The Braxtons

The Braxtons

    With unpredictable sales of full-length albums over the past decade, artist holiday collections have grown more scarce. That’s why the release of a seasonal set by an act as storied and soulful as The Braxtons is a most welcome gift. Although only eight songs in length, Braxton Family Christmas is a delightful listen marked by an even mixture of standards and originals. It might not go down in history as memorably as sister Toni’s own Snowflakes from 2001 (or Tamar’s Winter Loversland from 2013), but hearing the five siblings together on several tracks for the first time in decades makes for some noteworthy musical moments.

    Toni serves as executive producer of Braxton Family Christmas, and she is, in fact, the focal point of roughly half the set (being the sole vocalist on the opening rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” and the newly composed ballad, “Blessed New Year”). Tamar, Trina, Towanda, and Traci, however, brighten things harmonically—and with a few solo spots—on a finely tuned a cappella reading of “O Holy Night” and a nostalgic remake of Wham!’s “Last Christmas.” But perhaps the high point of the set is a full-hearted, majestic interpretation of “Mary, Did You Know?” Toni’s rich, deep tones and delicate phrasing make a bold impact from the get-go, with a touching string arrangement by Lee Blaske providing a sentimental feeling that’s in perfect complement. The sisters trade leads throughout the tune, climaxing with impassioned vocal interplay that is powerful without going over the top.

    Close in effect, but on a more lighthearted note, the upbeat “Every Day Is Christmas” (co-written by Toni and Babyface) evokes a warm mood with mellow production by Antonio Dixon and smoothly honed harmonies enhancing the verses and engaging chorus. It’s the stuff that both soul and pop holiday classics are made of, with relatable lyrics and a sing-along melody to bring the message home: “Every day’s Christmas ‘cause of you/winter and fall and springtime, too/Got me all wrapped up, yes you do…Wish the whole world could feel the way I do.”

    Rounding out the Braxton Family Christmas festivities are a lush ballad, “Under My Christmas Tree,” written by brother Michael (who duets with Toni atop a piano-driven backdrop graced by a soothing trumpet solo) and the ‘Braxton Family Version’ of “This Christmas.” The latter makes for a feel-good closer with a lively rhythmic structure and colorful, slightly jazzy background vocal arrangements. Straightforward, merry, and also spiritual with consistently authoritative vocals, Braxton Family Christmas is an ideal addition to the collection of any lover of uplifting holiday music. Recommended.

    (Note: A physical version of Braxton Family Christmas is available exclusively at Target stores.)

    by Justin Kantor

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