Of course, Chicago had chops to pull off R&B: Remember the band backing Al Green at the Caribou Ranch? No, what makes “This Christmas” a stretch is that this Chicago update is arranged by bassist/vocalist Jason Scheff, instead of Bill Champlin or co-founder Robert Lamm.
Furthermore, Scheff’s arrangement is relies on his voice and a straightforward rhythm track by drummer Tris Imboden with Scheff on bass and Keith Howland. Unlike Chicago XXV, the six additional songs on What’s It Gonna Be Santa were produced by Phil Ramone, with additional contributions by Chicago and David McLees.
“This Christmas” makes no attempt to cover Jason Scheff’s voice, or add any other the contemporary music trappings. The result is an earnest and sweet Christmas song. Scheff adjusts the key of the song to accommodate a voice register that’s higher than Hathaway’s. The electric piano, Hammond organ and a slightly delayed guitar all work in harmony and sound as natural as the original recording.
The horn arrangement is traditional Chicago, though it seems a bit brass heavy – and that leaves Walter Parazaider a little too low in the mix. Also, in a rather unusual move for the band at the time, there is no stack of Bill Champlin-arranged backing vocals.
“This Christmas” represents a fitting contribution to one of the longest-tenured non-original members of Chicago, and it’s great bookmark in the Chicago canon.
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