Christmas Classics Corner: The Imperials – Christmas With The Imperials
December 9, 2009 3 Comments
Since it is the Christmas season, and I previously did a series of Christmas “Hidden Gems”, I thought I’d do a classics corner on a very solid, yet sometimes forgotten Christmas album. Released in 1980 (and re-released in 2000 on CD), this album features the Imperials lineup of Jim Murray, David Will, Russ Taff, and Armond Morales. While by this time the Imperials were firmly entrenched on the forefront of the CCM scene, they still retained a significant following among SG circles as well.
- Child Of Love – The album starts off with a “new” Christmas song that gently flows with a bit of a classical feel. Jim Murray sings the verses in a minor key, with a shift to the major key for the chorus and some really nice harmony from the group. The chorus also has more of a “contemporary” ballad feel to it. A very enjoyable opening track that showcases this group’s ability to blend.
- It Came Upon A Midnight Clear – Another slow, flowing ballad arrangement on this song that features Jim Murray on the Christmas classic. When the entire group joins, David Will takes over the lead part and Murray jumps to the tenor above him. There’s a nice key change at the end of the first verse that leads to an instrumental break with some beautiful “oohs” from the group that is the Imperials at their vocal best. While still a ballad, the tempo doesn’t drag, but instead moves along at a nice leisurely clip. Some more “oohs” tag the song quite beautifully.
- Mary’s Boy Child – David Will steps up to sing this classic tune that includes some female background vocals in addition to the quartet. It’s a bouncy arrangment that features some nice percussion and lets the acoustic guitars drive the verses. It’s a nice arrangement, but as with the others, almost seems too effortless.
- Immanuel – This tune starts out with just piano and Russ Taff singing a very slow deliberate verse. The orchestra comes in slowly, then in the middle of the verse tempo speeds up some and the rhythm changes to a more pop based rhythm. The second verse returns to a ballad style and again returns to the pop style in the middle. It’s definitely a much more complex arrangement, and is one of the highlights of the disc. The chorus builds the intensity of the pop style
- O Come All Ye Faithful – There isn’t a clear division between this song and “Immanuel”, which makes me think it was originally intended to be a medley. It’s a fairly traditional, straight forward rendition of the first verse and chorus. The chorus is then repeated with the “For He alone is worthy” lyric, and then the pop feel somewhat returns for the power tag led by Russ Taff. Great song, especially considered as a medley.
- Christmas Praise – This song was penned by Jim Murray, and returns to the flowing classical feel of the first couple of tracks. The chorus features some smooth swirling harmonies. It’s a very pretty song with some really great lyrics.
- Silent Night – The intro to this song features some more breathtaking “oohs” from the group, then Armond Morales comes in for the first verse. Again, this is a fairly traditional rendering that features some nice background vocals behind Armond’s lead. These guys could really sing well. The oohs are repeated after the first verse including a key change with some cascading style harmonies. Russ Taff sings the next verse. The oohs are repeated to tag the song. Again, a very pretty song.
- What Child Is This? – The most unique arrangement of this song you will ever hear. It’s given a pop/jazz arrangement and sung very soulfully by Russ Taff. It is almost unrecognizable from the typical variation of “Greensleeves”, but it is also the single best track on the album. The track is basically a Russ Taff solo, but it’s absolutely incredible.
- O Little Town Of Bethlehem – David Will comes back to sing this very mellow arrangement of the timeless carol. There is some smooth harmony behind Will’s lead vocal on the first verse, as well as some nice group harmony on the second verse. There’s a brief appearance by a choir on the second verse as well. This one is short and sweet.
- O Holy Night – This song again features some female background harmony adding to the quartet with Jim Murray singing this great song. Murray has the classical sounding voice that fits this arrangement perfectly. While it isn’t stratospherically high, Murray’s vocal is outstanding. This is the style song that his voice was made to sing. A great way to end the disc.
Summary: Outside of “Immanuel” and “What Child Is This?”, there aren’t a lot of risks taken in the arrangements on this album, but that isn’t to say the arrangements aren’t solid, nor the disc boring. Quite the opposite, actually, this is a perfect album to play to really get into the Christmas spirit. The vocals are top notch, the harmonies immaculate, and the two aforementioned tracks are placed perfectly to spice up the album. These four guys could really sing well. Russ Taff and Jim Murray both really shine on this disc in particular. If you have the LP or CD, pull it out, give it a spin, and just try not to be swept up in the Christmas spirit by the smooth harmonies of the Imperials in their heyday!