In 1999, singer-songwriter Jewel teamed with veteran producer-arranger Arif Mardin (Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield) for Joy: A Holiday Collection, her first Christmas album and third overall studio LP. Within a month of its release, it received a platinum certification, and it continues to be a perennial during the holiday season. Now, Craft Recordings has reissued the gentle album originally released on Atlantic Records for its vinyl premiere, as newly mastered by George Horn and Anne-Marie Suenram at Fantasy Studios.
Joy made no concessions to modernity (and very few to pop), a style that was established immediately with the lovely, baroque-flavored "Joy to the World" which opened the LP. Mardin arranged the large choir (featuring such powerful voices as Katreese Barnes, Tawatha Agee, Dennis Collins, Janice Pendarvis, and Fonzi Thornton) and conducted Robbie Kondor's orchestration; the powerful performance was also released to radio as a single. The album blended traditional carols with secular tunes, greatly emphasizing the former. Jewel's warm, intimate, and altogether flexible vocals proved ideally suited to moving interpretations of "Silent Night," "O Holy Night," and "O Little Town of Bethlehem." She was aided on the latter by Arif's son Joe Mardin, who orchestrated the track with a haunting music-box delicacy. Lee Musiker arranged the beautiful reading of "Ave Maria," on which Jewel deployed her supple soprano; it's almost hard to believe that "Ave Maria" was sung by the same artist as "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," on which her voice is twangy and earthy.
A children's choir joined Jewel for tracks including the soft, country-flecked "Winter Wonderland" (featuring pedal steel courtesy of Larry Campbell) on which she offered her signature yodel, and the peppy a cappella rendition of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" also featuring Jewel's mother Nedra Carroll on vocals. Carroll also appears on the solemn voice-and-strings "I Wonder as I Wander" as well as on Jewel's original song "Face of Love," not a holiday song in any strict sense but a spiritual ode ("For I have seen the face of love/The grace of God, the face of love") that seems apropos to recall the true meaning of the season.
A sprawling medley brings old-time gospel fervor onto Joy, incorporating the rousing admonition to "Go Tell It on the Mountain" with Jewel's similarly-tinged original "Life Uncommon" and Julie Gold's now-standard "From a Distance." Arif Mardin, who arranged, orchestrated, and conducted Jewel's medley, also produced and co-arranged Bette Midler's 1990 Grammy-winning smash version of "From a Distance." (For her part, Midler re-recorded a Christmas version of the song for her 2006 album Cool Yule.) Jewel's deep devotion was also evident on "Gloria," her newly-penned interpretation of the Christian hymn, sung in Latin.
Joy concludes with a rewritten version of Jewel and co-writer Patrick Leonard's "Hands," the first single off Jewel's 1998 album Spirit which became a No. 6 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. "In the end, only kindness matters," implores the singer. It's a worthy and moving sentiment to close a touching and reverent Christmas album.
Craft's vinyl reissue is a straightforward affair, with no liner notes but lyrics and credits for each track printed on both sides of the silver inner sleeve. The quiet vinyl pressing features custom labels on the LP. Note that the edition available to general retail is on black vinyl, while Barnes and Noble is carrying an exclusive version on silver metallic vinyl. This 20th anniversary reissue of Joy: A Holiday Collection will prove a timeless addition to any Christmas collection.