As a holiday aficionado, I am always on the lookout for new holiday albums that aren't just reiterations of the old standards. Unfortunately, many contemporary carols tend to be overly self-aware and irritating ("The Hanukah Song") or just plain insipid ("Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer"). That’s why I was thrilled to find out that Everything But The Girl front woman Tracy Thorn was releasing her own Yuletide album, Tinsel And Lights.
Thorn says that the songs she chose to record for Tinsel and Lights are "not all strictly Christmas songs, but if they mentioned winter or snow or even just being cold, that was good enough for me". Thorn's selections are pitch perfect and include two original tracks: the opener, "Joy" and title track "Tinsel and Lights". The rest of the material is an eclectic mix of winter-inspired material, including present-day talents such as Stephin Merritt’s "Like A Snowman", Sufjan Stevens' "Sister Winter" and Jack White’s "Cold Cold Night". Thorn also covers songs made famous by musical icons like Dolly Parton, Randy Newman, and Joni Mitchell. While Mitchell's "River" has been subject to many a poorly-executed cover, Thorn's cool, clear, and effortless vocal style is perfect for this classic song.
Tinsel and Lights also features a duet with Green Gartside of Scritti Politti ("Taking down The Tree") and a special bonus track ("December 25th") written and sung by Tracy’s EBTG partner and hubby, Ben Watt. With the traditional carol "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", Thorn demonstrates that she’s as much a singer’s singer as Tony Bennett, Dusty Springfield, and Chrissie Hynde.
If you're looking to spruce up your holiday music collection this year, Tracey Thorn’s Tinsel And Lights is a cool package of tunes that can be dug by both hipsters and traditionalists alike.
1. Joy (written by Tracey Thorn)
2. Hard Candy Christmas (originally performed by Dolly Parton)
3. Like a Snowman (written by Stephin Merritt)
4. Maybe This Christmas (written by Ron Sexsmith)
5. In the Cold, Cold Night (written by Jack White)
6. Snow (written by Randy Newman)
7. Snow in Sun (written by Green Gartside of Scritti Politti)
8. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (holiday classic)
9. Tinsel and Lights (written by Tracey Thorn)
10. River (written by Joni Mitchell)
11. Taking Down the Tree (feat. Green Gartside) (written by Low)
12. Sister Winter (written by Sufjan Stevens)
Bonus LP track: 25th December (written and originally sung by Ben Watt)
Reviewed by Michael Levine