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Tracy Thorn - Sister Winter,
This review is from: Tinsel and Lights (Audio CD)Its that time of year and for the next two months we will be inundated with a plethora of artists chancing their luck with a Christmas album. Sorting out the wheat from the chaff is not always difficult since some artists present their Turkeys ready stuffed. Bob Dylan's Christmas album for instance was so bad it was almost good. Tracey Thorn alternatively has one steady advantage over many artists, she has a rich and and poignant voice infused with a frisson of aching regret which she has used to splendid advantage with bands as diverse as Everything but the Girl and guesting with Bristol trip hop specialists Massive Attack. Some would argue that this whole production could be deemed out of character for the "Bedsit Disco Queen" and NME has harshly argued about this album that if "your planning microwaved turkey dinner for one this year, there's probably no better soundtrack". But let us cast away doubt and blow an emphatic Humbug to those indie scrooges.
Certainly it would be a safe option to record a "standard" Xmas fare but thankfully this is not a Michael Buble style Sinatra inspired cover fest. Indeed the only real "standard" on "Tinsel and Lights" is her cover of "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas. She is up against stiff competition here since James Taylor did a lovely cool jazzy version of this a while back and Tori Amos produced a lush escalating piano ballad. Thorn's versions ranks all these, she may "be muddling through somehow" but she is doing an excellent job of it accompanied by a rich orchestral arrangements you can almost hear the snow falling. Her own opening composition "Joy" is a tender ballad and in a fair world would become a Christmas classic, her voice is as pure and tender as ever on this track. In the same vein her sparkling version of Dolly Parton's "Hard Candy Christmas" an often overlooked gem is simply scintillating and enough to melt the ice of the coldest heart. It is a brave attempt to spruce up Jack White's "Cold Cold Night" as a festive classic but its the one song her that slightly sours the mulled wine. Never-mind she quickly makes amends with a heartfelt version of Randy Newman's brilliant "Snow" and also a lovely version of Joni Mitchell's "River". Its safe to say that no one will ever top the original of this no matter how many try (K.D. Lang, James Taylor, Sarah McLachlan et al). Yet Thorn does a very good version with a nice brass band accompaniment in the background adding to the yuletide ambience. Perhaps the best cover on "Tinsel and Lights" comes from the pen of that Christmas specialist and the the most interesting American musician on the planet Sufjan Stevens. The great man is due to release yet another mammoth Christmas set in the form of the 4 volume "Silver and Gold" but of his previous recorded Christmas output the gentle grower "Sister Winter" is one of the absolute best and Thorn does a brilliant version. All this and duet with Scritti Politti's resident Gramsci inspired Marxist Green Gartside on a cover of Low's "Taking down the tree" (if you dont have it seek out Low's Christmas album); what more could you ask for? There will be Christmas albums aplenty in due course but its nice to start with one that raises the bar higher than the norm.
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Initial post: 11 Dec 2012 17:34:58 GMT
Have to agree with you on "In the Cold Cold Night"; I reckon it's the weakest track on the album, although it was chosen as the first single. Still it's more than compensated for by the rest of the tracks and with "Joy" getting airplay on Chris Evans's show on R2 this morning the album's now getting out to a wider audience.
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