Halloween is over, miserable November is beginning,and here to brighten things up is an early festive album offering. In general Christmas themed albums can be pretty dire, with artists trotting out their own versions of standard seasonal classics that we have all heard hundreds of times before and adding little extra value, often being sentimental with far too many sleigh bells in the mix.
This album takes a different route, with 2 classy original compositions by Tracey Thorn;the album opener,Joy,looks at Christmas's past as a time of reflection,and is a fantastic new song up there with the best;while title track Tinsel and Lights is an affectionate reflection on a New York Christmas and gets a topical reference in on climate change " The winters got warmer then last year's got colder" and the final line "I fell in love with Christmas again" could be the tag line for this whole album.
The other 10 tracks are classy covers very carefully selected, many are relatively obscure, coming from a wide range of backgrounds. 2 songs have a lush orchestral arrangement, with the only real standard , Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and a very tasteful version of Joni Mitchell's River is a particular highlight and favourite of mine. Elsewhere source material varies widely from Randy Newman's Snow, through Jack White's In the Cold Cold Night, to Sufjan Stevens Sister Winter. Tracey's vocals are clear, strong , and well to the fore, and the production is generally simple and straightforward, well done without too much embelishment.
Green Gartside (ex Scritti Politti) contributes one good song, Snow in the Sun,and features on special guest vocals on Taking Down the Tree to good effect, and is continuing his productive collaborative parterships after recently contributing to the Nick Drake tribute concerts.
This is definitely up there as one of the best seasonal albums of the last 5 years, along with Thea Gilmore's Strange Communion. Still plenty of shopping days left before Christmas, so if you are looking for a new quality seasonal album that has something a bit different to offer then this should be the one to go for.