Carly Simon

Christmas Is Almost Here

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Christmas albums by major veteran pop stars long past their commercial prime are usually not highlights of their catalogs, and for the most part this isn't an exception. There are, too, some of the failings common to these kinds of projects: unmemorable treatments of songs that have been heard too often (like "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Silent Night") and some bland, middle-of-the-road arrangements. Yet for at least some of the time, this is definitely an above-average holiday offering. Don Was' presence as co-producer ensures some creativity and diversity to the sound, as do the contributions of top session players like Jim Keltner, Billy Preston, and Benmont Tench. Simon's vocals are strong, and most surprisingly, one of the two originals, "The Land of Christmas (Mary)," is not only pretty straight-ahead and gutsy, but sounds a lot better than most of the contemporary material she did on her secular records in the 1980s and 1990s. Some mild blues gospel overtones make it into "Twelve Gates to the City" (the one song to feature Billy Preston, on organ and vocals), and a reggae beat is set to "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." A couple of unclichéd selections make it into the program with Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper" (on which Nelson himself duets with Simon) and John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)." It's not an exciting release by any means, but it's not as immediately forgettable as many holiday efforts by similar performers are.

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