CD Review: Charles Billingsley - It's Christmas Time Again

Charles Billingsley crafts a fun, swinging Christmas album.
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From his beginnings 25 years ago as a member of the contemporary Christian group NewSong to his lengthy solo career, which has also seen turns as a speaker and author, Charles Billingsley has had quite the career. His latest release, It's Christmas Time Again, brings to mind classic Christmas releases by the likes of Frank Sinatra and mixes traditional jazz sounds and the Great American Songbook with modern sensibilities, making for an excellent holiday release.

The album leads off with the hard swinging "The Man With The Bag." The track could just as easily have been from the 1950s as today. The horns really pop and help accentuate a strong vocal from Billingsley on this potent opener. Billingsley brings the pace down a bit with a jazzy, laid back "Santa Claus is Coming To Town." Billingsley is truly in his element here with a smooth, confident vocal. These songs were recorded live in the studio and one can sense the musicians feeding off each other, making for an exciting recording.

Billingsley delivers a heartfelt vocal on the ballad "It's Christmas Time Again." One can feel his joy in singing these songs and that Billingsley is not just cranking out a Christmas album because it's the "thing to do after a long career" like so many other artists do. This is especially evident on "O Holy Night," a number that builds in intensity vocally, showcasing haunting performances from both Billingsley and his backup singers.

Billingsley evokes the Brian Setzer Orchestra on the up-tempo "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus." The song allows Billingsley's killer band to shine, showing off some great backup vocals, a potent saxophone solo and a drum solo to boot. The song is a standout on the album. "Silent Night" is given a solemn treatment and shows Billingsley is equally adept at sacred and secular Christmas music.

"Welcome To Our World" finds Billingsley giving a tender vocal, backed by sparse piano and strings, showcasing the melody while album closer "Goodnight" sees Billingsley stepping out of the Christmas realm for a moment and into the Beatles' songbook. While the song may seem an odd choice on a Christmas album, Billingsley plays up the lullaby feel of the track and makes it work as a closer.

Billingsley has crafted a winner with It's Christmas Time Again. Mixing up-tempo, swinging tracks with ballads and secular with religious Christmas carols, he has all the musical bases covered. Add in a great band and an album recorded live in the studio and It's Christmas Time Again becomes a must-own Christmas release.