Francesca Battistelli was born on May 18, 1985 in New York City. Both of her parents were involved in musical theater. She put out the independent album JUST A BREATH in 2004. She later signed with Fervent Records and released MY PAPER HEART in 2008. It debuted at No 1 on iTunes and included the hits ‘I’m Letting Go’ and ‘Free to be Me’. She followed this with 2011’s HUNDRED MORE YEARS which featured ‘This is the Stuff’ and ‘Motion of Mercy’. On October 16, 2012 she released CHRISTMAS (Fervent/Curb) produced by Ian Eskelin.
The album opens with a snappy jazz version of ‘The Christmas Song’ which is highly popular and sentimental: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire/Jack Frost nipping at your nose/Yuletide carols being sung by a choir/And folks dressed up like Eskimos/Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe/Will help to make the season bright/Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow/Will find it hard to sleep tonight/They know that Santa’s on his way”. Violins, viola, cello, trumpet, and tenor sax are some of the instruments used. Battistelli and Ben Glover penned the good adult contemporary song ‘Heaven Everywhere’. It speaks of transforming power: “It’s the smile on a man who has finally found hope/It’s the tears of a mother whose child has come home/It’s the joy that we feel and the love that we share/There’s a little bit of heaven everywhere (2X)/It’s funny how it takes a holiday/To show us how the world could truly change/If we all took the time to really care/There’d be a little more of heaven everywhere”.
Another original, ‘Christmas Is’, was written by Francesca, Ian Eskelin, and Tony Wood. This peppy pop song uses trumpet, trumphet, and piccolo trumphet, among other instruments. It has very down to earth lyrics which I appreciate: “Christmas is music and family in town/Christmas is Snoopy and Charlie Brown/It’s anticipating that snow’s gonna fall and/Praying for someplace to park at the mall/It’s Mom going crazy ‘cause the turkey got burned/It’s saying thanks for some gift you’ll return/Christmas is caroling kids at your door/It’s paper and ribbon all over the floor”. ‘What Child is This? (First Noel Prelude)’ reveres the Christ child: “This, this is Christ the King/Whom shepherds guard and angels sing/Haste, haste to bring Him laud/The babe, the Son of Mary/So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh/Come peasant king to own Him/The King of Kings salvation brings/Let loving hearts enthrone Him”.
‘Marshmallow World’ dates back to 1949 and is credited to Peter DeRose and Carl Sigman. Bing Crosby recorded it in 1950 and did well with it. Francesca’s cover is fun and carefree and has lots of musical energy! Here are some of the lyrics: “It’s a marshmallow world in the winter/When the snow comes to cover the ground/It’s the time for play, it’s a whipped cream day/I wait for it the whole year round.../It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts/Take a walk with your favorite girl/It’s a sugar date, what if spring is late/In winter it’s a marshmallow world”. ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ is here given a quiet, traditional treatment. Mike Payne plays guitar and Tim Lauer plays keyboards. The song cries out for a Savior: “O come, Thou rod of Jesse, free/Thine own from Satan’s tyranny/From depths of hell Thy people save/And give them victory over the grave/Rejoice, Rejoice/Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel”.
‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ was written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin. Tony Lucido plays bass on Francesca’s upbeat pop cover of it. It paints a picture of utopia: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/Let your heart be light/From now on/Our troubles will be out of sight/Have yourself a merry little Christmas/Make the Yule-tide gay/From now on our troubles will be miles away/Here we are as in olden days/Happy golden days of yore/Faithful friends who are dear to us/Gather near to us once more...” ‘You’re Here’ is a nice adult contemporary ballad written by Francesca and Ben Glover. It comes from the perspective of Mary, Jesus’ mother: “Hold on now, gotta take a deep breath/I don’t know what to say when I look in Your eyes/You made the world before I was born/But here I am holding You in my arms tonight/Noel, Noel, Jesus, our Emmanuel.../I don’t know how long I’m gonna have You for/But I’ll be watching when You change the world/But look at Your hands, they’re still so small/Someday You’re gonna stretch them out and save us all”.
On ‘Joy to the World’ Ben Phillips plays drums, Mike Payne plays guitar, and Tim Lauer is responsible for keyboards and melodica. The words are, well, full of joy: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come/Let earth receive her King/Let every heart prepare Him room/And heaven and nature sing (2X)/And heaven and heaven and nature sing”. ‘Christmas Dreams’ is a creation of Francesca, Ian Eskelin, and Tony Wood. It is appropriately sleepy musically given the song’s title. It tells how Christmas can genuinely fill both children and adults with anticipation and excitement: “I smile as I kiss them ‘cause under that tree are/Surprises that they’re not expecting to see, we’re just/Hours away from their giggles and screams the/Answers to all of their Christmas dreams.../The thought comes to mind that I may be the one/Who’s most excited by what’s yet to come/As I crawl into bed, I laugh ‘cause it seems guess you’re/Never too old for Christmas dreams”. ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’ is given a slow R&B treatment. The message reminds me of the Great Commission given us by Jesus.
On CHRISTMAS Francesca Battistelli delivers a very strong vocal performance. She breathes new life into several classics and gives us four splendid new holiday songs that should become favorites in the years to come. Jesus Christ is central to this album’s message. I’m rating CHRISTMAS 90%. In 2013 a two-disc version of the album was released. Disc Two is a DVD entitled CHRISTMAS LIVE IN NASHVILLE. This concert was recorded at the Pepsi Studio Gallery on the grounds of the historic Fontanel Mansion in Nashville, TN. The concert includes all of the songs from the CD plus one called ‘December 25’ written by Francesca and Jason Walker. Francesca is backed by a string section and horn ensemble. During the concert she smiles and has good rapport with the audience. She shares some of her Christmas traditions and remembrances. The only way the concert could have been improved is if she took the microphone off of its stand once in a while and moved around the stage more. For more info visit: www.francescamusic.com and www.wordlabelgroup.com.