The O’Jays were almost three decades into their career when they released their first Christmas project, Home for Christmas, in 1991. The album opens up with the soulful “I Can Hardly Wait ‘Til Christmas.” Written and produced by group members Eddie Levert Sr. & Walter Williams Sr. the song is the perfect start to the holiday season. Hearing the track reminds me of youth and the tree going up the day after Thanksgiving while the family munches on leftovers.
“Merry Christmas Baby” finds the group dabbling in the sounds of blues with a fierce and southern growl by Eddie Levert Sr. With The sound is different for The O’Jays. Still, the group’s natural swagger and charm make it work. Given that this is a Christmas album, the standards must be covered. The O’ Jays put their own spin on the holiday classics, “White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and Carol of the Bells. Of the Christmas standards, I found my favorite to be “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
One of the things I look for when an artist does a Christmas album is a balance of original material to the standards. Thankfully, The O’Jays can not only sing, but they also write and produce music as well. The moment the production starts on “Wanna Be Home for Christmas,” I instantly thought of my childhood. I grew up as a military brat, and there was a few Christmas’s that I didn’t get to spend with my mother. While my grandparents gave me a fantastic Christmas, I really wanted my mom to be there.
“(Tell’ Em) Santa’s On His Way” is a soulful tune that parents can play for their own kids. The lyrics a melodic, and when you hear it, you’re just in the mood to light a fire, make some hot chocolate and spend time with your family on Christmas Eve. One of the most incredible things about Christmas Eve as a kid was being told to go to bed the night before Christmas and waking up the next day to presents under the tree.
The last original song on the album is “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” From the song’s title, I was expecting either a ballad or something New Jack Swing inspired. Instead, similar to “Merry Christmas Baby,” the group goes back into the blues. The vocals on the song are good, but after the strength of the previous original, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” does come off as filler, in my humble opinion.
At the age of thirty- nine after hearing Home for Christmas, twenty-nine years after its release, I understand while some critics found the release formulaic upon its release. Christmas albums are usually seen as a way to either fulfill contractual obligations or cash in on the holiday buying season since they can be produced so quickly. Be that as it may, this is The O’Jays were talking about, and they can make a polka record sound good. There are some gems on here to add to your holiday playlist.
Top Songs: “I Can Hardly Wait ‘Til Christmas,” “Wanna Be Home for Christmas,” “(Tell’ Em) Santa’s On His Way
Final Grade B-
Home for Christmas is available on all streaming platforms.