The title of Anna Wilson's third album, Yule Swing!, gives an accurate indication of its contents, which consist of seasonal music in big-band (and small-band) jazz arrangements. But without the subtitle that's written vertically in script up the right side of the cover, one might expect to hear the usual perennials. That subtitle reads, "A Collection of Original Holiday Songs." Wilson makes her living in Nashville as a songwriter getting cuts on albums by the likes of Reba McEntire, but she also sees herself as a singer -- and a writer -- in the ring-a-ding-ding traditional vocal style of Frank Sinatra and postwar (that's World War II) nightclub entertainers. And like any self-respecting songwriter, she wouldn't mind penning the kind of number that, as she puts it in her acknowledgements, would join the "'living room' sing-a-long" during the Christmas season year after year. For a songwriter, of course, that would be like printing money. So, Yule Swing! is full of songs the casual listener may think sound like old holiday tunes from the '40s, even if they can't quite be placed in the repertoire of Peggy Lee or Ella Fitzgerald. A closer listen will give the game away, however, as lyrical references to malls, bling, and cellphones necessarily date these compositions to the turn of the (21st) century. Still, Wilson does her best to suggest the era of Main Street, jewelry, and rotary phones instead, beginning with the big-band barnburner that is the title song, which she sings in a clear, swinging contralto that suggests Anita O'Day (and, at times, Rickie Lee Jones without the slur). After addressing the concerns of children on "Through Their Eyes," she moves to the more PG-13 subject of "Holiday Lovin'," before hooking up with Chuck Wicks (who has recorded her material as a country artist) on the tribute to Christmas drinking and carousing that is "Light Me Up." After that, the late-night aspects of the holiday seem to kick in with the ballads "Wish" and "One Day" (the latter getting only a jazzy electric guitar accompaniment). "Mrs. Claus" re-enlivens things, boasting a chart that could have come from the pen of Billy May for Nat King Cole. "A House, a Home" is another strong ballad, and the closer, "Resolutions," is a lazy, witty reflection on a New Year's Eve party that includes some free jazz, thus bringing things up to the early '60s (except for the mention of the cellphone, that is). There's no telling if any of these pleasing compositions, given winning renditions by the songwriter herself, will become standards. But there is a good nightclub act suggested here that could be repeated year after year.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
feat: Chuck Wicks
feat: Rick Braun