Today’s POP RESCUE from a festive future unknown, is the 2001 4th album Snowflakes by American R&B star, Toni Braxton. Will this album bring a sparkle to your life, or will it leave you ice cold? Read on…
This 11 track Christmas album opens with a collection of chimes before sliding into some smooth RnB tones of Happy Celebrate, the first of seven co-writter credits attributed to Toni, and on this song, her sister Tamar Braxton. The track is quite mellow in tone, and with a wonderful bass line. Sadly some of the lyrics are unintelligible due to the breathlessness of their delivery, but there’s plenty of references to snow, and kissing under mistletoe. It’s a warm welcome into the album.
Next up is the second single Christmas In Jamaica with…. Shaggy. Quite how he got this gig, I’m not sure, but he does at least sing ‘Toni Braxton. Shaggy. It’s a fantasy’, so maybe that goes towards explaining it. Toni sounds phenomenal here, and the contrast between her soft vocals and Shaggy’s gruffer voice works really well, including in occasional harmonies. Whilst the single was released in Europe, it didn’t chart in the UK.
Lead single Snowflakes Of Love follow this, and opens with the style of some kind of ’50’s classic Christmas despite it being another new song, with Isaac Hayes (Shaft) getting a co-writer credit thanks to incorporating elements of his old track Now We’re One. It’s a jazzy little number, with luxurious sweeping strings, and Toni’s vocals sound wonderful here in this jazzier style. Toni gets to finally show off her vocal power at the 3m 5s mark as she brings the song to its peak as the orchestra swirls around her. It sounds lovely.
That’s followed by Christmas Time Is Here, the first of the cover versions here – this a version of the 1965 track from A Charlie Brown Christmas tv special. It’s fairly sultry in delivery, aided too by the guitar solo. Toni seems to effortlessly glide through this song on a cloud, with wonderfully rich vocals. Whilst I don’t know the original song, this is a nice track.
Santa Please… is next, and the mid-tempo RnB sound returns alongside some breathy vocals, as Toni begs Santa to bring her man home for Christmas. These were times before Amazon Prime and Zoom calls to be fair. It’s a plodder, and perhaps a bit too ploddy, although the use of the reindeer names works well, and the use of the strings towards the ends also works well – more of that would have lifted the song a bit more but…
..they get to shine by themselves in Pretty Please – a tiny instrumental interlude, lasting just 1m 1s.
That leads on to Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, a classic Christmas hit recorded by most Christmas album artists. The chime bar and strings return us to the vintage Christmas song sound too, and Toni’s vocals sound right at home here. The strings are really loaded in here, perhaps in competition with her vocals in their few fleeting moments of overlap.
A bell chimes us into new song This Time Next Year, a co-write that includes Babyface. Apart from the bell at the start and the stylised strings, there’s not ever-so much Christmas involved in the lyrics, making it feel like a Babyface stock track. The vocal harmonies are wonderful here (including Babyface himself, and Chante Moore). Thankfully, Toni gets a high note to reach for, and she soars up to it.
The classic The Christmas Song (aka Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) follows this. It’s a good cover of this standard, as a thick bass, piano, brushed snare, and subtle sleigh bells seem to flitter around Toni’s wonderful voice here, ending on a lovely held note and delicate piano teasing ‘Jingle Bells’.
The penultimate track is Snowflakes Of Love (Brent Fischer Instrumental), a filler borrowed from the lead singl. Whilst this might seem a bit cheap, it does at least let you hear the beautiful orchestral arrangement for this original song, and the occasional breathy Toni backing vocals, which are likely to send goosebumps down your spine as the strings soar.
The album closes on Christmas In Jamaica (Remix) featuring Shaggy. The remix is by Poke & Tone, who sadly don’t get named in the title. Whilst the original track is catchy, this track is too, but leans further away from a Christmas style. Instead, there’s an almost robotic effect applied to some of Shaggy’s vocals – the contrast of which to Toni’s voice, was one of the original appeals. Instead, he’s buzzy, and the appeal of that is lost.
Over all, this album is a bit of a jumble.
The Christmas classic tracks are perfect for this album, and Toni’s vocals, as you would no doubt expect when you look at this album, are rich, warm, strong, and a delight to hear. The choices work well, and she is well matched against the Christmas styled songs, and the soaring orchestral tracks.
What doesn’t work so well, is the seemingly accidental Christmas songs – the worst offender here being This Time Next Year, which has Babyface’s fingerprints all over it. Whilst I appreciate that it is credited as a co-write with him and Toni, it feels like it was a stock song with 2-3 lyrics replaced to make it applicable to the album. It could easily just be another track on another RnB album.
The attempts to fuse vintage sounding Christmas songs (whether you like that schmaltz or not), and smooth and sexy RnB doesn’t quite work as comfortably as you’d hope, leaving those classic songs, and Snowflakes Of Love to carry the weight.
- POP RESCUE 2021 RATING: 3 / 5
- 2001 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Did not chart in the UK.
- POP RESCUE COST: £2.49 from a Discogs.com seller.