Ah, ’tis the season to be jolly, and wise musicians from afar (Canada in this case) will be downright ebullient with joy as they get their share of holiday bounty by enjoying the fruits of a best-selling Christmas album. Sarah McLachlan has joined those ranks with her Wintersong, which is currently one of the most popular albums on iTunes and other outlets as well. The talented singer has apparently struck a chord with her own fans and with holiday music lovers alike with this release, which is composed of mostly new recordings in an artfully compiled mix that encompasses both the familiar and the less expected. (See song listing, along with a few clips, at bottom of review.)
If you’re a traditionalist, then you might find Sarah’s take on some of the songs on this album a little disquieting, but maybe not. I certainly wouldn’t describe my own attitude about diverse musical interpretations as particularly liberal, and can even remember cringing when Jose Feliciano personalized the national anthem at the 1968 World Series, so you might think that I would look on her efforts with a grinch-like eye. However, as I listened to Sarah’s rendition of such familiar songs as “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “Silent Night”, I discovered that she was paying them the proper respect while adding her own unmistakable style in a way that only enhanced them.
In other traditional songs, such as “The First Noël”, she roams a little more widely but still stays in the ballpark, or at least in the vicinity of it. There’s no doubt that although she has the voice and talent to spin almost any song the straight and conventional way, she also has the confidence to add her signature sound.
In less traditional holiday songs, such as “River”, a Joni Mitchell tune, or something completely new such as the title song of the album (written by Sarah) she shows a little more experimentation, and again the result is a very enjoyable listen. My favorite song of that group is probably her duet with Diana Krall on “Christmas Time Is Here”, where the two singers complement each other perfectly. My least favorite – and there has to be one or there couldn’t be a most favorite – is Sarah’s take on Lennon/Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, but I’m not particularly fond of the song itself so might be giving Sarah a bum rap here.
As always, Sarah has surrounded herself with superb musicians, and her longtime producer Pierre Marchand has performed his usual outstanding job. It’s a good effort by all involved and should please Sarah’s fans and anyone who enjoys holiday music, both traditional and modern. It certainly made a believer out of this particular grinch, who is both pleased and soothed, and might even develop a little holiday spirit.
Sarah McLachlan – Wintersong
1 Happy Xmas (War Is Over) 3:28
2 What Child Is This? (Greensleeves) 3:30
3 River 4:02
4 Wintersong 3:30
5 I’ll Be Home for Christmas 3:14
6 O Little Town of Bethlehem 3:50
7 The First Noel/Mary Mary 4:59
8 Silent Night 3:48
9 Song for a Winter’s Night 3:48
10 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 3:43
11 In the Bleak Mid-Winter 3:46
12 Christmas Time Is Here / Diana Krall 4:01