Today’s Pop Rescue from an uncertain festive fate, is the 1996 Christmas album This Is The Time – The Christmas Album by American singer and songwriter, Michael Bolton. Will this album ensure you Ave nice Christmas, or will you wish for a Silent Night? Read on…
This 10 track CD album opens with synth piano leading us into the traditional classic Silent Night. We’re treated with a wash of sounds courtesy of musician and producer Walter Afanasieff (2 years after his success on Mariah Carey’s Christmas album). Michael’s vocals are very Michael Bolton, as you’d expect, and he puts in an impressively emphatic set of powerful vocals.
Then it’s on to Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, and this bursts into action, sounding so bouncy that you can’t do anything but sing along, tap your foot, and page Shakin’ Stevens to warn him. It sounds like Michael is having a brilliant time recording this throwing his vocals all over the shop with precision, and the backing vocalists, guitarist, perfectly brass and saxophone, and pianist sound like they never want to stop. What a belter!
That’s followed by Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, which is a wonderful string soaring, slow jazzy little number with brushed snares and double bass. Michael really shines here vocally, and the strings get to swirl around him as he punches through them with ease as he hits some impressively high notes with a flawless expertise. It’s a lovely warm, slow, song.
Joy To The World is next, and I’ve spotted that alongside Walter Afanasieff and Michael Bolton, Mariah Carey gets an arrangement credit. She’s not credited with any vocals, not even within the magnificent choir. The choir really does work well alongside Michael’s vocal power, but despite this, and the energy of the track, I’ve always struggled to enjoy this song in all its versions.
Then it’s Ave Maria, composed by Franz Schubert, where Michael is joined by Spanish opera legend, Plácido Domingo. As you’d expect (apart from you Jan Terri fans), this is a slow song that takes advantage of Plácido’s operatic expertise, and follows a richly orchestral track approach. Plácido starts off the track, and all is going well. Michael comes along in the second half, and his vocal contrast is instantly noticeable, although he certainly has the vocal power and range. It’s a nice pairing, but Plácido rules here.
We’re on to The Christmas Song next (often dual titled with ‘Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire’), opening with some wonderful sounding vibes before the strings and Michael’s vocals drop in. Flutes and clarinets soon join in, alongside the rest of the instruments, making this song sound like a cosy and atmospheric sounding track.
O Holy Night follows that and this is a fairly middle-of-the-road version of this traditional song, with a very ploddy basic musical track. The choir is once again perfectly placed, but the end result is a somewhat dull track.
Next up is the crooner classic White Christmas, which Michael sings in a higher register and near-breathlessness at times. It’s a slower version than that of those I’m familiar with, but musically it sounds familiar – with the strings once again stirring up that vintage Christmas sound. Michael makes light work of it, with some great vocal variations on show as the song comes to its inevitable chime bar close. The track is included here despite having already been a single, taken from his Timeless: The Classics album from 1992.
Titular track, and original song, This Is The Time is next. This sees Michael duet with American country singer Wynonna (I always used to wonder if this was Wynonna Ryder, but no, it’s not). Acoustic guitars strum lightly as Michael sings about his love for Wynonna. Wynonna’s soon arrives, and her vocals are a really nice contrast to Michael’s, and the pair throw some great harmonies in the chorus. The track is not particularly Christmassey, making only token mentions of ‘cold winds blow’ and ‘snow falls from Heaven’ in the chorus. It’s a nice pop-rock track, but I wouldn’t pitch it as a Christmas song. Despite that, it probably could have had success as a single.
The album closes with Love Is The Power which did get released as a single in Europe and a few other regions, but it did not touch the UK chart, despite it being a Michael, Diane Warren, and Walter Afanasieff co-write. The track has a slightly over-bearing beat, and Michael’s vocals are tender and sit lightly over the top. I could easily imagine this being sung by someone like Lisa Stansfield, as it has a nice relaxed soulfulness. The acoustic guitar solo is wonderful but as with previous track, we’re now even further from Christmas with the music style or lyrics.
Over all, this Christmas album is a fairly consistently great collection of old favourites, and I found it surprisingly enjoyable. Michael really puts in a great performance and his vocals hit most of the right spots and the album delivers some new and interesting approaches to those well-trodden favourites.
Highlights are definitely led by Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (do check it out) which really does sound like a really fun and punchy track, as well as Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and new track This Is The Time with Wynonna, despite that not being a Christmas song.
There are low points, and that’s led by O Holy Night, which is simply just boring and doesn’t sound like it’s bringing much along for the festive ride. The two not-or-non Christmas tracks here are a bit odd, but they’re actually quite nice tracks and could easily have turned up on a past or future studio album without sounding out of place.
I can’t explain why this album simply failed in the UK chart, and presume that a lack of promo or a raft of competition ensured that it almost missed the top 100 altogether.
- POP RESCUE 2021 RATING: 4 / 5
- 1996 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #93
- POP RESCUE COST: £2.36 from an eBay seller.