Music Review: Mark Harris' "Christmas Is"

INO Records
Release Date – October 2nd, 2009

Quick! A game of word association!  When I say "Christmas Songs", names like Perry Como and Andy Williams and their smooth renditions of warm sentimental holiday songs should quickly come to mind.  But fast-forward to today.  Who would make some natural "Christmas songs" associations today - Linkin Park?  Beyonce?  Eminem?  Hardly!!  But Mark Harris, formerly of 4Him…hmmm, that could be good!

Well, it turns out to be a great association in Mark Harris' new release, Christmas Is; combining the sentiment of Christmas with Harris' velvet vocal tones into a fond collection of holiday songs.  Mark Harris is vocally at the top of his game; performing with the same smooth earthy tenderness we remember him for in 4Him. 

Some highlights from Christmas Is:

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" has a campy nostalgic flavor to it a la The Lovin' Spoonful's "Day Dream" or The Mamas and the Papas' "Dream A Little Dream of Me".  Is this rendition your cup of tea?  If you are tired of the melancholy treatments the song has received through the decades, this will be a refreshing romp.  If redoing Judy Garland's version of this classic is akin to painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa to you, you'd best go on to the next track.

The title track "Christmas Is" is a poignant duet (with his twelve year old daughter Maddison) scene setter with a middle-of-the-road homestead feel to it.   The message of this song communicates that, yes there are sweet associations with Christmas, but it began with a sacred birth; manifesting as a love within us that transcends all.   

A song that deserves your attention (and hopefully some radio airplay) is Harris' excellent treatment of "Silent Night".  The choral harmonies, warm strings and guitars, and Harris' melodic vocals all work together to create a fresh treatment of this Christmas classic that is both sweet, catchy, and irresistible. 

And while we're playing "word association", another natural association for those acquainted with Christian Music would be - Mark Harris and "A Strange Way to Save the World" - originally recorded when he sang it with 4Him.  Harris gives it a new treatment here on Christmas Is – and while the performance is well-done, it does not rise to outdo that memorable rendition by 4Him.  Instead it comes off as tired - and "missing something" - like a holiday recipe of egg nog with not enough nutmeg.  Disappointing.  The strength of his solo vocals (What? No harmonies?), piano, and strings is not enough to brand a deeper impression of this song than originally done by Harris and 4Him - therefore it brings a less-than-substantial finish to the CD song list.   

If you recall with fond memories the sound of 4Him with Mark Harris at the vocal helm, you'll enjoy the overall tone of Christmas Is.  If you wish to crank up the tunes with some post-modern power chord renditions of Christmas songs, there are other choices of new releases.

Christmas Is produces an overall rustic wholesome tone; enveloping us in a musical backdrop of our best memories of Christmases past  - with Grandma and Grandpa giving warm hugs and the smell of cinnamon and clove coming from the kitchen.  In a time when pop culture can't stuff enough "Santa Baby" in our ears, this reverent and overall reflective Christmas CD is a welcome treat. 


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