3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.
1: Engineering Quality: Naming engineering quality as the lead-off highlight of Feels Like Christmas might seem odd and certainly need explanation.
The arranging team is largely familiar: Wayne Haun led most orchestral arrangements, while David Clydesdale, Roy Agee, and Cliff Duren all played a role on specific tracks.
The team of musicians is also largely familiar: Jason Webb and Kim Collingsworth on piano, John Hammond on drums and percussion, Craig Nelson on bass, Kelly Back on acoustic and electric guitars, and the Nashville String Machine on orchestrations.
With these familiar ingredients, you might expect a result similar to other projects with a similar production team. You would be mistaken. Feels Like Christmas, in one respect, is like no other Southern Gospel Christmas project (and, for that matter, no previous Collingsworth Family project). That area would be audio engineering.
Melissa Mattey was the lead engineer for the orchestral recording session. Mattey, who has studied orchestral conducting, brings classical sensibilities to the sound quality. There were over forty players in the session; she miked each individually and also had room microphones to capture the ambient sound. (This gives the orchestrations a live feel.) Since she also mixed the album, the final product has a vivid depth and richness that you typically only hear on a recording featuring one classical music’s leading conductors and orchestras.
Feels Like Christmas raises the bar for orchestral recording quality in our genre.
2: Overture (Silent Night / What Child is This): Philip Collingsworth Jr., already a strong vocalist, continues to improve with every album the family releases. His solo on “Silent Night” is exquisite.
This has freed up his father to spend more of his time in the lower portions of his baritone range. The rich tone in Phil Sr.’s solo on on “What Child is This” shows how much this has added to the family’s ensemble sound.
3: Who is He in Yonder Stall: Through the years, several Southern Gospel artists have turned in show-stopping renditions of this hymn. This rendition stands head-and-shoulders above the rest as the song’s definitive version.
Words can’t really do this rendition justice. The dynamic vocal performance brings the intensity down to almost a whisper at the crucifixion, but soars to glorious heights when the resurrection comes. Meanwhile, from tight unison lines to dramatic power harmonies, the vocal arrangement brings a rich nuance. Finally, as discussed above, the matchless orchestral recording quality shines on this song more than any other. There has probably never been another single Southern Gospel track with better orchestral engineering.
:1: Song Selection: SouthernGospelBlog.com has a policy of only reviewing all-Gospel albums, Christmas or otherwise. Had the album contained ten or twelve Gospel songs recorded to this level of excellence, it would have been the best Southern Gospel Christmas album ever recorded. So, naturally, its technical superiority called for an exception to the rule.
Traditional or Progressive:
Middle-of-the-road / fully-orchestrated.
Group Members: Group members: Brooklyn Collingsworth (soprano), Olivia Collingsworth (soprano), Courtney Collingsworth (alto), Kim Collingsworth (contralto), Phil Collingsworth Jr. (lead), Phil Collingsworth Sr. (baritone).
Credits: Produced by Wayne Haun. Engineered and mixed by Melissa Mattey. Mastered by Alan Silverman. Arrangements by Wayne Haun, Roy Agee, David Clydesdale, and Cliff Duren. Tracks recorded by Matt Andrews and Jon Hersey at Sound Emporium, Nashville, Tennessee. Vocals recorded by Jeff Pitzer at Quad Studios, Nashville, TN. Background Vocals recorded by Shane McConnel Studios, Nashville, Tennessee. Musicians: Kim Collingsworth (piano), Jason Webb (piano, keyboards, B3 organ), Hans Nelson (keyboards), John Hammond (drums and percussion), Craig Nelson (bass, hammered dulcimer), Kelly Back (acoustic/electric guitars), Jeff Taylor (penny whistle, accordion), Phil Collingsworth (solo trumpet). Orchestration recorded by the Nashville String Machine, conducted by Carl Gorodetzky.
Song List: Winter Wonderland/Sleigh Ride ; Christmas Can’t Be Far Away; It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year; Christmas Time Is Here; Overture/Silent Night/What Child Is This; Beautiful Star of Bethlehem; Peace On Earth Tonight; Mary’s Little Boy Child/Jesus, What A Wonderful Child; My Gift Is Me; O Magnify The Lord; Who Is He in Yonder Stall; O Holy Night; I Wish It Could Be Christmas Forever.