2015 / Tickled Ivory Music
Review by Michael Debbage
Typically Christmas albums have been marginalized with an artist either fulfilling their recording contract with a quick easy fix or a shortcut in filling your stocking with a simple understated seasonal gift. So when Jennifer Thomas announced that her new project was going to be a Christmas album on the tail of her epic album Illumination this reviewer had significant reservations. Well just one listen of the opening track of Winter Symphony eradicated any doubt that this recording was going to be a letdown as it is as magical and special as the season it represents.
Winter Symphony has a total of twelve tracks which has a great healthy balance of seasonal holiday songs and hymns. But the two tracks that really jump out are the Jennifer Thomas originals “Alleluia” and the title track. “Alleluia” is a spine tingling vocal and choral arrangement featuring Felicia Farerre and the Ensign Chorus that is supplemented by a more reserved string and piano performance allowing the vocals to be the focal point. This track is so inspiring and uplifting its heavenly music could be the new anthem to inspire us to put the Christ back into the holiday season in our way too politically correct world. In complete contrast to “Alleluia”, Thomas lets it fly on the more dramatic and bombastic “Winter Symphony” that will have you wanting to turn the volume knob all the way to eleven (a Spinal Tap reference for those of you that remember the rock mockumentary).
This leaves us with the more familiar carols and holiday songs throughout Winter Symphony that while not original compositions their arrangements are fully integrated with the musical DNA of Thomas. There is very clear evidence of this from the opening track “Angels We Have Heard On High”, though familiar to many receives the “Thomidas” golden touch alterations making for a gorgeous stirring introduction to Winter Symphony. The passionate performance from piano, choral, orchestral and percussion arrangements puts you on immediate notice that this is not going to be a cookie cutter stocking stuffer Christmas album but the real deal classic dream. But what else should we expect from an artist that is clearly fully committed to her craft. This is bookended with the stylistic interpretation of “O Holy Night” that closes out the album. The carol and hymns are countered with festive holiday songs with the most obvious ones being the “Theme From Home Alone” and a great cover of the Danny Elfman composition “Ice Dance” that was featured in the movie Edward Scissorhands. Initially it sounds like a carbon copy but needless to say Thomas adds a little more audacity to the song making it her own without destroying the spirit of the original recording.
Not only has Jennifer Thomas quickly shown the musical world that she is an exceptional writer and performer but this also extends to her production quality that is bold and beautiful. With partial thanks to Glen Gabriel as orchestrator this fully committed recording reflects the sounds of a major recording label. Winter Symphony is so impressive that it will be mentioned next to the Amy Grant’s Michael W Smith’s and David Foster’s who have all released highly regarded Christmas albums that will be played for years to come. Needless to say Jennifer Thomas and Winter Symphony is in great company and fully deserves these high accolades. That said specialty album or not this is a strong candidate for album of the year.
November 21, 2015
with Carolyn Southworth
Review by Michael Debbage