Personnel: Oleta Adams (vocals, piano, keyboards, synthesizer, programming, keyboard programming, background vocals); Oleta Adams (guitars); Jimmy Dykes (guitar); Beth McCullom (cello); Ronald McFadden (alto saxophone); Lonnie McFadden (trumpet); Al Turner (electric bass); Greg Clark, Tammy Ward-Clayton (background vocals); John Cushon (keyboards, synthesizer, drums, cymbals, programming, percussion programming).
Audio Mixer: Dave Lohr.
Recording information: The Booth & The Cave, Shawnee, KS; The Cave, Shawnee, KS.
Photographers: Randee St. Nicholas; Randee Saint Nicholas.
Arranger: John Cushon.
Since emerging in the early '90s with "Get Here," the incredibly rangy R&B vocalist Oleta Adams has found a mixed bag of success in slick R&B and gospel music -- but her church background made the latter a more honest spiritual fit. Her re-emergence after a five-year hiatus is a triumphant one, as she mines familiar material with that distinctive, emotionally powerful voice that's been off the scene way too long. The first two gospel-oriented numbers ("Of the Father's Love Begotten," featuring much of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and "Alleluia, Alleluia (Peace on Earth)") pit that voice over a swelling, sweeping choir, creating a fresh magic that makes Christmas Time with Oleta one of the best vocal holiday offerings of 2006. But those are just the beginning of the blessings that flow. She practices restraint on the soft and jazzy "Christmastime Is Here" (in a version which would make her contemporary, Patti Austin, proud) and takes whimsical turns on the percussive "I Wonder as I Wander" and a soul-jazz rendition of "Winter Wonderland" (featuring the singer herself on acoustic piano). Adams draws out the drama of Amy Grant's spiritual epic "Breath of Heaven" and gets cozy with a big-band-flavored arrangement on "Let It Snow." And what would a true gospel-driven Christmas disc be without "Silent Night"? Adams' takes a subtle approach, with sparse synth backing, tapping into the solemnity of an overly commercialized holiday rather than overwhelming us with bombast -- the perfect, peace-minded approach, and a true religious experience as well. ~ Jonathan Widran