First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2007, Volume 14, #11
Written by John Metzger
Mon November 26, 2007, 06:45 AM CST
Itís easy to make a disposable Christmas album filled with familiar holiday fare, one that will be played a few times and then forgotten, long before the carcasses of decaying trees are hauled to the curb and buried beneath a mountain of snow. Itís far more challenging, however, to create an outing that not only survives the season, but also returns year after year, slowly assimilating itself so deep into popular culture that it eventually becomes a certifiable classic. Without question, it takes as much luck as it does talent to forge new traditions, and every time a routine is turned into a custom, the process becomes a little bit more difficult to repeat. Consequently, many artists donít even bother trying. Instead, they simply view Yuletide efforts as cash cows, and they subsequently get in and out of the recording studio as rapidly as possible, making adequate if immediately forgettable endeavors. Mindy Smithís My Holiday is, therefore, the exception to the rule. It is the rare kind of seasonal collection that is so expertly crafted that it actually achieves a high level of durability, and it very well could prove to be the turning point that gives Smith an opportunity to reach the sizeable audience that previously had eluded her.
Split nearly down the middle between original fare and cover songs, My Holiday works on multiple levels in terms of both its musical and lyrical themes. With the exception of a pair of tracks that are tucked toward the end of the set ó the updated, alt-rock-oriented rendition of Iíll Be Home for Christmas and the edgy, Bangles-inspired, Byrds-ian flavors of Come Around ó the bulk of My Holiday parlays its blend of jazz, country, bluegrass, and pop into an unassuming but, nonetheless, potent suite of material that is pretty, light, quiet, and graceful. It is the perfect companion for a night spent decorating the tree or basking in the warm glow of the fireplace. Although Smithís interpretation of The Christmas Song ó the endeavorís weakest link ó wonít replace Nat King Coleís seminal version of the tune, it does the trick. At the same time, the gentle, country-tinged bounce of I Know the Reason ó which not only features Thad Cockrell but also feels as if it is a lost track from Ryan Adams or Josh Rouse ó has the words "hit single" written all over it. My Holidayís true delights, however, come when it is studied more closely.
Smithís vocals, in particular, are better than ever. They simultaneously are seductive and sweet, and a large part of what is so alluring about them is how magnificently Smith leaves enough room in her singing style for some of the material to span a complexly broad range of emotions. There are moments when it would be just as accurate to interpret My Holidayís songs as melancholy and reflective as it would be to call them contented and happy. This ambiguity hits hardest on tracks such as What Are You Doing New Yearís Eve and Silver Bells, where the listenerís frame of mind plays a role in establishing the mood. Nevertheless, even when Smith plays it straight, she strikes an elegant pose that works beautifully. On Away in the Manger, for example, she and Alison Krauss bend their voices around the familiar melody, and their harmonies sparkle and shine with a gospel-bred resplendence that is positively stunning.
Simply put, My Holiday is far more than a loosely knit collection of songs, and the more it is played, the more it also begins to sound like something other than just a Christmas album. Smith clearly approached the endeavor in much the same way as she tackled her two previous efforts One Moment More and, to a greater extent, Long Island Shores. As a result, My Holiday continues to build upon everything that she has learned about her strengths and her weaknesses. There are connections that bind each track to the next, which gives the outing a deliberative ebb and flow. My Holiday is as spiritual as it is secular; it is as much about falling in love as it is about the Christmas season. For an outing that initially appears as if it might simply be a placeholder in her canon, My Holiday proves itself to be surprisingly moving, and it unquestionably is Smithís grandest statement yet.
Of Further Interest...
My Holiday is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box