The ‘holiday album’ is a genre unto itself in the pop world, but rock, from Elvis’ 1957 Christmas Album to modern compilations like Punk Rock Christmas, has never been far behind. When classics like “White Christmas” have been cut by Stiff Little Fingers, Zakk Wylde and The Flaming Lips, its safe to say that we’ve got a vibrant (sub)genre on our hands.
And why not? Who doesn’t love listening to Christmas music in December? (Anyone who has ever been in a mall, I suppose, but that’s neither here nor there right now). Given our love of holiday music and frosty weather, it makes sense that we’d want to hear both the pantheon of tunes sung by our favorite artists, and, every now and again, a new song thrown in the mix. And Wintersong delivers all of the above: holiday classics, a new McLachlan song, her evocative voice and, with longtime collaborator/partner Pierre Marchand, creative but gentle arrangements and song-serving production. With her delicate voice and penchant for casting contemplative moods, a holiday genre album by Sarah McLachlan is a welcomed effort.
When assembling my own winter holiday playlists, the challenge is always to include a solid helping of Christmas songs, served with sides that aren’t explicitly about winter holidays, but that still maintain the winter mood. Three songs that perennially make my list are Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For a Winter’s Night”, Joni Mitchell’s “River”, and McLachlan’s “Full of Grace”. Ironically, covers of the former two songs are included on Wintersong, but the latter is not. Nevertheless, it is precisely this balance of explicit holiday and Christmas songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Silent Night” with tangentially relevant songs like the aforementioned that make Wintersong such a pleasure. The title track, a new McLaughlin pen, is a beautiful piano effort that blends the two camps, singing of a lover who has gone for good — but still wishing him (or her) a Merry Christmas.
Opening the album with a cover of Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is, like McLachlan’s voice, a deceptively simple plea. With the logo-logical appeals raging between the now Democrat-controlled Congress and the Republican Administration over the Iraq quagmire and the seemingly damned if you do, damned if you don’t pullout situation, one cannot help but be moved by the pathological appeal of McLachlan’s angelic voice, backed by the Music Outreach Children’s Choir, urging “war is over/ if you want it/ war is over/ now.”