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Drowned in Sound: Hall & Oates: Home For Christmas

Drowned in Sound
Hall & Oates: Home For Christmas
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92

Many pop acts have come and gone with the times, but Daryl Hall and John Oates seem to have some staying power. As Hall & Oates, the duo recorded some massive hits in both the 70's and 80's and have seen their work sampled in other recordings through the years to follow. Now they have recorded Home for Christmas, a Christmas album that desires to be anything but typical.
The beginning will take you by surprise with an orchestral overture, setting a majestic tone for the album. Unfortunately, the parts where Hall and/or Oates are actually singing use very little string backing. It's hard to imagine that they would be concerned about being upstaged by the orchestra; the greater possibility is a desire to stick with what's comfortable, which is a 70's-styled string accompaniment under their voices and equal in the mix with the other instruments. It works, but it feels like Hall & Oates might be taking the easy way out.
However, any accusations of a cop-out are cleared up by the song choices here. About half of the tracks on Home for Christmas are standards; the others are either lesser-known Christmas songs or originals. Yes, you read that right: unlike lesser pop artists, Hall & Oates actually created two new songs for their Christmas album. The first of these, "No Child Should Ever Cry on Christmas," is the first sign that this was a good idea. It sounds like vintage Hall & Oates songcraft, fresh and accessible; the title track is the same way. These two songs alone can justify the purchase.
The duo's soul power is a blessing and curse for Home for Christmas. Even though their heyday is long gone, Hall & Oates can still make the songs sound butter-smooth. That style actually hampers the traditional selections, probably because they're not radical revisions and therefore aren't fully compatible with the understated grandeur of 70's pop. It only gets to the level of self-sabotage during "Children Go Where I Send Thee," a gospel number and seemingly great choice that suffers when smoothness triumphs over the required energy. The sound still clicks perfectly in other places, particularly during contemporary material and in their own songs.
There is a grand compliment to be paid to Home for Christmas: it captures the season's spirit well. This is definitely a night-driving album, perfect for a return from a busy day of shopping or for cruising past neighborhood Christmas lights. Yet there remains a nagging feeling that something is missing, maybe because of the flatness that their style adds to the older material. Like the slightly off-key high note near the end of "O Holy Night," Hall & Oates can't quite take this over the top. Their efforts are still impressive though, setting an example for how to approach a Christmas album without sacrificing originality. Even with the season winding down, this is worth a listen.
Rating: 3 out of 5

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