Tracey Thorn Tracey ThornTinsel and Lights
To many, the idea of having a Christmas themed album in their collection is unthinkable, a bad joke from a work colleague, or a well intentioned present from your grandmother when you were a kid. But as cringeworthy as the idea might sound, this year you might be finding yourself buying your first jolly season record and sighing and smiling while you listen to it. And it might even bring a tear or two to your eyes. Mark my words.
Tracey Thorn has been wishing to make her very own Christmas album for quite some time now. Last year she couldn’t help feeling a little bit jealous when the seasonal albums started to appear on the shelves of shops, so she promised to herself that she would be recording her own by January. And that is what she did. Before you get “grinchy” and discard the idea of even listening to it, there are a couple of things you need to know. The first one is that she wanted to have in it cover versions of songs that she could do justice to, and, that they didn’t needed to be strictly Christmas songs, but songs that had winter, snow or coldness in them. The second thing, and the most important, is that the result is an outstanding one. Again, the album is produced by Ewan Pearson.
There is only one official Christmas song, on the album: “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, the song that was made popular first by Judy Garland and later by Frank Sinatra. There is one that is famous and constantly played on the radio in the US during December: “Hard Candy Christmas”. Written by Carol Hall for the musical “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”, it entered the top ten in the U.S. back in 1982 after Dolly Parton sang it in the film version of the musical. It has been already used on Christmas cover version albums by RuPaul, Dan Bryk and Sixpence None The Richer, but none of those versions come close to the exquisite rendition by Thorn.
“Maybe this Christmas” is an original song written and performed by Ron Sexsmith. It was part of a compilation made by the musician back in 2002, that included original songs and cover versions by Coldplay, Bright Eyes, and Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan amongst others. Likewise, “Sister Winter” is a Sufjan Stevens’ original included in his own seasonal compilation, “Songs For Christmas”.
“Like a Snowman”, is a hidden gem, a song, written by Stephin Merrit. A rarity probably even to all The Magnetic Fields fans, as it was written by him and performed by Kiki and Herb, a cabaret drag duo from New York. “River” by Joni Mitchell is the kind of song that you would imagine Tracey covering, as it’s soaked with sadness and melancholy, yet still manages to give you a sense of hope and reassurance, something that her voice has been doing for years now. And Nick Ingman’s orchestration is sublime.
Her version of The White Stripes, “In The Cold Cold Night” couldn´t be (pardon the pun) cooler. It is pure class. It’s the one that is a clear example of a cover version being better than the original. She gives it the proper Thorn treatment and makes it her own. Just like husband Ben Watt did on what is probably the best version of Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”. Same thing happens with “Snow”, a song originally written by Randy Newman and performed and published by Harry Nilsson in 1970. Hers is a naked piano version much like the original, but that could make you believe that it was her own new material if you weren’t warned otherwise. There is also a delicious interpretation of “Sun And Snow” by Scritti Politti. Alongside a duet with Green Gartside on a less lo-fi version of Low’s “Taking Down the Tree”, to which she added some lyrics.
There are two original Christmas songs in the album by Tracey, “Joy” and “Tinsel and Lights”, and both are, as you will expect from any new song by her, superb.
This is a stunning collection of songs that will touch your heart and will surely get you in the spirit, even if you belong to that sector of the population that doesn’t like Christmas.