Ah the wonders of modern technology! The RCA label has released another Elvis Presley Christmas album but rather than just repackaging some of his holiday hits, they decided to get a little creative. They gathered together a number of country music’s biggest female stars to sing duets with him. Such artists as Martina McBride, Carrie Underwood, Leann Rimes, Wynonna Judd, Amy Grant, Gretchen Wilson, Anne Murray, and even Olivia Newton-John lend their voices to create duets on some of Elvis’ classic Christmas songs.
The original tracks have been remastered and more instrumentation has been added to create a fuller and different sound. Some of the background vocals have been changed or at least enhanced. The results add up to not only an interesting but an excellent album.
Martina McBride doe not overwhelm Elvis on “Blue Christmas” as she's been known to do with other artists. She gives a subtle performance that matches the smoothness of his vocal. The drum track is turned up to give the song a little more punch than the original.
Carrie Underwood plays it a little too conservative on the classic “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” There is just not enough of her on the track.
“Here Comes Santa Claus” finds Leann Rimes giving a perky vocal that compliments Elvis well. The instrumental backing is turned down a bit in order to focus on the purity of their voices.
“Santa Claus Is Back In Town” is probably the strongest track on the album. This is a blues rendition that fits Wynonna Judd well. She trades vocal runs with Elvis and more than holds her own. This is the track that I played over and over again.
“Silent Night” is presented in traditional style. Sara Evans vocal is excellent but I can’t help think that she and Carrie Underwood should have traded songs.
Amy Grant joins Elvis on “White Christmas.” The vocals are excellent but the tempo is faster than the original.
“Merry Christmas Baby” is a second blues outing and another superior track. A piano and drums dominate the instrumental backing with some clear harmonica added on the break. Gretchen Wilson doesn’t really duet with Elvis but rather adds phasing that enhances his vocal.
“O Little Town Of Bethlehem” is not a duet but a threesome. Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman bring their clear harmonies to this song and create a wonderful counterpoint. The three voices give this track a fuller sound than many of the others.
Anne Murray has a lower vocal register than the other singers on the album and as such creates a different sound when she combines it with Elvis’. “Sleigh Bells” is presented in traditional up-tempo form.
The Christmas hymn, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” finds Olivia Newton-John providing half of the duet. Her voice is not a match for Elvis, so she wisely stays in the background.
Also included are three bonus tracks of Elvis singing alone. “The First Noel,” "If I Get Home On Christmas Day," and “Winter Wonderland” have all been issued a number of times over the years. Here we find them remastered with extra instruments added. The sound is so clear that you can actually hear the intake of Elvis’ breath.
Christmas Duets presents some classic Elvis in a new and creative way. It is a good and fun holiday listen. Merry Christmas to all fans of the true king of rock ‘n’ roll!