Sometime after John Tesh had established himself on the mass media map as the co-host of Entertainment Tonight, wacky ideas entered his oversized head. First, he asked New Age schlockmeister Yanni if he could join his touring band as a backup keyboardist. Then he started issuing a series of albums of his own, inspired by the Tour de France and such other exciting events. Finally, he stole TV’s Connie Sellecca away from Buck Rogers (TV’s Gil Gerard), a match made in Burbank.
The fruits of this domino effect were thrust upon the unsuspecting public with his seventh CD, a tribute to both the institution of holiday cash cow as well as the Neopolitan minx by his side. A Romantic Christmas was designed to simultaneously tug the heartstrings of America’s Hallmark shopper and yank the chains of those of us who zeroed in on the back cover photo of somebody’s lacy black undergarments (Connie’s, we hope) strewn about (but not too near) the hearth. Beyond that enticing image, the album is lush, but not syrupy, consisting predominantly of hymns and carols performed without the melismatic passion of the average Kenny G album. While Tesh’s name is on the spine, and he’s credited with acoustic piano, the bulk of the program is supplied by the army of musicians in “his” orchestra, mostly supporting a prominent “classical guitar”. When that guy lays out, a boy’s choir sings just off pitch on three tracks.
The man gets kudos as early as track two, an arrangement of “Gesu Bambino” that the average consumer would know best from Luciano Pavarotti’s Christmas album, and a tune that hasn’t been overdone by everyone who thinks it’s a good idea to do a Christmas album. The rest are the usual pre-industrial yuletide chestnuts, designed to evoke memories of what we’ve been told the holiday must have been like in Victorian times, only with a little digital reverb. Tesh doesn’t really leave a hefty mark from his meaty paws until the two original tracks near the end of the hour-long program, both of which feature violinist Charlie Bisharat and both of which sound a little alike. The closing rendition of “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire” is the closest we get to the expected Kenny G territory, given the soprano sax and fake electric piano accompaniment.
Given all that, A Romantic Christmas is actually pretty nice. If there’s anyone out there who can actually get it on with their lady to the strains of “Bring A Torch, Jeannette, Isabella”, we don’t want to know about it, even if they’re as photogenic as the Teshes. What makes the album worthy of a slot in your CD arsenal is its effectiveness as pleasant tree-trimming music—just as nice to have in the background while you’re trying to get in the spirit as it is should you decide to actually listen to it. Given all the potential of being an overwrought mess, it offers a soothing program, instead of something that inspires ridicule, which would be expected. Granted, we haven’t been able to build up the grapes strong enough to check out any of his other work—not least Sax On The Beach, Sax By The Fire and Sax All Night. But even twenty years later, as ET still tries to pass itself off as news and his syndicated radio show attempts to inspire the typical Lite-FM listener on those evenings stuck in traffic after working late, A Romantic Christmas is a great way to win a bet. (As in, “Nice album, isn’t it? You won’t believe what it is when I show you the jewel case.”)
John Tesh A Romantic Christmas (1992)—3½