Personnel: Steve Oliver (vocals, guitar, keyboards, programming); Will Donato (flute, saxophone); Tony Windle (piano); K.T. Tyler (bass instrument).
One of smooth jazz's most inventive and melodic guitarists and vocalists, the always engaging Steve Oliver has come up with 2006's smooth jazz holiday disc to beat with this winsome effort, Snowfall He succeeds brilliantly simply by making sure his arrangements of these oft-heard songs capture the different elements of his eclectic artistry. "Carol of the Bells" is both dramatic and intimate, a sweet exploration of his joyful acoustic guitar approach. "Silent Night" has a cool underlying machine-generated percussion bed and a soulful lead vocal, while the medley "Deck the Halls/Angels We Have Heard on High" is lively, danceable and a perfect blend of Oliver's wordless vocal magic, acoustic tenderness, and Latin sensibilities. "White Christmas," on the other hand, is served by his subtle electric guitar. Oliver is one of his genre's best songwriters, always ready with a solid hook radio can't resist; "Crystals in the Snow" displays the kind of drama he can create with simple soundscaping and a lead acoustic line, while "Watching the Snowfall" is a typically heartfelt vocal. Album artwork is somewhat secondary these days due to smaller formats and digital downloading, but artist Bettie Miner's stunning impressionistic cover and insert painting is beautiful and worth owning. ~ Jonathan Widran