Thursday, April 11, 2013

Illinois Entertainer Reviews 2012: Christmas

On This Winter’s Night 

The quality of Lady Antebellum’s early singles was so high that it was possible to entertain fantasies of the trio’s becoming the Fleetwood Mac of twenty-first-century country-pop.  Alas, no longer.  Fleetwood Mac would never have made a Christmas album, but if it had, the album would’ve been a lot less bland than what Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley accomplish by carrying these (mostly) well-known tunes in holly-bedecked buckets while unimaginative, yuletide-lite arrangements play in the background.  Why, competing against this year’s crop of new Christmas releases alone, they’re outperformed by Rod Stewart (“Blue Christmas”), Tracey Thorn (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), and the Polyphonic Spree (“Let It Snow,” “Silent Night,” “Silver Bells”).  And they never stood a chance with “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

Christmas with Scotty McCreery 
(Mercury Nashville/19/Interscope)

Spending Christmas with Scotty McCreery wouldn’t be so bad.  A small-town boy at heart, he’d probably take you on a tour of his North Carolina environs then invite you to dinner with his family (who’d no doubt be playing his renditions of “Jingle Bells,” “Holly Jolly Christmas,” and “Winter Wonderland” on the Bose).  Then maybe you’d go with everyone to church.  You could even pew up next to Scotty during the singing of “O Holy Night” and “The First Noel” and verify whether his baritone twang as captured on his recordings is Auto-tune free.  Finally, later on by the fire, after the eggnog had kicked in--but only then--he’d sing “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” and his grandma would roll her eyes.  But she’d be smiling.

Merry Christmas, Baby 

It would be easy to dismiss Stewart’s Christmas project as his having discovered that it would allow him, at sixty-seven, to mine the Great American Songbook--a source that has enabled him to sell nearly eight-million albums--one more time.  And a cynical ploy it may be.  The strategic duets (Cee Lo Green, Michael Bublé, Trombone Shorty, Dave Koz, the long-deceased Ella Fitzgerald) certainly suggest as much.  But, although Merry Christmas, Baby’s secular chestnuts outnumber their sacred counterparts approximately three to one, Stewart sings each of the latter as if deep down he senses the significance of the Incarnation.  He certainly puts as much loving care into “This, this is Christ the King” as he put into “People get ready for the train to Jordan” twenty-seven years ago.

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