Jeff Coffey has worked with some legendary figures in music history such as former Eagles guitarist and “Hotel California” co-composer Don Felder, thrived in a productive stint as lead tenor vocalist for the band Chicago, and has prior solo work to his credit. His pending release Origins features over a dozen tracks packed with peaks aplenty as Coffey embraces the album’s subtitle Singers and Songs that Made Me with unabashed enthusiasm. His instrumental prowess has served him in good steady throughout his career and continues to do so on the single “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”.
Familiarity breed contempt but so does apathy. Tackling a venerable chestnut such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” sounds easy in a superficial fashion, but poses unique challengers if you want to do a credible job. There are so many indelible takes on this classic that it is difficult to break with the song’s long and illustrious past, but it is ultimately the sort of test potential transformative voices seek out to test their interpretative mettle. Coffey is more than a seasoned pro capable of hitting his marks; he is capable, as all great singers are, of bringing a meaningful measure of his own personality and experiences to the material. It happens in such a way that it has his own language via phrasing and space rather than imitating past performers. Even more impressive, however, is how Coffey straddles the line by shading his vocal in recognizable ways loyal to the song’s iconic original.
Michael Omartian guests on piano and provides magnificent counterpoint to Coffey’s voice. There is a smattering of strings adorning the song at crucial points, but the union of Coffey’s singing and Omartian’s piano playing carries the bulk of the song’s fortunes. They never disappoint. Many listeners will appreciate and respond to Coffey setting the song in such a stark musical landscape – it allows us a chance to interact with as little as possible focusing on the aforementioned marriage of instruments. He could have gone the other way. The wont of many trying this song on for size over history has been to lay sentiment on with a shovel, but Coffey goes the other direction and strips everything down to the barest of essentials and presenting us with something crystalline and gossamer like moonlight.
The production underlines everything with a warm and full sound. There aren’t a bevy of sonic elements to manage, but the studio work putting this track together frames Coffey’s strengths in the best possible way. It bears mentioning how Coffey captures the pervading melancholy of this song more than anyone else in recent history, but it never results in an unpleasant listening experience. The light smoky ambiance present in Coffey’s voice illustrates the nuance he brings to his previous work and why he has shared the same stages as Hootie and the Blowfish, The Doobie Brothers, and EdwinMcCain, among others. He is a first class talent asserting his talents in a memorable way with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and Origins will likely follow suit.