eventually she begins the song proper and her echoey vocals fit perfectly – again showing off her vocal power and range. Towards the end, she’s joined by a heavenly choir that help to lift her voice even higher as the strings build up around her. Amazing Grace indeed – and worthy of the applause she gets at the end.

His Eye Is On The Sparrow follows – a version of an old gospel hymn. Piano and strings (and occasional brass) lead Diana’s soaring vocals through this track. I’m not familiar with this song, but she does a fantastic job of singing a song about a birdwatcher.

Doing a Christmas album with Diana Ross and not doing Silent Night would be a crime. So, here it is, and as predicted, her vocals are perfect. The string section give her plenty of space to shine, occasionally adding woodwind and bells. As the song heads towards the end, the brass section joins in for the final push. A great version.

Overjoyed is up next – a cover of the Stevie Wonder 1985 hit song. It remains fairly loyal to his version, with a bit more of an orchestra than his. It’s a nice song, and good to hear Diana’s vocals on it, although it doesn’t particularly break new ground like some of the earlier covers on this album.

Next up is traditional carol O Holy Night, a staple for Christmas albums. Diana’s version is better than most attempts at this highly vocal song, and the orchestra shows itself off perfectly too with some nice string, brass and percussion sequences.

Someday At Christmas gives Diana another Christmassy anti-war-themed song to sing. She’s joined by the orchestra again, who give her an often sad, tender, and dramatic backing as she sings this song. It’s not a song i’m familiar with, but I do know it’s another old Stevie Wonder track.

Penultimate track is the classic Ave Maria by Franz Schubert, which really showcases Diana’s vocal range and strength. Musically, the orchestra is quite rightly simple, letting the vocals shine.

The album closes with the classic Nat King Cole song The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire). This song has a wonderfully plodding double bass, and the benefit of an orchestra behind it – making a fully-fledged warm song that does the original proud. Diana’s vocals sound like she’s singing this whilst smiling, and genuinely is wishing you a Merry Christmas.

Over all, this really does feel like a lovingly produced and lavishly no-expense-spared Christmas album for Diana Ross. The result is a fantastically warm and cosy collection of familiar Christmas songs makes it a great addition to your Christmas music collection. The re-interpretations of songs like Wonderful Christmastime really does make this album a joy to hear.

Where is Diana Ross now?

Diana has consistently released albums and singles in the UK up until about 2005. She has found intermittent success with her singles and albums, although her career retrospectives (of which there are many) often garner her the greatest commercial success.

In 1995, she found renewed chart success with her album Take Me Higher, reaching #10 in the UK album chart.

This Christmas album has continued to sell well for her over the years, earning it a Gold certification in the UK despite it’s reasonably low chart position.

Her most recent UK single was When You Tell Me That You Love Me, a somewhat pointless cover of her earlier hit, but with Irish pop leeches Westlife. This gave them a #2 hit in 2005.

In 2012 Diana received her first Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement, and whilst showing no signs of slowing down – she has continued to tour and perform.

In 2015 she took a second residency for a series of regular shows in Las Vegas, USA.

POP RESCUE RATING

  • POP RESCUE 2015 RATING: 4 / 5
  • 1994 UK CHART PEAK: #37, certified Gold.
  • POP RESCUE COST: £1.67 from an eBay seller

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