While former Zhané vocalist Jean Baylor may not be at the forefront of every indie soul lovers' mind, she has been grinding steadily since she went her separate ways from musical partner, Renee Neufville, over a decade ago. She released her excellent solo project, Testimony: My Life Story, a few years back and then, just this year she guested on Eric Roberson's Mister Nice Guy. Now she is back again to spread a little holiday cheer on her latest release, Light Up The World.
The first single, "Celebrate," is perfect for those parties that will be springing up everywhere over the next few weeks, delivering just the right amount "Christmas spirit" but not at the expense of an addictive groove that will have everyone besides the most die-hard wallflower up on their feet. This song is a shining example of what I need in like in my Christmas music, it's celebratory and positive, but it's not an all-out sleigh bell assault that you will hate come January 1st.
The EP's title-track sticks to the blueprint laid out by its predecessor, providing yet another uplifting, dance floor-friendly groove with a tight horn arrangement and Jean's sweetly soulful vocals giving you that genuinely warm, fuzzy feeling that this time of year is all about. If "Celebrate" and "Light Up The World" were the songs to get those Christmas parties poppin' then "For Your Love," which features SoulBounce favorite Eric Roberson, is the song you'll want to play as you and that special someone get cozy on those cold winter nights. Recalling the classic duets of Donny and Roberta, Jean and Erro's voices compliment each other perfectly. Even the addition of a children's choir -- usually an instant turn-off -- can't shake my love for this song, although I could have done with out the slightly corny spoken-word piece two thirds of the way in, but that is a minor grumble.
"You Are (The Greatest Gift)," which features Jean's husband Marcus Baylor and his band Free Day, is a stripped back, piano-led track that serves as a dedication to both that special someone and a higher power (should you believe in one). The track doesn't stick to the traditional verse/chorus song structure, instead taking a more free-form, meandering approach as Jean praises the "perfect gift" in her life. "Closer" adds a little dash of jazz to the mix and is virtually bereft of any holiday music adornments. Rather it is a beautiful, straight-forward slice of soul balladry with Jean singing about dealing with and ultimately overcoming those relationship woes.
"Praise Song" is the final track on the EP, if you don't include the remix of "Light Up The World", and is definitely the most traditional of the set, opening with the refrain "hallelujah" and going on to praise and thank God. Usually "worship" music doesn't appeal to me on the level intended (being the heathen that I am), but "Praise Song" is beautiful in its simplicity and is the perfect closing to what, for me at least, is the stand-out Christmas/holiday release of the year.