Review: “Christmas Spirit” by Donna Summer (CD, 1994)

Today’s Christmas Pop Rescue from an unknown festive future, is the 1994 album Christmas Spirit by the late Donna Summer. Will this album evoke festive feelings, or will it haunt you like the ghost of Christmas past? Read on…

Donna Summer - Christmas Spirit (1994) album.
Donna Summer – Christmas Spirit (1994) album.

This 10 track CD opens with the classic White Christmas, opening up with some gentle piano which is soon joined by an orchestra that swoops in. Here, Donna’s voice sounds far removed from her disco hits, as she puts in a wonderful soft (and echoey) performance that would suit any fan of the the most popular version from Bing Crosby. She throws in some big notes alongside some tiny ones too, and this is a great start to the album.

Next up is The Christmas Song, which brings the tempo up a bit. Again a piano leads us along, but the flurries of acoustic guitars, synths, a gentle beat, and bass join in. The song again feels like it belongs amongst the classic Christmas songs, as Donna takes these festive lyrics and delivers them with ease, even getting to show off her vocal range as well, occasionally hitting the realms of Whitney Houston. It’s a nice warm and easy plodder.

That’s followed by O Come All Ye Faithful, and rightfully, there’s a choir here – the Heritage Children’s Choir alongside a men’s choir too. Donna is able to hold her own alongside these choral experts, with her vocals sounding like she’s singing it in a cathedral. The orchestra joins in, helping to lift the vocals from Donna and the choirs up even higher. This is the kind of version that your grandmother would appreciate on a Christmas morning.

Christmas Is Here is next, and this is an original track, and it instantly sounds much more modern. The lyrics and music is playful and Donna sounds a little more like the vocalist we know from her other songs, but there’s also a lot of child-like sound, aided in this by the second appearance of the Heritage Children’s Choir. The shuffling percussion that arrives about half-way through works well, but the step from verse to chorus is a bit of a clumsy shift.

Then it’s a Christmas Melody, opening with What Child Is This (that Greensleeves song), which Donna delivers like she’s some Medieval travelling minstrel. That pretty much just stops and switches to an up-beat rock version of Do You Hear What I Hear? with roaring guitars, dramatic synth strings and piano. It almost sounds like it was recorded for the but when the production team credits of a Christmas-time 90’s Disney film scroll by. This seamlessly blends into Joy To The World, and again Donna’s vocal power and range is evident in this choral pop-rock song that’s woven with repeated choral lines of Do You Hear What I Hear. Donna really goes for it towards the end, before What Child Is This fades back in for the ending.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas follows that, and it’s a wash of keyboards and Donna’s reflective vocals. I could easily imagine Mariah Carey’s vocals being dropped in on this musical track instead of Donna’s but it sounds quite warm and thick with a cosy atmospheric sound.

That’s then followed by the titular Christmas Spirit, another original track. The track opens with some synth pads and gentle beat, joined by guitars that throw in the occasional riff. Donna’s soft semi-religious vocals plod along with the track, and unfortunately the track feels a little lacklustre even though Donna tries to lift the song with some more big vocals in the final key change third of the song.

Breath Of Heaven is next, opening with Donna recounting the nativity, before heading into this cover of this Amy Grant song. The song is a wonderful grower, and this gives Donna something lyrically and vocally interesting to do, flanked by a swirling orchestra. It does carry an air of a hymn, and Donna’s delivery accentuates this.

That’s followed by O Holy Night, which opens like a 90’s Robson & Jerome hit but Donna’s flawless vocals in this song soon distracts us from that thought. Whilst the track is fairly discrete for the first half, suddenly it bursts open with a gospel choir joining in, and some guitars arriving too. This gives the song an excellent injection of energy and lifts Donna’s vocals even higher.

The album closes with original song, Lamb Of God, which on paper sounds like a worse deal than Turkey Of Christmas, but given it takes 7m 24s to do, it should at least be half cooked. The track opens with Donna reciting some biblical text before acoustic guitars lead us on a fairly long but nice wander into the song proper. Donna returns, this time putting in a brilliant performance alongside piano, dramatic guitars and drums, and this fits the lyric and vocal performance perfectly. Turns out 7m 24s is exactly the right time to roast the lamb of God, with Donna returning to the biblical storytelling at the end, and it works perfectly.

Donna performing ‘O Holy Night’.

Verdict

Over all, this album is genuinely a great Christmas collection of songs, many faithfully covered, and some with fresh new interpretations.

The classic Christmas songs (led by White Christmas, The Christmas Song, and O Holy Night) are exactly what you’d hope for, and Donna does an excellent job at delivering a familiar sound whilst vocally ensuring that we know that it is definitely her.

The delivery of O Come All Ye Faithful is a performance that would equally surprise and disgust a church-going grandmother, who might not appreciate that Bad Girls and Hot Stuff was encroaching in on her Jesus. The Lamb Of God is a delight at the end, and whilst its slightly odd title, the performance is epic and its a perfect finalé for this album.

The Christmas Melody would have been better without the What Child Is This plodder, giving us a belting mix of two up-beat songs. Christmas Is Here and Christmas Spirit are a little weaker, perhaps because they’re unfamiliar or just exceptionally 1990s, but it’s always nice to find something new amongst the usual suspect Christmas songs.

Why did this album flop? I can only guess that the lack of any singles left most people unaware that it even existed. Lamb Of God did get a 1994 US promo single, but never a full release. Definitely give this one a listen if you can find it.

Rated 4 stars - You're missing a treat!
  • POP RESCUE 2022 REVIEW RATING: 4 / 5
  • 1994 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Did not chart.
  • POP RESCUE COST: £4.36 from an eBay seller.

Based on all of the Donna Summer albums we have reviewed so far, we can calculate her average album score as 3.75 out of 5.

Donna Summer average album review rating

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