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Mahalia Jackson - Silent Night

Mahalia Jackson's records are all about her voice, even with the prettiest of musical backdrops (minimal though they are throughout this album) the only thing that matters is her powerful vibrato. So when the exalted gospel singer recorded her second Christmas album, 'Silent Night (Songs for Christmas)' in 1962 there was only ever going be one outcome. Namely a piece of work that had the power to change lives, that contains 10 songs of arch spirituality, delivered masterfully by the singers unique gift.

'Silent Night (Songs for Christmas)' is certainly a different type of Christmas album. It is thoughtful, religious and gives off a powerful presence. Think of it as a delicate sorbet after the excess and overindulgence that you normally associate with the sounds of the season. This intention is signalled from the very start when Mahalia Jackson tackles Robert MacGimsey's 1934 song 'Sweet Little Jesus Boy'. There are no airs or graces as the hymn is presented in uncluttered fashion, the gospel singers vocals are all that is required to paint a hypnotic canvass.

'A Star Stood Still (Song of the Nativity)' takes you to the nativity scene, you feel the moonlight on your face, the cattle are lowing nearby but all attention is focused on the the hushed scene that is gathered around the manger. 'O Come, All Ye Faithfull (Adeste Fideles)' is equally reverential for a carol that was just made for Mahalia Jackson's emotive outpourings. 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing' is like inviting the most wondrous choir into your sitting room, the singers give it their all like it was first time they've gotten to sing on Christmas Eve for many years. It is a timeless performance that is inspirational enough to inspire teary reaction. Another well known carol to get the Mahalia treatment is 'Joy To The World'. Again it results in a heavenly outbreak of sound and for once Jackson's supremacy is challenged by the elaborate arrangements.

'Silent Night (Songs for Christmas)' is all about mood and spirituality but there are intermittent flashes of lighter subject matter. The prime example being 'Go Tell On The Mountain', which asks that the birth of Jesus be announced from a high. The instruction is carried out in what resembles a slow moving carnival of celebration. For once the backing vocals include male parts, which dance merrily with Jackson's lofty pronouncements.

While there is an overriding sense of the religious about 'Silent Night (Songs for Christmas)' (with the particular theme of the baby Jesus present throughout) Jackson does find time on occasion to offer a more secular outlook. This is most obviously apparent on 'Christmas Comes To Us All Once A Year' where she offers a view into her idea Christmas day. As the church bells chime and there's more giving than receiving you may well feel like you are being transported to a time when there were no adverts to distract us from the real objectives of Christmas.

Jackson leaves her most powerful rendition to the end for the majesty that is 'Silent Night, Holy Night'. There is no over-elaboration as all that accompanies her slow deliberate vocals is the sound of a distant organ/church bell and softy lit backing vocals. And when the words stop Jackson ensures the electricity in the air continues to lightly crackle as she hums an entire chorus. A spellbinding 5 minutes.

Given that she is widely regarded as the best gospel singer the world (let's be reminded that she sang at John F. Kennedy's inauguration ceremony) has ever produced, it would seem incongruous to think that a Christmas record from Mahalia Jackson would be anything less than a success. The truth is 'Silent Night (Songs For Christmas)' is much more than that, it a compelling listen from start to finish, a little piece of history that gives anyone with a doubt about the importance of Christmas music something to seriously consider before making such foolish statements.

Mahalia Jackson - Silent Night Christmas Videos

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