Review: Faith Hill’s Christmas album brings no surprises

The Christmas season seems to start earlier each year. Just the other weekend, I saw Christmas decorations for sale already at my local Home Depot.

Even singers are getting an early start, if Faith Hill’s “Joy to the World”, which was released Sept. 30, is any indication.

It’s surprising because Hill’s holiday output before now has been limited to the song “Where Are You Christmas” from the film version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and a duet with Josh Groban on his own holiday album.

But Hill doesn’t leave a standard unturned on her first Christmas album, alternating between classic hymns (“Silent Night”) and all-time favorites (“Winter Wonderland.”)

The style alternates as well, with a more big-band sound for the standards such as the Ella Fitzgerald-ish “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” and classical for the hymns such as the title track, complete with a full choir.

Fans of Hill who were delighted by her return to her country roots in 2005’s Fireflies may very likely be disappointed, however, that country is the one style missing. Hill’s powerhouse voice lifts what otherwise is a pretty mediocre entry in a oversaturated market of holiday albums competing for classic status and multiple radio airplays.

Sure, it’s a Christmas album and there are some fans who want it predictable. I can understand this; it’s like how I expect tacos when I go to my grandmother’s house every Christmas Eve.

But listening to it seems so perfunctory and in a lot of ways, it sounds like Hill went about recording each song like she was just checking items off a list.

The final track on the album, “A Baby Changes Everything”, is the one exception. Hill takes the age-old Christmas story and puts it in an all-too-recognizable modern perspective:

“Teenage girl, much too young/Unprepared for what’s to come/A baby changes everything.”

Like Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven,” Hill elicits real emotion from Mary’s situation, probably since, like Grant, she knows what being a mother is like.

It’s just too bad “Baby” is the last track, since if she had built the album around that song, she could have had something really special on her hands.

In the meantime, this album will probably just go in the changer in homes this year between Pavarotti and Mannheim Steamroller. Maybe just what Hill was hoping for.