A Star In The East - A Spiritual Christmas

Thomas Young

Ocean Records, 1997


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I normally don't sit on records for a year after I receive promotional copies in the mail. But I had to make an exception in the case of A Star In The East - A Spiritual Christmas from Thomas Young. You see, the disc arrived in the mail a short time after Christmas had passed, and it would have seemed very strange to be reviewing a Christmas album in January. Fortunately, my friends at Ocean Records (as well as another label, whose disc also suffered the same fate, and will be reviewed later this week) were very understanding and patient.

Young (who made an appearance on "The Daily Vault" earlier this year with Claire De Lune And Sister Moon), along with The American Pops Orchestra and Timeline (Choral Ensemble), put a spin on Christmas music that many people have forgotten about. With all the sanitized, sterilized music we hear in the shopping malls at this time of year, Young tries to remind us just what the season really is about - and he does this with twelve songs that focus on the spiritual aspect of the holidays.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Now, from the description of the disc, you'd probably expect this to be gospel-based - and I was happily prepared to settle in for an afternoon of gospel chorus fronted by Young's rich tenor. In fact, there is very little gospel (at least in the sense that many people know it) in A Star In The East - and I was more than a tad disappointed at that.

Having made this admission, I also have to come forth and say that the music contained herein is quite good, once you've made the adjustment to it. Both a collection of songs to worship the season to and a primer in black history ("Rockin' J", which is the least Christmas-like to me), I can understand why I got this disc in between Christmas and Black History Month.

Granted, I didn't always get the vibe that this was a Christmas disc - the opening minute of "Who Was Mary?" has a funeral dirge atmosphere to it, though the song improves over time. Fortunately, these moments don't occur too often on this album; tracks like "Mary Had A Baby" and "Behold The Star" quickly erase any doubts one might have had about the quality of this disc.

The biggest roadblock that A Star In The East has to face is its difference to much of the Christmas music that we've all grown up listening to. While selections like "Rise Up, Shepherd" might not have the pop catchiness that we're used to, it has something else - texture, and heart. For the most part, this disc doesn't sound like it was recorded just to have a holiday album out on the market. No, it sounds a little more honest - I like that.

Whether Young's voice is blending in with the choral ensemble (and a selection of talented vocalists) or he's backed only by a piano, it is on this album - moreso than on his last effort for Ocean - that his voice truly comes into its own, no disrespect meant towards Young or his previous efforts.

A Star In The East is not your typical Christmas album - and in some ways, that's its strongest suit. Although its style takes some getting used to, this is a pleasant album for the season, and one that shouldn't be ignored... ahem, even by me.

Rating: B

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Ocean Records, and is used for informational purposes only.