Claire Lynch has had two projects on her wish list for a while – a CD of holiday songs and one filled with swing tunes.
If the festive CD – Holiday! – is any indication of what happens when her musical wishes come true, I can’t wait for the swing album.
She and her band – Matt Wingate, Bryan McDowell and Mark Schatz – approached this recording the way the holidays themselves should be approached, at least in my book. They had fun, didn’t fall for a lot of the trappings that mask the meaning of the songs and the season, and were relaxed.
The result is an album of holiday music the way those of us of a certain age remember it, when crooners crooned, the music swung and nobody’s grandmother got run over by a reindeer. Light a fire, pour some hot chocolate or mulled cider for you and yours, dim the lights and crank up the sound. Even Scrooge will find himself overflowing with cheer after listening to these 10 songs.
As always with a Claire Lynch Band project, the instrumentation is rich and layered but the vocals are the centerpiece. What’s different this time is it’s not just Lynch’s voice that shines.
Listen to Bryan McDowell sing Snow Day and you might think Perry Como just slipped down your chimney ahead of Santa. His rich, smooth baritone is perfect for the song, a relatively recent Henry Hipkens offering that sounds like it’s been around since White Christmas.
And after hearing Schatz sing the lead on In the Window, a traditional Hanukkah song, I might be tempted to yell out, “Give that man a microphone” at the band’s next show.
>Speaking of White Christmas, that old chestnut is here, too, along with Jingle Bells, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, and Home for the Holidays. All have a certain retro feel to them. The first time I listened, I thought, “these are the songs of my childhood.” No surprise, actually, because Claire says she chose holiday songs from her childhood, and we are about the same age.
My favorite song here is Scarlet Ribbons. As a kid, I always knew – just knew – that the ribbons didn’t mysteriously end up on the little girl’s bed. They were brought by Santa Claus, and I didn’t understand how adults didn’t know that. Ah, the certainty of youth! Today, I’m less sold on Santa, more captivated by the miracle of those ribbons and absolutely smitten with this version. It became even more magical when I read the liner notes and discovered that Claire’s daughter, Christy, is singing harmony.
My least favorite is We Three Kings, but only because the textured instrumental deprives us of another chance to hear Claire’s take on a classic. Each song, even this one, is a gift that allows some wonderful memories of Christmases past to pop into my head.
Those memories are the greatest gift of all.
Holiday was released on Claire’s own label, Thrill Hill Records. You can find it at the band’s shows or at www.clairelynch.com.