Think of something you might want to do in the entertainment business and R.J. Lewis has probably done it. Movies? Check. Television? Yes. Broadway? You betcha. The long time street performer was a regular performer at major casinos between 1983 and 2000, and he even performed at The White House. These days Lewis is the president or Arjay Entertainment, a not-for-profit company that brings shows to schools, hospitals and civic organization to ensure that no one misses out on the experience of live theater. Lewis’ latest foray is into music. His Christmas album The Magic Of Christmas features the songs of Ralph Carbone, whose works have been sung by performers the world over.
Lewis kicks things off with "A Snowflake Called Jake", a smarmy little number that mixes a Broadway bounce, Vegas pastiche and just a touch of Klezmer. The story of a snowflake and his friends saving Santa from a stuck sleigh is cute to say the least. "I Know This Place So Well" commemorates the birth of Jesus. It's a nice tune full of sweet sentiment. "Send Out A Letter" begins with a children's chorus, and becomes a jaunty tune about the annual Christmas list. It's a fine tune that will have your toes tapping.
"Hear The Christmas Bells" commemorates the special feel in the streets of a city such a New York during the holiday season. The vocal duet is a rough mix at times, but the song is light and fluffy and captures the spirit of the season in classic style. "Country Christmas" finds Lewis trying to capture a classic country sound. He mostly succeeds on the force of a masterful arrangement and the first class players around him. "Have A Very Merry" is a bit cliché, making use of all the key catch phrases of the holiday season, but captures the sugar coated pastiche of classic Christmas pop.
"Come To The Manger" celebrates the first Christmas and the reason for every one since. The spirit in this tune is undeniably real, although Lewis seems to struggle with the melody at times. Up next is Carbone's world-renowned arrangement of "Ave Maria". The piece itself is beautifully written, but once again Lewis struggles with the song as he is in over his head here. Lewis gets back to the smarmy holiday pop style on "The Magic Of Christmas", and with it returns a much more comfortable vibe that doesn't present him such a challenge vocally. It's a nice, solid tune, if a bit uninspired.
"Sparky The Elf" is a boldly derivative Christmas tune that riffs on the theme from "Rudolph The Red Noised Reindeer" and even borrows familiar portions of melody line from "Frosty The Snowman". The song is cute and entertaining, but seems too reliant on other material. "Who's That" is also overly familiar, riffing on the rhythms and lyrical constructs of Hal Moore and Bill Fredericks' "Must Be Santa". Lewis does a nice job here, more on personality than on voice. Lewis closes out with "On The Wings Of Angels", a sweet ballad about the meaning of Christmas steeped in beautiful imagery. This is the best writing and performance on the album, and well worth sticking around for.
The Magic Of Christmas is full of glitz and pastiche of a stage show, as well as a spiritual sense of the holiday season. R.J. Lewis is a highly capable stage performer who sells each song as if it’s his own. Lewis' voice is ill-fit to a couple of arrangements here, which seems to require more of a classical voice. The real star of the album however is the songwriting of Ralph Carbone. Carbone has a delicious ear for melody and writes hooks so big you can't avoid them. His lyrics do fall into cliché at times, and he does borrow a bit much on one or two occasions, but you'll be so busy tapping your toes you might not notice.