Kelly McGrath - O Holy Night
With two recent successful singles, it’s easy to assume that Nashville based singer/songwriter Kelly McGrath might opt for the path of least resistance when turning her eyes and ears towards a holiday single. McGrath, instead, sets her sights higher and scores big with a take on the classic “O Holy Night” that glows with lasting value. She avoids the typical overproduction and schmaltz typical to Yuletide themed tunes thanks to a focused musical approaches eliminating any potential sideshows and, instead, intent on providing McGrath with a beautifully wrought, nearly crystalline, sonic landscape to inhabit. Kelly McGrath is definitely a singer and performer with immense commercial appeal, but her version of “O Holy Night” proves, once again, that she is much more – she’s a powerhouse vocalist with transformative talents who, a little ways into a rewarding career, shows no signs of having yet peaked.
These sort of musical experiences are increasingly rare. Everything comes together with Kelly McGrath’s performance – it isn’t the case, as it too often is, that the musical arrangement serves as a glorified vehicle for a star-turn vocal. Instead, McGrath’s performance finds an ideal match with the musical arrangement. Even the addition of reverb to the guitar sound doesn’t detract any from its overall effect thanks to the sure touch, the careful selection of notes, and warmth that doesn’t sound forced in any way. The song certainly has a pensive mood, but it never seems inert and has a dynamic movement through its changes rather than sounding like some staid recreation. Touches like the aforementioned reverb on the guitar serve to give it extra flavor. Much like in other arts, McGrath’s performance of “O Holy Night” gains more from what it doesn’t do rather than the musical notes passing by listener’s attentions. The creative imagination working on this performance is fully realized
McGrath is a fantastic, once in a generation vocalist. Too many technical singers lack the talent for infusing emotion into their performances in a credible way, but McGrath is quite different – she has a total mastery of fundamentals while still bringing a spectrum of interpretative strengths to her singing that takes great lyrics and makes them performed poetry – as she manages here. Even the somewhat old fashioned language of the lyrics becomes more malleable in her hands than what you might remember from earlier versions of this stalwart Christmas tune. Kelly McGrath may have a profile that’s fast on the rise with numerous live and television appearances like she’s scored on CMT, but “O Holy Night” is great evidence to prove that she’s never sacrificing quality along the way. This may prove to be a song she can revisit as the holidays approach each year and certainly deserves a spot in her live show for the indefinite future. In this recorded state, it’s an absolute showstopper.
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