By all accounts, Marisha Wallace has had quite the couple of weeks. Taking over as Effie White in Dreamgirls, delivering a cracking performance on the Strictly results show and somehow finding the time to fit in two solo concerts to support the launch of her debut album Soul Holiday. I was otherwise occupied on Sunday but I have been able to listen to the album, and it is a delightfully warm and happy collection, destined to put smiles on faces this Christmas.
As the title suggests, the dominant mood is a soulful one and it is one which reinvigorates this familiar material with a fresh spirit. Festive standards like ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song’ shimmer with new feeling, ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’ somehow becomes more glorious, and a subtle take on ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ with British jazz pianist Ross Stanley is a truly beautiful affair, deeply heartfelt throughout.
Just edging it as a highlight is the hymn ‘Joyful Joyful’, made famous (to my generation at least) from the finale of Sister Act 2. Roof-raising and raucous, it imbues much of what you imagine Wallace’s personality to be in all its exuberance and, well, joy! And if the inclusion of Dreamgirls’ ‘I Am Changing’ feels a little cheeky, this new arrangement makes it more than worthwhile, an extra little stocking filler to what is already a substantial gift.
And piggybacking onto the end of this review, it’s worth noting that Leslie Odom Jr has re-released his own festive album from last year – Simply Christmas. It was one of my favourite Christmas albums of last year and now features four new songs. A delicate duet on ‘Edelweiss’ with his wife Nicolette Robinson (a performer in her own right) is really lovely, as is ‘Christmas’ from The Who’s Tommy, and there’s also new versions of ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Waltz’. That said, the album remains completely worth it for the slinkiness of his outrageously smooth ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’.