Music Review – Mark Masri: A Christmas Time With You

Mark MasriI’ve been listening to Christmas music since April, yup, you read that right… April! In preparation for our production of the Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree, one of the songs that vibrated in my eardrums was “Christmas Is”. That song was part of an album by Canadian tenor Mark Masri. His CD “A Christmas Time With You” is a collection of holiday songs, including both originals and arrangements of holiday classics showcasing Mark’s soulful voice. The repertoire also features guest artists Olivia Newton-John, Jim Brickman and The Toronto Mass Choir.

The title track, “The Gift of Christmas Love” is a dramatic journey in the snow with the singer. The kind of song you smile all the way through.

“Christmas Is…” featuring Jim Brickman at the piano, is a brilliantly written song. Poignant, while never becoming sappy, it presents the message of Christmas as well as any Christmas classic.

“Everytime it Snows” is a duet with Olivia Newton John that shines with the sparkle of the text which it describes.  The “Ave Maria”, takes a turn from the traditional Schubert and adds a slight R&B groove. Mark’s voice just floats over the drum and synthesizer accompaniment.

When a singer tackles “Silent Night”, they better be prepared to deliver. As one of the most beloved melodies in history, Mark’s arrangement is warm and familiar with a very pleasant orchestration.

“Panis Angelicus” has been covered by many big-hitters. I really like the stripped down approach here. Mark’s voice is accompanied by classical guitar only, allowing the message to be clearly heard. On “Holy Child”, a children’s choir adds their haunting tone to the dramatic story of the birth of the Christ child. Listen with the lights off and you’ll get chills!

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas with I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is another duet, this time with Dawn Langstroth. A lush orchestra is accentuated by classical guitar. The arrangement is a little schmaltzy, but that’s okay on a seasonal tune like this one.

“A Christmas Time With You”, written with Stephan Moccio (Canadian composer whom I’ve just discovered), is a moving ballad with a melody that keeps your attention throughout. It’s hard to tell when Mark uses his falsetto; he’s so smooth in his upper register.

“Don’t Save it All for Christmas Day” has fast become a holiday standard. Mark’s powerful voice soars up to stratospheric heights, backed up by the sensational Toronto Mass Choir.

“Lullaby, My Love” and “What Child is This?” give Mark an opportunity to showcase the richness of his lower register, with haunting and stirring story-telling.

“O Holy Night” is one of my favorite songs when it comes to Christmas music. It conjures up reverence and celebration, in ways only music can. The orchestration starts traditionally, sprinkled with touches of contemporary groove, taking it to a full-on gospel performance.

A caveat to this review: I had the honor of working with Mark this past December. He is as gracious as he is talented. In my books that goes a long way in communicating truth. He does an exemplary job of that on “A Christmas Time With You”.

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