It took Lena Horne until her late forties to get around to recording a Christmas album, and when she did, in 1966, it was typical of her style at the time. More than anything else, she was a nightclub singer, and, for better or worse, Merry from Lena had the sound of a collection that had been put together as a holiday nightclub act. That started with a new Ray Ellis arrangement of "Jingle Bells" with some new lyrics by longtime Tin Pan Alley wordsmith Al Stillman and now called "Jingle All the Way." In addition to allowing Ellis and Stillman to claim songwriting royalties on a traditional song, the track heralded the style of the album, which was snappy and a bit adult-oriented. This was also true, for example, of Horne's treatment of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which she began by speculating about the possibility that Rudolph's nose was red because he was an alcoholic. "I think he had a problem," Horne declared. "I think he probably liked a little nip once in a while." That might be the sort of comment that would go over well in a club with a drink minimum, but it's not what you'd expect to hear on most Christmas albums. Thankfully, Horne played it straight on ballads like "White Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and her talent as a singer was never in doubt. But Merry from Lena was still the kind of Christmas album grown-ups might want to put on only after the kids had gone to bed.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann