Kelly McGrath – O Holy Night
Kelly McGrath’s single “O Holy Night” is one of the finest Christmas focused releases in recent memory and benefits from an unusually imaginative arrangement for songs of this type as well as a vocal performance that ranks among McGrath’s best in her career so far. McGrath has made her reputation through a combination of her studio output and an active live performance schedule that separates her from a bevy of her Nashville based peers. McGrath’s music is able to ring out full of genuine substance while still exerting a real commercial appeal; no small feat. Likewise, her interpretation of the Xmas standard “O Holy Night” is a track with musical value that transcends the season. Instead, this has year-round beauty that makes it an uplifting listen anytime. It’s a testament to McGrath’s evolving talents and shows there’s no musical style beyond her reach. She’s an artistic force gathering momentum each time out and keeps making a strong connection with each new release since her 2007 debut. Few performers, any gender or style, can claim such a sustained ascent.
The guitar accompanying McGrath is laden with a bit of reverb and it creates a nicely echoing effect that makes the guitar melody seem like something in a state of constant coalescing. Her voice comes in soon after the first few notes and has similar post-production effects applied to her pipes with an equal amount of taste and restraint shown. The production emphasizes balance between the two musical elements driving this performance and, indeed, they seem to work in perfect harmony throughout the song’s duration. The performance reeks with atmosphere to such an extent that you might find yourself entertaining an assortment of interpretations – in some ways you can hear this as a hushed statement of awe, inspired by the momentousness of the season, while you can also its hear its stark beauty as something even slightly intimidating. There’s nowhere to hide for McGrath, but she never backs down from fulfilling the responsibility to make this song live in her own unique way.
The guitar work has beautiful and notable restraint from the first. There’s almost a painterly approach taken to playing here; the guitar’s effect, ultimately, is a process of accumulation as notes pile up and take on an increasingly lyrical air. The song’s second half allows the six string work to stretch a little more and keeps the atmospherics turned up high – this isn’t bouncy, mindlessly cheerful Christmas fare. Instead, this is intense and clearly effort to make an artistic statement. It doesn’t run on too long and maintains a strong fidelity to the original song. It’s one more successful outing for Kelly McGrath in a career that shows no signs of slowing down. “O Holy Night” will be an ideal listen for anyone who places a high priority on the holidays, but devoted music fans in general will find much to admire here.