The first Christmas album from Jonathan Butler, Merry Christmas To You is a delightful mixed bag that stays true to his Christian faith while ensuring the holiday classics get their just due as well.
A South African native, born in Cape Town, Butler has an expanse gift. He has been heralded for his musical skills in the R&B, contemporary jazz and gospel arenas. His music has always had a transcend ant quality as they speak to the human soul. The singer, songwriter and guitarist has managed to maintain an international appeal.
With Merry Christmas To You, Butler enlists the help of his high-caliber friends, Dave Koz, Rick Braun and Paul “Shilts” Weimer. He also makes it a family affair with his daughter Jodie Butler contributing vocals on several tracks. Butler handled the recordings productions.
Butler’s cool jazz and gospel style permeates throughout the 10-track album of holiday classics and holiday favorites. His vocals are pure and seem to define each song as it is offered in a lean way, not overpowered by overly intrusive production flourishes. The strains of his acoustic guitar passionately embodies and anchors each song. Old things are made new again as the classics benefit from Butler’s musical infusion.
The album opens with “This Christmas,” the often covered Donny Hathaway classic. Butler kicks the song off slowly, building to an energetic rendition of this classic about holiday love at Christmas time, making it his own. On “Sleigh Ride,” Butler includes some of the trappings from his South African home with this rhythmic instrumental that includes South African drums.
The title track and original song, “Merry Christmas To You” feel good holiday love song that romantics will enjoy. The other original song the album, “Happy Holidays” is a jazz ballad and Butler’s vocals on this track are reminiscent of the great Stevie Wonder.
With the recent passing of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, “Little Drummer Boy” takes listeners on a journey as it begins with South African vocals coupled with chanting and the sounds of rhythmic percussions. One can’t help but reflect back to that country and think about the statesman Mandela drumming for freedom.
There are also other classics, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “The First Noel,” “O Holy Night.” What makes each songsresonate is the way in which Butler delivers them, unadorned except for his voice and guitar which allows the lyrics and music to drive home each song’s meaning.
“Sweet Little Jesus Boy” certainly brings home the message of Christ’s birth as Butler recollects the humble beginnings of the King of Kings. His intonations are ones of adoration and reflection with his voice and guitar as the instruments of worship on this traditional gospel classic.
Jonathan Butler has put together a complete Christmas package in his first venture into yuletide music. Merry Christmas To You is a good addition to Christmas playlists and is perfect for holiday gatherings as it includes the traditional the sacred that should please everyone around the table.