Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Makes Me Wonder If I Really Need a New Elvis CHRISTMAS Album

If there is one constant at Christmastime, it is that there will be a “new” Elvis Christmas album available for purchase. These are normally just reshuffled sequences of selections from the two dozen or so seasonal songs Elvis Presley first released in 1957, 1966, 1968, and 1971. Only occasionally has there been any creativity in these posthumous releases–such as 1982’s Memories of Christmas or 2008’s Elvis Presley Christmas Duets albums.

While Christmas Duets was mostly a “miss,” at least it was an attempt to try something new. Now, in 2017, RCA/Sony/Legacy attempts again to freshen up the classics with Christmas. The album features the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) providing new backing music for Elvis’ vocals. How does this latest attempt fare?

As I enjoyed both of the previous Elvis/RPO offerings (2015’s If I Can Dream and 2016’s The Wonder of You), I mostly knew what to expect going in. One aspect I found surprising this time, though, is that I immediately loved this album. With the two former albums, I had to play them through a couple of times to really “get” them. You could say I learned to love the If I Can Dream and The Wonder of You Elvis/RPO albums, while it was love at first listen with Christmas.

The Deluxe Edition of Christmas includes the Elvis vocals from all 12 (8 Christmas and 4 gospel) songs on 1957’s Elvis’ Christmas Album. It also contains Elvis performances of five Christmas selections originally part of 1971’s Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas. I recommend the Deluxe Edition (red cover) because it contains four more tracks than the standard version (tan cover), yet is at a similar price point.

I must admit, I was skeptical of the track listing before actually playing the album. Surely, the RPO would not mix well with bluesy classics like “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” and “Merry Christmas Baby.” While the originals are stone-cold classics, these new interpretations also manage to work in their own right.

What really makes this album stand out, though, are the Elvis vocals. They are so crystal clear. It is frustrating that they do not sound this way more often on standard releases, without newly recorded backgrounds, but I can only assume there is some technological reason that prevents this.

Though strong albums, If I Can Dream and The Wonder of You both had a few tracks where the RPO concept just did not work very well. Not so here. Every track on Christmas works. This is the best of the Elvis/RPO trilogy.

While I consider this a near-perfect album, given the concept, there is, unfortunately, a missed opportunity. “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day,” which ranks second only to “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” as the best Elvis Christmas song of all, is missing in action here. Unless they plan an EP for some future Christmas, there are really not enough Elvis Christmas songs remaining to warrant a second full-length album, so they are probably not holding it back for that reason. I am not sure what happened, but perhaps an orchestral arrangement for the song simply did not work.

Unlike Christmas Duets, which had a pedestrian approach to many tracks, the arrangements here, by Robin Smith and Sally Herbert, offer much interest. I love the fuller sound. Also unlike Christmas Duets, I suspect this album will become a permanent fixture in my Christmas music rotation in the years ahead – alongside the originals, of course.

Do I really need a new Elvis Christmas album? It turns out the answer is, yes. This year, more than ever.

Christmas is a beautiful album.

Overall Rating: 10 out of 10.

CHRISTMAS (2017) [Deluxe Edition]

CHRISTMAS (2017) [Deluxe Edition]

Tracks

Christmas
Elvis Presley with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

  1. Santa Claus Is Back In Town [Elvis portions recorded 1957, Hollywood]
  2. White Christmas [Elvis portions recorded 1957, Hollywood]
  3. Here Comes Santa Claus [Elvis portions recorded 1957, Hollywood]
  4. Merry Christmas Baby [Elvis portions recorded 1971, Nashville]
  5. Blue Christmas [Elvis portions recorded 1957, Hollywood]
  6. I’ll Be Home For Christmas [Elvis portions recorded 1957, Hollywood]
  7. Winter Wonderland [Elvis portions recorded 1971, Nashville]
  8. Santa Bring My Baby Back [Elvis portions recorded 1957, Hollywood]
  9. Silver Bells [Elvis portions recorded 1971, Nashville]
  10. O Little Town Of Bethlehem [Elvis portions recorded 1957, Hollywood]
  11. O Come All Ye Faithful [Elvis portions recorded 1971, Nashville]
  12. The First Noel [Elvis portions recorded 1971, Nashville]
  13. Silent Night [Elvis portions recorded 1957, Hollywood]
  14. Peace In The Valley (Deluxe Edition only) [Elvis portions recorded 1957, Hollywood]
  15. I Believe (Deluxe Edition only) [Elvis portions recorded 1957, Hollywood]
  16. Take My Hand, Precious Lord (Deluxe Edition only) [Elvis portions recorded 1957, Hollywood]
  17. It Is No Secret (Deluxe Edition only) [Elvis portions recorded 1957, Hollywood]

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded 2017 at Abbey Road Studio 2, London.

2 thoughts on “Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Makes Me Wonder If I Really Need a New Elvis CHRISTMAS Album

  1. I started listening to the 1st track and turned it off. I found it totally off track to the feelings and power of the bluesy ballsy number it should be!!. Maybe i need to give it a 2nd chance but i don’t know if i want to, to be honest. Have read numerous poor reviews!!

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    • Ray, as I recall, you enjoyed If I Can Dream and perhaps even The Wonder of You. With that in mind, I don’t see why Christmas would be any different for you. Even if you dislike some of the individual tracks, like “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” (and probably the same issue for you with “Merry Christmas Baby” if you ever make it that far into the album), you might still enjoy the overall experience.

      Perhaps try thinking of it as an RPO Christmas album where Elvis is joining as a special guest vocalist — rather than an Elvis Christmas album with new, jarring backgrounds.

      After posting my review, I read around the web to see what others thought. There is definitely much animosity towards this album out there.

      The AllMusic.com review, for instance, said, “[I]t’s music for people who love the idea of Elvis Presley and not his music.” As someone who loves Elvis music AND this album, that stings.

      I grew up listening to these songs. Elvis is comfort music for me. It brings me joy, and has done so whenever I needed it.

      I was one of the few who liked Viva Elvis: The Album way back when, so perhaps I am just more open to fresh takes on Elvis music than other people.

      Maybe try it again on a different day. I’d recommend giving Christmas a spin at least twice before giving up on it. There is something there . . . at least for these ears.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Ray.

      Like

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