Holiday Tunes Touch the Heart

Call me a tool, call me mainstream, call me a groupie—call me whatever, but I thoroughly enjoyed David Archuleta’s new holiday album, “Christmas from the Heart,” and I think you might too if you give this American Idol-generated baby face a shot. Don’t eject the disc from your player once you discover that the first song on the album is “Joy to the World,” perhaps the most generic and irritating Christmas carol ever written. Archuleta transforms this familiar hymn into a pop song, complete with airy background vocals and a random integration of other familiar carols into the track. Archuleta cleverly layers the lovely refrain from Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” into his otherwise boring rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Still, here Archuleta’s voice leaves much to be desired in the realm of richness, as he lacks the deep timbre of an older male vocalist that makes Christmas songs compelling and suitable for keeping one warm on a cold wintry day. Moreover, we can let Archuleta get away with re-imagining the first two carols on the album, but when he takes a few too many liberties on “O Come All Ye Faithful,” it leaves us craving for the song that we are familiar with, not a synthesizer-dominated pop concoction. He delivers our wish with a simple, serene interpretation of “Silent Night,” complete with just a small strings section. Despite one cheesy key change, Archuleta understands in this song that less is more when it comes to Christmas carols, and his album benefits greatly from it. I had expected Archuleta to completely butcher “O Holy Night,” easily one of the most beautiful—and most challenging—Christmas hymns to sing, but he surprised me with a newfound richness and sincerity in this song, one that certainly requires such maturity and vocal dexterity. Although it clocks in at a whopping six minutes, there’s not much to complain about in this stirring song. It’s clear that Archuleta began to make smarter song choices later into his album, because he succeeds greatly with the threesome of “O Holy Night,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” some of the loveliest songs in the Christmas canon. His choice of duet partner for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Filipina singer Charice Pempengco, is perfect. She is only seventeen, while Archuleta is still eighteen. Interestingly, Pempengco sounds far older than Archuleta, perhaps due to his youthful voice. Regardless, the two work flawlessly together and produce one of the album’s highlights. Following a stirring version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Archuleta attempts a few traditional carols from foreign lands, the first being “Pat-A-Pan,” a charming French semi-equivalent of “The Little Drummer Boy.” Although I appreciated his venture into unfamiliar foreign carols, I nearly screamed when Archuleta began singing the obviously French carol with a silly English translation. I suppose my indignation at such a linguistic faux pas is countered by the knowledge that both “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night” were originally written in other languages (“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” and “Cantique de Noël”). A later song on the album swiftly appeased my concerns; Archuleta sang a very authentic-sounding “Riu Riu Chiu” in its native Spanish. Even in the much-underplayed “What Child is This,” the arrangements reflect a definitive Arabian influence, adding to the haunting minor tone. Speaking of variety, Archuleta chose to sing the almost obligatory Christmas air, “Ave Maria,” not in the typical Franz Schubert rendering, but in the lesser-heard Charles Gounod setting of the text to J.S. Bach’s prelude to “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Sung with harp, guitar and piano, as well as with the angelic accompaniment of the Salt Lake Children’s Choir, the piece is simple and powerful. Soaring up to a heavenly high C, Archuleta demonstrates both his vocal prowess and his musical tastefulness in this track, the album’s triumph. Archuleta’s final song is a weak try at an original composition entitled “Melodies of Christmas” that asks the listener to “Sing the melodies of Christmas” with Archuleta. The song, with its contrived lyrics and its ironically uninteresting melody, should have been cut from the lengthy album. However, aside from the final piece, David Archuleta’s first holiday album, “Christmas from the Heart” is a wonderful Christmas album to have in one’s collection. Even Archuleta’s boyish voice, which at first seems odd, grows into a charming feature of this youthful and spirited album celebrating Christmas.