Musiq Soulchild was basking in the success of “If U Leave,” the second, fifth studio album OnMyRadio when he quietly released the Christmas EP, A Philly Soul Christmas, in the fall of 2008. Often in the realm of R&B, Christmas EPs can come across as a cash grab or label obligation.
I first discovered Musiq’s Christmas EP while shopping at Target one day, and looking at the back of the album for song titles was surprised that the entire EP was traditional Christmas songs. By this time, Musiq had a solid career. In addition to having a solid pen game, he had worked with songwriters such as Eric Roberson, Ne-Yo, and Warryn Campbell.
Initially, I gave the album the side eye because, in the past, singers such as Luther Vandross and Alexander O’Neal successfully crafted Christmas albums that sounded modern with only a few covers. Thankfully Musiq brings his Neo Soul vibes to the project. A Philly Soul Christmas begins with “Jingle Bells,” and I could easily hear the song in a Christmas Gospel play.
The laid-back and groovy “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is interspersed with announcer-style vocals. “O Come All Ye Faithful” is closest to the traditional arrangement and gives the crooner a chance to show off his vocals. The song starts as a hymnal organ number before slowly adding percussion and other instruments as it progresses.
“Deck The Halls” features ambitious drum arrangements with gently tinkling bells and a jazzy/Neo Soul vibe, but the next track may upset purists. “O Holy Night” has always had the distinction of being somber and rising to majestic proportions. Musiq’s version of the songs includes a languid reggae groove. Reading this, I bet you think it shouldn’t work, but it does. “O Christmas Tree” is another jazzy/Neo Soul arrangement that ends with a fire breakdown. A smooth take on “The First Noel” closes out the album.
While I would’ve loved to hear Musiq try his hand at some R&B Christmas songs from the legends, this is a good project for a one-time listen.
Final Grade: B
A Philly Soul Christmas is available on all streaming platforms.
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