My First Christmas With You
2002 / Jim Wilson
Review by Michael Debbage
There is no doubt that Christmas is a very wonderful time of the year for many of us. It is largely a season of cherished memories and treasured moments. Whether the reasons are to celebrate the birth of the Christ or the simplicity of loving family reunions, Christmas is a time of love, joy and giving. A special time of the year requires very special music from a special artist and that is where Jim Wilson steps in delivering in a warm and intimate way.
Jim Wilson's first big break came courtesy of his outstanding freshman effort Northern Seascape. Written largely in 1997, the album was not formally released until 1999 and yet to this day it remains a constant visitor on my CD player. Layered in mystical uilleann pipes, Irish flute and mandolin accompanied by soothing yet evocative melody, Wilson's sound was unique yet familiar. It did not hurt to have marquee names like Davey Johnstone (Elton John's guitarist) and Dave Koz assisting him.
On this project Wilson's unique sound in large plays a back seat to the holiday music. However, the trend of guest artists is continued courtesy of appearances from Dan Fogelberg, Stephen Bishop, Marilyn Martin and Everette Harp to name a few. And with a multitude of Christmas projects released each year, Wilson faces the daunting task of presenting something old and something new without sounding either repetitive or too contemporary.
Wilson walks this very fine line balancing the album with traditional carols arranged sweetly, intermingled with new self-penned compositions. Tradition is offered first courtesy of the seamless melody of "Doxology/Little Drummer Boy". Unless you have resided at the North Pole without a sound system the chances of not being familiar with these songs is highly unlikely. While this arrangement will sound new they seem so right for each other in this well integrated form.
On the contemporary side there is the self penned My First Christmas With You with assistance from John Bettis. This includes some genteel guitar work from Heitor Pereira much in the style of the previously mentioned Davey Johnstone. Equally as impressive is the flowing "River" written by Joni Mitchell which includes some super smooth saxophone from the under-rated Everette Harp.
The album is rounded out with three vocal performances. This includes Wilson taking this task on courtesy of his duet with Marilyn Martin. Much like Jim Brickman his voice his pleasant but not outstanding but a courageous move anyway. The most impressive vocal rendition is completed by the mellow Stephen Bishop on a very laid back jazz rendition of "Have Yourself A Merry Christmas".
As previously mentioned, Jim Wilson's trademark sound plays a backseat on these Christmas renditions, however the results are still a most enjoyable seasonal affair. These are well-chosen traditional carols and original compositions that bring together the spiritual and romantic aspects of this festive and special time of the year.
December 1, 2002