If you are still looking for the ideal last minute gift, B.B. King has come up with the perfect solution: B.B. King, blues and Christmas all in one package. The liner notes point out that it has been a long time dream to make a Christmas album. "A Christmas Celebration of Hope" shows that dreams can come true, and it provides the ideal opportunity for people to educate their friends.
Unsurprisingly, all the album's tracks have very strong connections with the Christmas holiday, although the last two are for the New Year. The holiday mood is set perfectly by the exquisite version of "Please Come Home For Christmas", the first of three Charles Brown tunes, which opens the album. James Sells Toney contributes some beautiful piano to this one, and the Nashville String Machine add to the lushness of the sound.
There is a mixture of slower ballads and more uptempo rolling blues numbers, which should keep everybody satisfied. The material ranges from the happy to the sad too, so the album offers a microcosm of what the blues can mean to different people at Christmas. Most of the songs are covers, although there are a couple of King originals. The first, is "Christmas Celebration" which rocks along in a very pleasant way, before giving way to a great version of "Merry Christmas Baby." The second is "Christmas Love," an instrumental featuring guitar and piano. After the latter, King and the band get almost funky, with a jazzy cover version of "Blue Decorations."
The album closes out by advancing the clock to the New Year. The good time blues of the third Charles Brown tune, "Bringing in A Brand New Year" is the last real blues tune on the album. In his own inimitable way, however, King makes a blues-inspired instrumental arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne" just to round things off. If you were looking for some musical accompaniment for the singing of this traditional song at New Year, this is a fine place to start!
"A Christmas Celebration of Hope" really is a thing of rare beauty. It shows that the quality of B.B. King's guitar and voice show no signs of letting up, and as usual he is backed by his first rate band. Since this CD arrived it has been almost permanently resident on the CD player. The perfect antidote to all those twee Christmas albums that the relatives dig out every year, here is something of real substance. Put "A Christmas Celebration of Hope" on, stoke up the fire, get yourself a glass of something, then sit back and enjoy. Probably the best Christmas album ever, and yet another great album from the King of the blues.
If you want another good reason for buying this album, MCA (www.mca.com) will be donating its profits from the sale of this album to the City of Hope to fund innovative research and compassionate patient care programs. To find out the latest on the King of the blues, check out his web site (www.bbking.com).
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.