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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 29 October 2012
Arriving just in time, as the clocks go back and the temperature falls, is Tracey Thorn's Christmas album.

The clear highlight is `Joy'. Written by Tracey, it is a beautifully poetic and nuanced ballad about how as adults we see Christmas in a new light - as something fragile, a special time with family and friends that brings back memories of Christmas' past and raises fears for what future years may bring. "You loved it as a kid and now you need it more than you ever did" is just one line of many the strikes a chord. The piano backing slowly expands to include percussion, backing vocals and (for the first of many occasions on the album) a kind of warm 'glow'.

Tracey's only other self-penned song on this album is the title track `Tinsel and Lights', which also reflects on how Christmas changes in meaning as we get older. The lyrics are about looking back on a previous Christmas, half with happiness and half with the bittersweet realisation that it may not have been so perfect after all.

`Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas', the only traditional Christmas song on the album, is wonderfully realised. Played straight, with lush orchestral arrangement, it showcases Tracey's unique vocals. Lyrically, it's very much in keeping with the more modern songs selected for this album. By the time she gets to the "..until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow" line, it's difficult not to shed a tear or two.

The version here of Randy Newman's `Snow' is one of the best things Tracey's done - simple, desolate and achingly sad.

It is be no means an electronic album but `Taking Down The Tree' - a cover of a song by Low and now a duet with Green Gartside - successfully introduces subtle electronica elements and beats. Green's voice sounds very much as it did during his Scritti Politti days: beguiling, pure and yet now somehow like welcoming back an old friend. There's also something a little late-ABBA in the production on this track. 'Sister Winter' and 'Snow in Sun' are also have a light sprinkling of electronic elements.

There's not one bad track here. `Hard Candy Christmas' and `Maybe This Christmas', in particular, utilise Tracey's ability to tell a story to full effect.

The album cover is terrific and its use of a homely, traditionally styled Christmas decoration absolutely fits the mood.

This is a delightful album that successfully takes a slightly worn out concept (`The Christmas Album') and sprinkles it with magic. Tracey and producer Ewan Pearson have found a perfect sound that is at heart acoustic but with added warmth, rhythm and the occasional subtle beat. Loved it!
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on 1 November 2012
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.
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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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on 30 December 2012
In recent interviews, Tracey Thorn has stated that she has always wanted to create a Christmas album so for her fourth studio album "Tinsel And Lights", she has made this happen. Where it differs from other Holiday albums is that she has not chosen the most obvious Christmas songs which is very interesting and she has also composed a few nice songs which add to this releases' originality.

"Joy" is a sentimental piano led ballad composed by Tracey Thorn herself and is a very nicely written song that perfectly depicts the long winter months. "Hard Candy Christmas" is a melancolic cover of the Dolly Parton song released way back in 1982, interpreted with less of the original Country vibe and more of a gentle Pop/Soft Rock sound. "Like A Snowman", written by Stephin Merritt, is a very beautiful song nicely arranged on this album with the help of a captivating sounding string orchestra. "Maybe This Christmas" is another sentimental ballad this time composed by Ron Sexsmith, but the cover of The White Stripes' "In The Cold, Cold Night" adds fuel to this slow burner and has a distinctive Punk Blues sound. "Snow" brings us back to the subtle but effective piano led ballad territory whilst "Snow In Sun" adds a freshness to this album with its joyous Pop R&B vibe and uplifting lyrics. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is one of the obvious covers and is well interpreted, sitting nicely next to the Tracey Thorn penned "Tinsel And Lights" which is a Folk song that sounds like an instant seasonal classic. The emotionally charged Joni Mitchell cover "River" has never sounded so majestic even though it has been interpreted by many different artists over the years. But it is the final two songs that are the most innovative - "Taking Down The Tree" and "Sister Winter" have a very interesting Electro Pop vibe and are both atmospheric and energising.

Tracey Thorn has therefore realised one of her dreams and has put together a very accomplished Christmas album. "Tinsel And Lights" does not have many outstanding moments, but it does have many strong interpretations of traditional, less traditional and original seasonal creations. It is certainly a must buy for Tracey Thorn followers who will cherish this album.
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on 14 December 2012
Having loved 'Everything but the girl' and Tracey solo... This album recommendation popped up for me a few days ago - I ordered this disc and sat listening this evening... The production is entrancing; delicate, confident and moving. Pared down and not fussy, nothing to hide behind. Which is good in my opinion. Well, maybe it's just me in a soppy Christmas mode but I felt tearful (in a good way) listening to many of these deceptively simple songs. 'Elegant' is a very good descriptive word for this album. 'Have yourself a merry little Christmas' is such a tear jerker anyway; I daren't play Tracey's version and Chrissy Hind's back to back. Having said that, Tracey's interpretation is lighter and more cheerful.
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Tracey has a long and distinguished career, not only solo but also with Everything But The Girl, although this is only the second album of her music that I've ever bought after Idlewild. (I must put that right someday.) I was surprised to learn about this album, but I expected it would be good, especially once I saw the track listing, which includes just one obvious classic, that being Have yourself a merry little Christmas. On the evidence of that track, if Tracey had filled the entire album, it would still have been a brilliant album (which I might have bought anyway), but I'm glad that she didn't do that. I love those classic songs, but I have plenty of versions of them already,

Apart from Have yourself a merry little Christmas, two of the other songs are very familiar to me, although neither was originally meant to be a Christmas song. Hard candy Christmas, written by Carol Hall for Dolly Parton to sing in The Best Little Chickenhouse in Texas. The song title is metaphorical; the song is not about Christmas, but that word being in the title is enough for it to be regarded as a Christmas song. Tracey's version is mellower than Dolly's version, and the slower tempo works well. Joni Mitchell's River is about a broken relationship around Christmas time. It's really about the feeling of loss rather than Christmas, but the song seems to be well on the way to becoming a Christmas standard.

The other tracks feature songs written by people who you might recognize, depending on what music you're into. Randy Newman is the most famous of them; he wrote Snow, which I might have heard somewhere. Among the other writers are Ron Sexsmith (Maybe this Christmas), Jack White (In the cold, cold night) and Sufjan Stevens (Sister Winter).

Tracey wrote two new songs, these being Joy (the opening track) and Tinsel and lights (the title track). The booklet provides the lyrics for these two, but not for the other songs. The title track is an uplifting song about a New York Christmas. At the time Tracey recorded the album in 2012, none of us could have imagined what misfortune would hit New York later that year, so this song has an unintended poignancy

For those who enjoy mellow Christmas music avoiding most of the obvious songs, this may be just what you`re looking for.
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on 1 January 2013
Tracey Thorn has a lovely voice that is ideally suited to this type of album.
It's not an album for putting on at a Christmas party, more for putting on during more reflective times during the festive season.
It's also a nice one to have on in the car during this time of year.
To sum up,If you are looking for a knees up, this is not the album for you, but if you want something nice and easy to listen to after the guests have gone home and the Kids are in bed, then it's a winner.
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on 18 January 2013
This album just fitted the bill for me this Christmas. Having suffered a bereavement in December and several other things going on in my life Christmas was going to be difficult.
This album is low key and beautiful. Tracey's voice is mellow and controlled and I love the choice of songs.
I really appreciated it and I'm sure I'll continue to do so.
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on 29 December 2012
I love her voice, and thought her last offering Love and Its Opposite was sublime, so was thrilled to see this come out, and that it had two new originals on it, as well as songs from musical heroes of mine such as Ron Sexsmith and Scritti Politti, and also featured Green of the latter on vocals on another song. The overall effect is lovely. Opening song of hers Joy is one of the highlights. Scritti's remarkable Snow In Sun is beautifully rendered, and Joni Mitchell's classic River is a worthy version that suits her beautiful voice well. Nice that it's not all just Christmas songs but also winter ones like river and Snow In Sun. there's also some cheese with Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, but hey, it's a Christmas album. buy if you like Tracey and don't hate Christmas albums!
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on 2 January 2013
I must confess I was a huge fan of Everything but the Girl in the mid-1980's, but haven't really heard much since their "Walking Wounded" days, in the later 1990's.
This is such a wonderful album of evocative songs that is so easy to embrace. Tracey's haunting vocals bring out the very best in this fine collection of tracks & it is also lovely to hear Green Gartside's beautiful voice on "Taking down the tree". I'd thoroughly recommend this Cd to anyone who wants a contemporary collection of Christmas tunes. I imagine it will grace my Christmases to come for many years.
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