Let me start by saying that Mahalia Jackson and Ray Charles are legends, national treasures. I’ve liked Ray Charles for quite some time and I recently purchased my first Mahalia Jackson CD – the one I’m going to talk about in this post – and was bowled over. Let me be one more voice telling anyone not yet familiar with the work of these two artists that you really owe it to yourself to discover them.
With that being said, I’ll give away my findings now: one CD amazed me, the other disappointed.
“Mahalia Jackson Silent Night” amazed me. Mahalia Jackson’s CD gave me 16 heavenly tracks. Most of them feature just Ms. Jackson’s voice and sparse, muted accompaniment from an organ, piano, or choir. She owns the music on this CD. Her richness of tone, her diction, her clarity, her range, her presence – all are remarkable, and I treasure these songs as sung by her. The overall feel of the album is strongly religious, with only one song, “White Christmas”, having a secular theme. All the other songs can move a body to tears of joy and praise for the power she puts into them. If you’re worried about the commercialization of a holy time of year, play this disc and dispel the messengers of mammon with the angelic delivery of Mahalia Jackson. If you love gospel music, this absolutely belongs in your collection, no excuses.
Now for the disappointment. I really wanted to love “Ray Charles Celebrates a Gospel Christmas.” I really did. My suspicions were aroused, however, when I heard a dubbed intro at the start of the CD. Why did that have to be added in? And while I wanted a Gospel Christmas album, only half the tracks could be considered religious. The rest were Christmas standards that happened to have a gospel choir around while they were being sung. Sadly, those tracks simply did not work with the rest of the mix. I enjoyed “What Kind of Man Is This” and “Oh Happy Day”, but the rest failed to get me going, either from a gospel or from a holiday perspective.
I’ll stick with other offerings from Ray Charles, but I’ve only begun to discover Mahalia Jackson. If you want gospel music with a Christmas theme, follow my recommendations and you can’t go wrong.