It's that time of year again and that can only mean one thing. Freezing my arse off in an ice cold apartment. Um, ok, wait. Two things. Freezing my arse off in an ice cold apartment and its time for the latest round of seasonal holiday albums to make an appearance. Why it seems every year around this time one songbird or another or eight for each day of Hanukkah (yeah, I know. but we all
love Christmas) comes to our collective computer doors bearing gifts of good tiding, good cheer, and a little musical whimsy we call a Christmas album. This season one of those songbirds is none other then angel voiced Sarah MacLachlan herself. And while this album of mellow, sometimes sorrowful renditions of some of the seasons best loved songs doesn't quite earn this angel a place atop the Christmas Tree, it at least earns her a nice spot under it.
As you may imagine as with most Christmas albums their is nothing real special here. That would be hard to accomplish on an album full of songs that have been done every which way hundreds of times by artists as diverse as The Ramones, Phil Spector, Bruce Springsteen, and Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. But that isn't to say the album is without interesting touches here and there courtesy of long time McLachlan producer Pierre Marchand. Yes indeed. Three cheers for a good 'ol fashioned Canadian Christmas. Let's all gather 'round the maple tree.
We get nice renditions of various Christmas classics old and new starting with a faithful version of John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" for a bit of wishful thinking this holiday season, a lovely but ordinary version of Joni Mitchell's tender and thoughful ballad "River", and McLachlan's original title track "Wintersong", which fits in nicely among the better known nuggets in this collection. The classic "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is given a minor torch song treatment minus the overblown vocals and plus a very fine and unexpected trumpet break at the bridge, and "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" is similarly fetching with its quiet banjo plucked ever so softly, and gentle violin work. And of course what would a Sarah McLachlan Christmas album be without a healtfelt reading of Silent Night played simple and true just like baby Jesus likes it. Nice.
If the album has a downside, well, one persons garbage is another's riches, as the saying goes. Nostalgia is a part of any Christmas album. After all these are songs which inherently provoke reflection. And by albums end which finds sensitive swan McLachlan tackling "Have Yourself A Very Merry Christmas", "In A Bleak Mid Winter", and that 'ol Peanuts favorite "Christmas Time Is Here", the listener is ready to either throw another yule log on the fire and cuddle up with a cup of hot cocoa and a loved one, or alternately grab a string of lights from the Christmas Tree, wrap it around ones neck, and hang yourself from the nearest shining star. You can't really blame Sarah for this, as Christmas albums usually focus on an artists strengths. And McLachlan's strength is the quiet and oft times forlorn ballad. But as with any McLachlan album sometimes you just want to lay the smackdown on her and have her break out of ethereal mode. Fitting for a Christmas album. Perhaps" Playing to her strengths" Perhaps" But a little "Rockin' 'Round The Christmas Tree", "Jingle Bell Rock", or "Run, Run Rudolf" would go a long way in livening things up a bit. Especially at Christmas time. How about "Merry Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), Sarah" No" Alrighty then. Maybe next year...
Wintersong is not destined to become a yule time classic. Nor will it reach beyond this or any other Christmas time. You've heard these songs once and you've heard them a million times. And McLachlan does nothing to add anything new, daring, exciting, or remotely original to the mix. But being the unique artist, musician, and singer she is, she really doesn't have to do anything more. Sure I can complain about the nostalgia, sentimental tone, and lack of originality. But I certainly can't fault what is good about this album. From its sometimes smooth jazz, to its excellent players, to its uncluttered, simple arrangements. And of course the instrument that is Ms. McLachlan's wonderful voice. It has what it needs to spark a bit of peace on earth and goodwill towards men in even the coldest hearts among us. And this Christmas, with the troubled world we live in among our nearest thoughts, that would seem quite enough.