It's Christmas

Ledisi is one of the vocal wonders of the world, a singer with breathtaking technique who uses it, not for ostentation, but in the service of the songs at hand. The New Orleans-born, Oakland-based singer has found her own stylistic niche by weaving together elements of the soul and jazz vocal traditions. But like Rachelle Ferrell, one of the few women in her league, Ledisi has recorded mostly her own compositions, which, while being pretty good, have seldom risen to the level of her vocal virtuosity.

Time-honored tunes often serve as a more reliable gauge of a singer's skill and musical savvy, and for It's Christmas, her fourth CD, Ledisi has picked some real chestnuts, each roasted with an entirely different, ultimately satisfying flavor. "Go Tell It on the Mountain" is treated as a choral tour de force, part classical, part gospel, with Ledisi doing all the parts herself. It segues into a very funky "Children Go Where I Send Thee" on which she playfully rides over a throbbing four-on-the-floor groove, scatting at times along her route. She gets downright gritty as she duets with Keb Mo on the Charles Brown blues ballad "Please Come Home for Christmas" and lovingly stretches "Silent Night" over a uniquely swinging backdrop of just bass and drums. Even her own praise song, "Thank You," stands up nicely among the standards, which also include "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

The ringer of the set is an exquisitely subtle rendition of the Louis Armstrong classic "What a Wonderful World" that comes about as close to perfection as vocal music can get. (Verve Forecast)


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