Believe it not, throughout her 50-plus year career The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, had never recorded a full Christmas album until This Christmas, Aretha, which was released to Borders Books stores in the U.S. on Oct. 14, 2008. So after all this time, the question is: was the album worth the half-century wait? The answer: Yes and no. There's no doubt that hearing Miss Aretha belt out timeless Christmas classics plus a few lesser-known holiday tunes is a beautiful thing, but her tame performance on some tracks makes you wonder what it would have been like if she had recorded this album when she was in her prime.
If you're expecting this album to contain new, Aretha-ized versions of the classics, you'll be disappointed. Not only are the 11 tracks here faithful to the original versions, they're maybe a little too
faithful to the original material and not quite daring enough. Aretha's voice is powerful on some songs ("This Christmas" and "Silent Night" to name two), yet amazingly tame and sedate on others ("Angels We Have Heard on High," "Christmas Ain't Christmas (Without the One You Love)"), but the instrumentation is fairly bland and most definitely lacking in the soul department. Take away the vocals and most of these songs would be perfect as music for a Gap commercial or the closing credits of a heartwarming film.
But despite the occasional blandness, Aretha herself lifts the album as a whole. The most beautiful thing here is spirituality and family theme that the album's infused with. In addition to Miss Aretha, her sons Eddie and Teddy contribute vocals and guitar to "This Christmas" and Aretha even plays piano on a couple of songs, "Silent Night" and "14 Angels." It's pretty clear from listening to the album that spirituality plays a big part in Aretha's life and her voice soars the highest on tracks like "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Aretha plays it safe throughout the various tracks and has made a very tame and traditional holiday album that will appeal widely to music lovers everywhere. But again, one can't help but wonder what this album would have sounded like had she recorded it back when she was at her vocal peak, more than 40 years ago.