After releasing Tears, Lies & Alibis, her first self-produced, self-released album on her Everso imprint, singer and songwriter Shelby Lynne followed it up with her first Christmas offering. Its contents include eight beautifully arranged standards and a pair of originals. Lynne produced the set, and left its very live-in-the-studio feel in the mix. Guitarists John Jackson, Mike Ward, and Ben Peeler are right up front, cruising just under her trademark, throaty contralto. The charts for the opening medley, "Sleigh Ride/Winter Wonderland" and her own "Ain't Nothin' Like Christmas" are drenched in a combination of jump jazz and something approaching rockabilly. Marc Doten's upright bass is a slapping counterpart to the guitars and Gregg Field's stripped-down drum kit. Her reading of Vince Guaraldi's beautiful "Christmas Time" is a surprise, given its elegant restraint and the Buddy DeFranco-styled clarinet solo by Jim Honeyman. "Silver Bells" is given a decidedly down-home treatment thanks to slide guitar, mandolins, and a Weissenborn. Tex Logan's "Christmas Time's A-Comin'" is pure acoustic bluegrass stomp with a smokin mandolin solo. The two hymns here, "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night," are reverent and full of quiet drama, even if their instrumentation is unusual; the latter with a pedal steel. Both let Lynne's voice shine through unadorned with the exception of a small bit of reverb. The other original here, "X-Mas," is a melancholy, jazz-blues (with a guest sax solo by Dave Koz) paean to her own Christmas wish, whose opening lyrics are "Christmas makes me sad/And Daddy's bein' bad...." Those familiar with Lynne's biography will hear how chilling this is. That said, the song absolutely needed to be here. This is Lynne the poet, unflinchingly honest, reflecting, balancing the wide-open joy in performances of standards, from the retro swing of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to the seasonally and romantically teemed "Silver Bells" and "White Christmas," which make the case that the holiday is not necessarily a joyous one for some. As Christmas albums go, this one is showcase for Lynne's gifts as an interpretive singer and songwriter. It's enjoyable throughout, and the immediacy and warmth of the recording set it apart from the usual holiday fare.
Merry Christmas Review
by Thom Jurek