CD Review of A Christopher Cross Christmas by Christopher Cross
Recommended if you like
Stephen Bishop, Peter Cetera, cartoon flamingos
Label
Christopher Cross Records
Christopher Cross:
A Christopher Cross Christmas

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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I
t sounds like a made-up fable today, but it’s true: once upon a time, Christopher Cross was a multiplatinum Grammy magnet, seemingly poised for a long reign atop the charts alongside mellow kingpins such as Michael McDonald, Andrew Gold, and Ambrosia. From 1980 to1983, Cross was pretty much inescapable on the radio – so popular, in fact, that he was invited to perform “Arthur’s Theme” at the 1981 Oscars.

Much to the delight of volume-craving rock fans across America, that long reign never materialized; Cross – like the other artists mentioned in the above paragraph – suffered precipitous sales declines in the ‘80s, and can now be found performing at finer casinos, state fairs, and Six Flags parks around the country, reduced to pimping greatest hits compilations and “specialty” releases. The most popular of which, undoubtedly, is the Christmas album. Peter Cetera has one, and so does Stephen Bishop – hell, Michael McDonald has released two of them.

In this context, Cross’ entry into the adult contemporary holiday record fray is not only unsurprising, but rather belated; given that he hasn’t released a new album in almost a decade, and contributed only two original songs to A Christopher Cross Christmas, it’s hard not to wonder what took him so long. But then, as an artist, Cross has never been anything but deliberate – his snail’s pace was a major ingredient in the commercial death of his career.

His ongoing image problems haven’t helped either. Though he’s an underrated rock guitarist, Cross made his bones with beyond-wimpy ballads, and that – in addition to his continued willingness to identify himself with the flamingo, the most un-rock bird in the animal kingdom – has made it easy for “serious” rock fans to laugh off his music. This album is a case in point: just take a look at that cover artwork. If there’s a sadder, more obvious example of an artist giving up on ever changing the public’s perception of his work, it’s been lost to the sands of time; this cover is the design equivalent of a quiet, resigned sigh.

Which is a shame, really, because the cover makes a cheap joke out of the music, and inasmuch as any Christmas album deserves to be taken seriously, this one does. Make no mistake, if your taste in holiday music is at all untraditional – if, for instance, hearing the stuff your neighborhood department store pipes through the speakers between Halloween and New Years’ makes you want to bludgeon a Salvation Army Santa – then this collection is decidedly not for you. It’s stereotypically Cross, which is to say that it’s soft, gentle, and extremely mellow.

But not bad, not bad at all. Don’t listen to it while driving, of course, but for a quiet holiday party, A Christopher Cross Christmas might be just the thing you’re looking for. Cross has been guilty of overproducing his albums in the past, but this time out, he’s opted for a simple trio; Cross and longtime cohort Rob Meurer have arranged these songs for acoustic guitar, piano, and bass, with room for bits of percussion and live strings. The whole thing floats along as gently as a tinsel-encrusted cloud. If you’ve ever owned a velour tracksuit or spent a Friday night in a fern bar, this is definitely the Christmas album for you; if not, your results may vary, but you’ll be hard-pressed to argue with the craftsmanship on display.

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