Music Review: A Christmas Gift by BRANDEN & JAMES
It’s November 1st, which means the holiday season is officially upon us. So, it seems fitting that we are kicking it off with a review of the holiday-themed album, A Christmas Gift, by pop-vocal duo BRANDEN & JAMES. Set to debut on November 19th, the record — which features ten tracks made up of contemporary as well as traditional songs — is full of beautiful harmonies that straddle the line between classical music and refined pop.
According to the official press release, both Branden and James came to California to make music. James Clark is an Australian musician — now the duo’s arranger, cellist, and pianist — who was hired by vocalist Branden James — a finalist on the 8th season of America’s Got Talent — to serve as musical director for a concert he was producing. Realizing that they made a great team professionally as well as personally, the two became collaborators and partners in life.
A Christmas Gift was recorded in Puerto Vallarta with the help of multi-platinum, Latin American producer Carlos Santana. “Every track on this album has a similar mood, harmonic structure, and pace about it,” reveals Clark. “We were in the peak of Covid-19 when we recorded this album. We chose a lot of emotional songs for the album; almost subliminally,” elaborates James. “We hope this album will provide some catharsis, and healing.”
It starts off with the “Glasgow Love Theme” by Craig Armstrong. The cello and piano combo on the vocal-less track is exceedingly pleasant. Slow, smooth, and soothing, the sophistication of both the instruments and the melody work perfectly together. Next is Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which introduces us to the rich tenor voice of Branden James. It’s a truly lovely rendition of a holiday classic that people will definitely love.
Fans of Andrea Bocelli will be excited to hear the lushly orchestrated “Caro Gesu Bambino” performed in Italian. I dare say that this version does justice to the famous song and its performer, and makes a wonderful addition to the album. Then comes Joni Mitchell’s “River,” which — during the first few seconds — makes me think of the beginning to “Jingle Bells.” The cover is amazing and I hope the artist gets to hear this version of her song.
I may be in the minority on this one, but “Mary, Did You Know?” by Michael English has never been one of my favorite songs. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself drawn to the cello opening on the track. And even more surprised when I found myself genuinely enjoying the vocal performance by Branden, which was deeper than I anticipated. The music, too, is extremely elegant. Hints of acoustic guitar (by Al Ramirez) make the track that much better.
Then comes “Be Still,” a duet with 2018 American Idol alum Effie Passero. The track is a reimagined cover by American rock-band, The Fray, which highlights both Passero’s and Branden’s operatic chops. It’s an unexpected addition to a “Christmas” album, but it undeniably works well in this mix. “Infant Holy” is another song I’ve never really been a fan of, but there is something comforting about this particular take.
Crosby’s “Blanca Navidad” opens with acoustic guitars. Though the instrument makes an appearance on some of the other tracks, because those appearances are so few and far apart, it is an instantaneously noticeable addition that I totally love. Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven” follows with a truly magical melody and vulnerable vocals. And last is a heartfelt version of “Silent Night,” which is a great track to conclude the album.
BRANDEN & JAMES are currently on a performing arts center tour of the midwest which they will repeat in the Spring of 2021. To keep up with the duo and stream A Christmas Gift, check out their site, or find it on all of the major platforms, such as Spotify, Apple Music, etc. when it premieres on November 19th.
Note* All images for the sponsored post were provided by BRANDEN & JAMES.