A piano fills the air with a wintery elegance that instantly sweeps anyone listening to Jeff Coffey’s take on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” off their feet, but as this new single from the acclaimed singer/songwriter presses on, we’ll soon discover that these gilded keys are but a small sampling of the magic soon to come. In “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” the one-time Chicago singer and current bassist for Don Felder is joined by the one and only Michael Omartian on keys for what can only be described as a truly original rendition of an undisputed seasonal staple. This is perhaps the most covered Christmas song of all time, but for these two world-class players, it’s an opportunity to stamp a unique imprint on an iconic piece of holiday wonderment.
Coffey’s vocal is situated in the center of everything here, and although the instrumental components are just as strong as any of his verses are in the grander scheme of things, our attention is constantly drawn back to his warm, melodic drawl. His control of the harmony is definitely one of the sharper points in the whole of the track, and despite the lack of a percussive beat in this song, Omartian’s piano play creates an implied groove for Coffey to give a linguistic definition to. It’s very methodically constructed, but in order to make a classic like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” sound as fresh and original as the competition’s, you’ve got to go to some pretty extensive lengths.
The master mix here is just as much of a star as any of the other elements in the single are, and I think that had it not been as meticulously structured as it ultimately was, I don’t know whether or not we would be able to appreciate the amount of detail and complexity there is to the harmonies. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is already one heck of a compositional mountain for even the most talented of artists to climb, and though Coffey borrows a bit from his stylistic forerunners in his handling of the chorus, his instrumental dueling with Michael Omartian is what really makes this track the grand slam that it is. It’s top-notch arranging sans any of the big league ego and technological arrogance, which is pretty hard to find nowadays.
Much like it begins, Jeff Coffey’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” concludes in a melodic blizzard that disappears into the silence as quickly as it first arose, leaving behind only traces of the sophisticated harmonies that it once dispensed with ease. I’ve only just recently discovered Coffey’s extended discography for myself (at the behest of a fellow critic, I might add), but if this is a good representation of who he is as both an artist and a performer, I’m excited to hear more of his non-holiday-themed music in the future as well. Christmastime is a season synonymous with the melodies of its most recognizable ballads, and in this new single from Jeff Coffey, the very spirit of that season is brought to us in high definition, full-color stereophonic sound.
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