Friday, December 22, 2017

Kelly McGrath - O Holy Night

Kelly McGrath - O Holy Night 

“O Holy Night”, a long standing fixture of the Christmas music tradition, receives a new coat of paint courtesy of singer/songwriter Kelly McGrath. Instead of following tradition with the tune and re-imagining it as a big production number for a modern audience, McGrath chooses to strip the song down to its essential dramatics for a near solo performance that proves affecting from the first and only deepens its effects as time goes on. She never belabors her presence with the audience. “O Holy Night”, on no level, is the sort of self indulgent Yuletide fare so common to popular music in the 20th and 21st centuries. Instead, her version of “O Holy Night” gets over with you as a showcase for her singing and the high quality collaborators she’s aligned herself with, but it also sounds like an intensely committed and personal vocal that stretches itself emotionally and embraces being vulnerable with its audience. Every choice McGrath and her creative partners make in this performance pays off with enormous dividends.  
If you’re a guitar fan, it’s impossible to not admire both the sound and playing of the six string work on McGrath’s single. The guitar is often an instrument for extroverts and sometimes expecting a first rate guitarist to shelve their egos for the good of a song ends up being a bridge too far, but there’s none of that here. McGrath is working with a top notch cadre of musical imaginations who are audibly inspired to bring her artistic and musical dreams to fruition. It means that “O Holy Night” is one of finest examples of how this sort of material doesn’t need to have a narrow appeal just because of its subject matter. This is music and a powerful theatrical experience you can continually revisit and likely take away something new each time out. 
McGrath’s effect on the listener is hypnotic. Her rich voice fills so much of the musically empty space on the song that it’s tempting to hear her as omnipresent, but that’s never the case. Instead, she brings an amount of true presence to “O Holy Night” that never seems too put on or hammy. She sings with a voice of reverence and experience and the musical backing only enhances the positive results of hearing her sing. It’s her phrasing, perhaps, that we should hear as the crown jewel of her attempt to tackle this song and it imbues every second of the performance with a tangible spiritual quality other takes on this tune don’t ever have. Kelly McGrath’s “O Holy Night” comes at listeners with such feeling that it’s almost like she’s trying to put every earlier version into dust; of course, she isn’t, but the performance is so confident and deeply felt that it’s entertaining to consider her working with such confidence. This is a must have for anyone interested in holiday music, music history, and meaningful full-rounded performative experience.   

Craig Bowles

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