After winning four Grammys and selling ten million records worldwide, India Arie is back with a new seasonal album, Christmas With Friends. Peppered with a score of high-profile collaborations, the album sees ten classic seasonal songs reinterpreted by Arie’s husky vocals and jazzy piano stylings.
Christmas With Friends started as a collaborative project with jazz legend Joe Sample back in 2012; sadly, Sample passed away in 2014 before the album’s completion. Arie consequently dedicated the album to his memory, and upon listening it’s easy to understand exactly how crucial Sample was to the album’s creation. According to Arie, his “chord voicings always struck the perfect balance of peace and inspiration,” and whether opening the quietly atmospheric God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, or invoking some soulful Motown goodness through Merry Christmas Baby, Sample’s piano forms the solid crux of the album. Arie’s voice is a powerhouse which provides the perfect match for Sample’s aesthetic, and it’s the successful melding of their musical styles which makes this album so great.
The album features a number of guest stars who, rather than unnecessarily detracting from the music, help to breathe new life into classic Christmas tunes in a way which feels completely authentic. A duet with Gene Moore Jr. laid over swirling piano and violin makes for a powerful reimagining of Mary Did You Know; on the flipside, Merry Christmas Baby becomes a powerful big-band jazz production, care of Michael McDonald’s soaring vocals and a rollicking backing band. This is a truly joyful album which offers a fresh perspective on well-known Christmas tunes, whilst also perfectly capturing the festive spirit.