Review: Exile – Wrapped Up In Your Arms For Christmas
In their fifty years of recording as a band, pop-turned-country outfit Exile has yet to record a Christmas record until now. And while fans of the group’s hits like “Kiss You All Over” and “I Could Get Used To You” will surely welcome this collection of traditional favorites with its sprinkling of original songs, others may find this wanting, like a well-intentioned gift from your Aunt Edna.
Much of the album’s issues come from a lack of energy or imagination in the arrangements and a muddled production that mutes the overall sound, trapping the band’s solid musicianship and choking back the vocals. Opening track “Run Rudolph Run” is a solid example of this, the arrangement tried and true but the sound just bound under the production while the attempts at reworking “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” fall short as well, feeling “blah” overall. But the worst offender is the band’s take on seasonal favorite “Little Drummer Boy” which just drags, feeling a step behind the beat and inviting listeners to hit the “Next” button.
The band’s originals fall somewhere in between, offering up a mixed bag of tricks. “Wrapped Up In Your Arms for Christmas” and “Bluegrass Kind of Christmas,” try really hard, the former having more success that the latter yet both suffer from a dated feel, the muted production values serving to underscore this vibe. “Merry Christmas From Cancun,” while a little kitschy, is a playful tale, however, particularly for those who long to avoid chilly days of shoveling snow and icy streets.
And while much of the record does suffer from issues, there are still some strong highlights. A straightforward approach to country classic “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy” brings some fun energy to the album while another faithful rendition of “O Holy Night” showcases strong harmonies alongside a minimalist arrangement that works well. Perhaps most notable is the band’s live recording of gospel favorite “Go Where I Send Thee,” which is easily the strongest track on the album, bringing a bold acoustic energy and great vocals, showing that these guys still have what it takes.
Fans of Exile’s past work will surely find something to enjoy here but, despite a few strong highlights, there’s unfortunately little chance that this record will find itself becoming a mainstay during the holidays for years to come.