Susan Boyle – The Gift

On November 26, 2010, in Christmas, Review, by Miguel Rodriguez
Artist: Susan Boyle
Album: The Gift
Producer: Steve Mac
Label: Syco/Columbia
Release: November 8, 2010

Rating: 6.3 RockRolls

 
Britain's middle-aged sweetheart is back this fall with another aptly timed release, primed for Christmas wrapping. The Gift is a mix of Christmas, traditional, and classic songs that are drawn together in a cornucopia of nostalgia and ritual. With her second studio album, Susan Boyle is only the third person to have simultaneously topped both the US and UK charts twice in the same year.


Susan pays homage to the great Lou Reed with a superb cover of "Perfect Day." Her version is reminiscent of many a Máire Bhraonáin recording, with airy voices joining on the upbeat chorus separating the haunting, minor verses. Susan and Steve Mac really make this song sound as if this is how it was originally arranged and performed. In a similar style, The Gift features a soft, sweet version of the Crowded House new wave single, "Don't Dream It's Over" with similar, sing-along style choruses.

Susan strikes again on the album with "Hallelujah." The track starts off slow, almost dragging through the first verse, but Susan delivers a performance that is Vocally perfect. The structure is very deliberate and unwavering; Susan's patience stamping out each beat equaling Leonard Cohen's legendary evenness. The song takes a short turn to the end, however, when it leaves out the second half of its third and final verse. The casual listener may not notice, but die hard fans of the song may feel let down.

It's fitting for the Blackburn-born vocalist to perform a traditional Scottish song like "Auld Lang Syne." The record uses simply the most popular first two verses of the Robert Burns poem along with the chorus wherein Susan allows her Scottish-national/Irish-bred background bleed across in a slight accent, typical of this song, which is often rarely heard in her vocals. Susan steps clearly into her Catholic roots with a performance of The Prayer of St. Francis ("Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace" on the record, a la the former Oregon Catholic Press (now simply OCP)). A faithful rendition of the classic, fans of the song will appreciate the performance, but little appreciation will likely be found outside of the Catholic/Christian community from a less-than-standout performance.

While not strictly a Christmas album, the majority of the album is holiday themed with generally average performances. In "The First Noel" we have an acoustic guitar rendition paired with simple, respectful violin and piano couplings, that hides on the sacred side of the subject matter, and never stands out on the secular side dying for stronger musicality. On the soloist's dream "O Holy Night," Susan never fully reaches the emotional or musical high typical of the song with a vocal performance in danger of being swallowed by choral and synth swells. And including Amber Stassi on "Do You Hear What I Hear" wasn't enough to save it from tasteful, but predictable mediocrity.

Making the grade on the Christmas side of this bipolar record is an amazing performance of "Away In A Manger" that uses William J. Kirkpatrick's alternate melody for the song rather than the traditional one by James R. Murray that American listeners would be most familiar with. Simple, but full of carefully arranged musical movement, this is a wonderful take on the holiday classic and easily the better of the traditional offerings on the album.

Closing out the album, Susan tackles "O Come All Ye Faithful" a capella with the success one would expect out of an average church choir. The finale offers little more than the realization that a solid, perfect performance can still be a little flat. The Gift make make a good gift for fans and Christmas lovers, and Susan Boyle offers up several competent, and a few strong, performances, but I would not see Julie Andrews counting this album to be among her favorite things.

6.3 RockRolls
 

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