At a time when so much of today’s music is marked by excess - louder instruments, greater effects, bigger production - Barbara Montgomery goes in the opposite direction.
The vocalist proves that less is more on her latest CD, Noel: One From The Heart, a collection of 10 Christmas chestnuts. Montgomery is accompanied solely by piano on the set, making for an intimate album. The minimalist approach works on two fronts. First, it adds to the serene, spiritual message of the songs. Not all holiday music needs ringing bells. Secondly, Montgomery’s smoky voice, which is strong enough to command and hold attention by itself, is given center stage.
The CD begins at a leisurely pace, with a series of slower songs that sets the overall mood. A wistful interpretation of "I’ll Be Home For Christmas" leads off the album, followed by a series of traditional holiday songs, including "What Child Is This," "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel."
Montgomery, however, isn’t afraid to mix it up. The CD’s best track is her rousing rendition of "Children Go Where I Send Thee." The song clocks in at more than eight minutes, but it never meanders under Montgomery’s steady, spirited gospel-style vocals. Her lively singing and sly tempo changes keep the song moving. You would almost mistake that there’s a full band behind her.
In another move, Montgomery takes Peter, Paul and Mary’s "A’ Soalin’" and gives it a jazz treatment, opening the song with a stretch of wordless vocals. The CD closes with "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."
There’s an abundance of holiday music available this season, but Montgomery’s CD is one that’s worth seeking out.