“I was following the pack.”
Alexander Armstrong has many a string to his bow – actor, comedian, presenter and singer – and following a couple of albums that have hit the Top 10, he now makes the move that seem de rigeur for the middle-aged male entertainer this year, in releasing his first Christmas album In A Winter Light.
The album is nearly completely stymied by its song selection, misguidedly mishmashing its genres so that we’re taken from traditional carols to easy listening to the Fleet Foxes to original compositions pastiching them all. A different kind of performer might have been able to tie such a collection together but there’s a stiff formality to Armstrong’s singing that means he is not the one.
There are some beautiful moments here, mainly reflecting the years he has spent performing in choirs. The exaltation of ‘O Holy Night’ soars with the assistance of the Trebles of The Choir of New College Oxford, the simplicity of ‘Silent Night’ is enhanced by the big band of The Royal Air Force Squadronaires and his baritone suits ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ perfectly.
But the Fleet Foxes’ gorgeous ‘White Winter Hymnal’ is rendered with a painfully enunciated precision and that same stiffness plagues the likes of ‘The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)’ and ‘Let It Snow’, recalling nothing so much as a grim determination that show that he’s no fuddy-duddy. It doesn’t work. As for including the light jazz of ‘Little Girl Blue’, too much eggnog must have drink that day.
The sad thing is that it’s completely unnecessary too – there’s nothing wrong with the solemnity of choral beauty. The brief instrumental passages set the tone perfectly and if he’d played to his strengths, utilising the much-trumpeted classical training as in Herbert Howells’ ‘A Spotless Rose’ or even his own track ‘This Glorious Morrow’, In A Winter Light would have been a much more effective album