Review: Crist Family – Timeless: A Christmas Collection

Recorded over a period covering a couple of years, this is the Crist Family’s first Christmas project, and it is the first project released since Tom Joyce departed as bass vocalist.  The vocals on this album are by Jackie Crist, Tami Crist Starkel, Breana Crist, Lisa Crist, Rich Crist, and John Starkel.  An unique aspect to this project is that the group’s own Lisa Crist created the cover art, and it reflects the title of the collection very well.  Timeless has gotten some particularly notable nods from Gerald Wolfe and Mark Trammell.

Tracks:

  1. Love Me Some Snow – The album opens with a medley of sorts that includes part of a song many listeners will recognize immediately as the song from the “train scene” in the movie White Christmas.  Right off the bat, the Crist Family establishes that this album is going to be a retro, jazzy listen, and they weave through the big band harmonies of this song expertly.  9/10
  2. Christmas Time Is Here – From the beloved TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, comes this beautiful piece.  This is is given a shimmering acappella that wraps you up in thick blankets of harmonies.  Lisa Crist has a few solo lines with swirling harmonies behind her.  It’s sheer beauty in a two and a half minute song.  Wow.  10/10
  3. Christmas Waltz – This Christmas classic popularized by the Carpenters finds a home here in a nice performance by Tami Crist Starkel.  A classic waltz orchestration fits neatly behind Tami’s vocal.  It really sounds like it came straight from the classic era of the 40s and 50s, which in this case is a very good thing.  After a instrumental interlude, the Crist Family’s vocals come in with the big band era harmonies that are so prevalent on this recording.  9/10
  4. I Love Those Jingle Bells  – This was likely one of the first songs recorded for this album, as it was made available as a free download promo for the group a year or so ago.  There’s a nice male trio at the beginning, as well as female only harmonies.  The chorus features thick jazz harmonies.  It’s instantly Christmas time when this comes on.  9.5/10
  5. Jesu Parvule – The heavy jazz/big band style takes a backseat to a gorgeous classical piece that is performed acappella.  This sounds like something you would hear at a Christmas concert by a university choir, and that is absolutely meant to be a compliment.  This song shows that the Crist Family are well trained and very capable vocalists.  10/10
  6. Pine Cones And Holly Berries – This is another of the earlier cuts, as Crossroads had a free Christmas album download promo last year that included this track.  It’s a fun little song that includes snippets of other Christmas songs woven into the main theme.  Again the thick, lush harmonies highlight this track.  9/10
  7. I’ll Be Home For Christmas – This track is a bit of a mix of Carpenters-style vocals, along with the solo piano work of producer Jeff Collins.  Collins is definitely one of our most unsung pianists.  Look on a lot of Crossroads albums and you’ll find his name with a piano credit by it.  The vocals are lush and very well done, and Collins’ piano playing highlights a very good cut of this song.  9.5/10
  8. In The Bleak Midwinter – This song returns to a more classical approach.  These more classical moments break up what could be an overwhelmingly heavy amount of thick modern harmony and lighten the overall sound of the CD.  They are both done very well, and really showcase the fine vocals of the group.   10/10
  9. What Child Is This – I love the eerie string intro with a few brass accents toward the end.  An acoustic guitar enters and the song takes on a bit of a folk feel for the first verse, before becoming a bit more of a straight forward gospel ballad feel for the first chorus.  This is probably the closest to a traditional Southern Gospel arrangement that you will find on the album.  There are some nice surprises in the chord progression toward the end of the song, and the high ladies harmony on the line “The virgin sings her lullaby” is nice as well.  It is very well done.  8.5/10
  10. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve – A breathtaking couple of acappella lines of “Auld Lang Syne” lead into a smooth jazzy rendition of Frank Loesser’s 1947 classic romantic Christmas tune.  You’re absolutely drowning in jazz harmonies and it’s a masterful performance by the entire ensemble.  Again I have to hearken back to the multi-layered harmonies of the Carpenters.  This is one of my favorite vocal performances on a CD that is full of great ones.  10/10
  11. Silent Night – This Christmas classic carol is performed in a style that has become a Crist Family trademark with a melody that is wrapped in tight, full harmonies.  It was this type of vocal arrangement and performance that drew me to the group in the first place, and this is no exception to the rule.  It’s a great arrangement and great performance.  9.5/10
  12. Winter Wonderland Medley – The album concludes with this medley that was another cut that was previously available as a special download from Crossroads.  The song that gives the medley its title is first and is done with some nice girls vs. guys sections.  Sleigh Ride comes up next with the full jazz chording in the vocals.  White Christmas is next up with a nice vocal passage to change keys to get there.  I know I sound like a broken record here, but the harmonies are just impeccable all throughout the medley.  They finish with a bit of a reprise of the opening to the medley.  9/10

Overall:  9.5  This album had a very definite vision.  The Crist Family, along with producer Jeff Collins, wanted to create a Christmas album that hearkened back to the classic sound of Christmas music of years past.  They wanted this album to remind listeners of the classics from people like Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, the Carpenters, and other classic artists that are associated with the Christmas holiday season.  There are secular and sacred tunes present, and they all come together to create one of the best Christmas albums I’ve heard in a while.

Jeff Collins needs special mention here, as he wore several hats for this album, contributing as co-producer and arranger alongside Rich Crist, but also contributed his piano skills, and also his bass vocal talent as well.  When Tom Joyce left the group earlier this year, the group removed his vocals from the project, and for the acappella pieces, Collins lent his vocals to fill in the bass part.

From a pure vocal standpoint, the Crist Family has been one of my favorite groups for several years now.  They have always included some adventurous vocal arrangements on their projects, but with this one, they have raised the bar.  There are no simple vocal arrangements at all on this album.  Literally every song on the project contains full, complex and thick vocal harmonies, which makes Timeless all the more impressive.  I’ll echo what DBM said in his review and state my hope that this level of vocal complexity continues on the group’s subsequent albums.  If you are a fan of the classic era of Christmas music, you absolutely need to add this album to your collection.  In this reviewer’s opinion, Timeless lives up to it’s name and vision very well.  Great job!

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About Wes Burke
I'm a .NET developer and Southern Gospel music fan. Married with a wonderful family.

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