Wrapped up in your arms for Christmas – 2017 (Big Horse)

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

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CDs by Exile

In the 50 years of Exile's existence, they've recorded pop albums and country albums, amassing their fair share of hits with tracks like "Kiss You All Over," "Woke Up In Love," and "Give Me One More Chance," yet they've never recorded a Christmas album. With the release of "Wrapped Up In Your Arms For Christmas," the band adds that to their resume, delivering a collection of Christmas favorites sprinkled with a few original presents of their own.

The album as a whole, while no doubt a welcome listen for longtime fans, is something of a mixed affair, with muddled production coloring many of the tracks alongside offering up fairly run of the mill arrangements that don't really enhance the songs from their original state. Opening track "Run Run Rudolph" is a good example. The jaunty guitar line and tinkling keys sound nice but they're just what you'd expect. And when you factor in the muted quality of the vocals against the instruments, it's just not the most exciting listen.

The band tries to mix things up with their rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," shifting up the melody a bit, but it suffers from similar issues although the instrumentation is spot on, with some killer organ fills and solid guitar work while the group's take on "Little Drummer Boy" just feels ponderous, as though the whole track is running a beat slow.

There are some definite highlights though. Exile's take on "O Holy Night" is smooth and understated, and their harmonies stand strong against the subtle backdrop of acoustic guitar. Their rendition of Buck Owens' "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy" is rendered faithfully and provides some much needed energy. Likewise, the live recordings of the gospel classic "Go Where I Send Thee" shows that this collective still has what it takes, their vocals strong and the energy bold while accompanied by only a rousing acoustic guitar and tambourine.

Of the originals, they follow suit with the rest of the album - they're a mixed bag. The lighthearted "Merry Christmas From Cancun" is a bit of playful fun, particularly for those accustomed to defrosting windows and shoveling sidewalks, but the title track and "Bluegrass Kind of Christmas," the latter notably missing any kind of bluegrass, simply feel dated and overly saccharine.

And much like a velvet Christmas stocking packed through with a smattering of candy and three pairs of new socks is Exile's Christmas album. A treat for longtime fans, but casual listeners will find themselves working to pick through the socks to find the candy.