Darlene Love

It's Christmas, of Course

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Darlene Love has a bit of a background in Christmas music; in the '60s, she was one of the best vocalists in Phil Spector's stable of studio performers (recording under her own name and as part of the Crystals and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans) and sang lead on the best track on Spector's fabled A Christmas Gift for You, "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)." Forty-four years later, Love has cut another seasonal set, and It's Christmas, Of Course is a fine and rollicking set of Yuletide rock and R&B. Here Love handles a dozen tunes previously recorded by a wide variety of acts, ranging from Tom Petty's "Christmas All Over Again" and the Pretenders' "2000 Miles" to NRBQ's "Christmas Wish" and "Thanks for Christmas," written and recorded by XTC under the alias "The Three Wise Men." While Love was pushing seventy when she cut these sessions, she sounds just as lively as she did when she was an integral part of Spector's Wall of Sound, and if anything her sense of phrasing and selling a song has actually improved; she brings a superb sense of lover's melancholy to "2000 Miles" and adds an appropriately churchy tone to "Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas" and "Christmas Must Be Tonight," while swinging hard on "What Christmas Means to Me" and "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto." Even Billy Squier's forgettable "Christmas Is the Time to Say 'I Love You'" sounds great in Love's hands, and her version of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" sounds both timely and powerful. The production from Shawn Amos and Kevin Killen is straightforward and effective, and the arrangements are concise but strong enough to support Love's vocals. While many holiday albums sound like quickly recorded afterthoughts, It's Christmas, Of Course is as strong as anything Darlene Love has cut since her 1998 gospel disc Unconditional Love, and it's great stuff for your next Yuletide party.

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