Various Artists

Epic Records: A Season of Soul and Sounds

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It's no accident that Epic Records gets its name up front on this Christmas collection, which is a sampler of holiday songs performed by the label's contemporary R&B roster. The tone of the album is set right at the start with Ginuwine's "Christmas Day" (one of three tracks produced by Platinum Status), an original that turns out to be a fairly typical loverman statement from the singer, simply given a seasonal backdrop. "Can't wait to smell you/Can't wait to touch you," croons Ginuwine erotically, adding, almost as an afterthought, "on Christmas day." Elsewhere, some familiar carols are mixed in, but even on them the singers sometimes take striking liberties. Jordan Brown, for example, is not interested in the usually somber and reverent tone of "Silent Night," instead turning it into a barn-burning gospel anthem that finds her, by the end, declaring, "I won't be silent about the night/Rejoice!" Amid such individual statements, Macy Gray's "Winter Wonderland" comes as some relief. The singer has such a distinctive voice that she only has to sing the Christmas favorite to come up with a classic interpretation. It's the highlight of an album that otherwise has too many undistinguished originals and too many second-rate soulsters to be a consistently satisfying collection.

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