After dipping his toes into festive waters with the bonus-disc re-release of 2008's Something to Say, contemporary Christian vocalist Matthew West goes the whole hog with his ninth studio effort, The Heart of Christmas. Two of the latter's tracks also appear here, the driving, midtempo pop/rock collaboration with Amy Grant, "Give This Christmas Away," and the rousing ballad "Christmas Makes Me Cry," a duet with former American Idol finalist Mandisa which indeed sounds like it could have been a talent show winner's single. But the other nine offerings are all brand-new recordings, ranging from hymns ("Silent Night") to yuletide standards ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas") to original compositions ("Day After Christmas"). West acquits himself well on the more familiar numbers, with his warm, inviting vocals tailor-made for listening to in front of an open fire on a cold winter's day, and while the orchestral rendition of "O Holy Night" and the piano-led "Silent Night" don't provide anything you haven't heard before, a swing jazz version of "Jingle Bells" and a handclapping, gospel-tinged reworking of "O Come All Ye Faithful" show he's not averse to mixing things up a little every now and again. But it's on his own self-penned material where his Christmas spirit really shines through. "Leaving Heaven" harks back to his Nashville roots with its gentle, fingerpicking acoustics, slide guitar riffs, and guest vocals from Vince Gill; the jaunty toe-tapping opener "Come on Christmas," and the string-soaked title track are convincing forays into Michael Bublé-esque easy listening territory, while even the sternest of souls would find it difficult not to be moved by the emotive country ballad "One Last Christmas," a life-affirming true tale of a town who celebrated Christmas early in aid of a terminally ill young boy. One of the first records out of the block from 2011's inevitable slew of seasonal releases, The Heart of Christmas doesn't exactly break any new ground, but it's a heart-warming affair which justifies West's reputation as one of the most dependable voices in contemporary Christian pop.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien