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Aled's Christmas Gift

Notes & Reviews:

Responsible for one of the most iconic and enchanting Christmas songs of the past thirty years, "Walking In The Air," Welsh vocalist Aled Jones is one of the few boy sopranos to make the successful transition to adult classical star. The Radio 2 DJ and Songs Of Praise host has chalked up a rather prolific eight studio albums since his musical comeback in 2000 but it's still the theme tune to the animated version of Raymond Briggs' classic children's book The Snowman that remains his most enduring piece of work. Unafraid to embrace his association with the festive period, Jones returns, for the second time, with an album full of seasonal songs, following 2004's The Christmas Album. Like its predecessor, Aled's Christmas Gift is a collection of simply-arranged and faithful interpretations of traditional hymns and carols which showcase his rich and velvety baritone vocals. Avoiding the trap of lavishing its fourteen tracks with overbearing and intrusive orchestral arrangements, classical crossover producer Ian Tilley (All Angels), instead injects an air of subtlety into proceedings thanks to some tasteful acoustic instrumentation which allows the songs to breathe. Alongside performances of the ubiquitous "Silent Night" and "Away In A Manger," there are also several less-recognisable tracks which helps to differentiate the album from other similar-themed releases. "The Sussex Carol" is a folk-oriented piece written by a 17th Century Irish bishop, "Tua Bethlem Dref" is a traditional Welsh hymn Jones used to sing as a choirboy, while "Mary Did You Know" is the only contemporary composition, originally written by Christian singers Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene in 1984. While critically-acclaimed soprano Hayley Westenra provided the guest vocals on his previous festive release, Aled's Christmas Gift features a duet with someone rather less-known for their vocal prowess, fellow Radio 2 DJ Terry Wogan, whose only previous excursion into musical territory was his 1978 cover of "The Floral Dance." However, their rendition of Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell's "Silver Bells," taken from The Lemon Drop Kid, which could have been a rather misplaced novelty song, actually turns out to be a rather charming and endearing highlight. With its combination of classic seasonal favourites and more personal unfamiliar yuletide songs, Aled's Christmas Gift is a welcome addition to Jones' ever-increasing festive repertoire. ~ Jon O'Brien


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