Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chasing Away the Christmas Blues: Shelby Lynne and Annie Lennox's Christmas CDs

Music at Christmas time has the potential to either warm the soul -- or wear out the heart. We're bombarded with the stuff right after Halloween in every mall and in every store. And it's a real shame that music has to become intolerable under the guise of the Christmas spirit (a spirit one can have a hard time invoking while shopping in the jewelry section). During the season, though, I always reach for two distinctly classic albums that help steady the Christmas chatter: Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift For You, with its rocking good tunes, and A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi, which casts a jazzier Christmas spell. Both albums stir peaceful memories of Christmas past without all the hustle and bustle. But there are also two new albums competing for a spot on my player: Shelby Lynne's Merry Christmas (Everso Records, 2010) and Annie Lennox's A Christmas Cornucopia (Decca Records, 2010). Both releases don't let commercialization get in the way of a good record so I'm pleased to report that these new albums are first-rate.

Merry Christmas features the Mobile, Alabama singer doing what she does best by mixing the joy of the season with some melancholy. Christmas is really for the kids, but as adults we wax nostalgic about what it was like when we were little. Lynne's record features songs that blend nostalgia with the blues. Her original compositions, “Ain't Nothin' Like Christmas” and “Xmas,” are great tracks for the lonely and a lot of people are alone during the holiday season. So these tracks are for them and for all of us who get the blues in December. The album also features holiday favourites like “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells” plus a stirring version of “Christmas Time is Here” from the Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon. The off-the-floor recording makes you feel right at home whether or not you're in the safety of family and friends.

Annie Lennox's recording is much more positive. A Christmas Cornucopia is a big record for a big celebration. She sings her heart out on everything here from the classic, "The First Noel" to "The Holly and The Ivy," adding lush orchestrations plus the welcoming participation of the African Children's Choir. Produced and arranged by Lennox and Mike Stevens, this record is buoyant, spiritual and with just the wisp of mystery. Only one original is on this album, a song called “Universal Child,” which is being released as a single. In spite of the overdubs, Lennox’s voice doesn’t have the range it once did, but she makes up for it with a passionate delivery. I particularly like “Il est ne le divin enfant” sung in French. Clearly Lennox is happy to commune with her choir days as a child.

So if the Christmas spirit is making you feel like Scrooge, these two albums will chase those blues away.

-- John Corcelli is a musician, writer, broadcaster and theatre director.

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