What's this? A Christmas album made with taste, sensitivity and - dare I say it - love? What can Aimee Mann be thinking? Doesn't she realise this is the season of volume dealing and retail healing? Shouldn't this be a greatest hits collection?
The secret to the success of One More Drifter in the Snow lies in Mann's ambition to make an album that captured "the spooky beauty and mystery" of Christmas. Accordingly, she and producer Paul Bryan have gone for a period feel, employing Patrick Warren's battery of vintage keyboards and Duke Levine's sublime jazz guitar tone to evoke a gentler, more respectful mood. Drummer Jay Bellerose even brought along his Thirties-style orchestra kit, and save for the plastic reindeer on the sleeve, every last vestige of irony or cynicism has been scrupulously banished.
Jimmy Webb's "Whatever Happened to Christmas" makes a perfect statement of intent with which to open the album. Its air of ambivalent regret might have been custom-built for Mann's characteristic tone of melancholy hope as she broods, "It's gone and left no traces/Whatever happened to the festive glow?" The lonely-at-Christmas theme extends to "Christmastime", a resigned, slouching blues of antique organ, guitar and banjo, with the singer chiding her own desperation: "Look at your behaviour/Looking for a saviour/Underneath the mistletoe". This sad seasonal underbelly is clearly the aspect that Bryan and Mann recognise as her forte, with their own song "Calling On Mary" pursuing a similar course: "Calling on Mary/Is voluntary/Unless you're alone like me".
What's more surprising is how successfully Mann copes with the cheerier fare, which is where her producer earns his corn with imaginative arrangements that help defray her natural melancholy. Songs such as "Winter Wonderland" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" are draped with soothing blends of vibes, banjo, chimes, Hawaiian guitar and, on the latter, warm keyboard chords that could be chamberlin or synthesizer; while the excessive jollity of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is conveyed via a bizarre, courtly dance of brass and sleighbells.
"Christmas Song" - "Chestnuts" to you - is likewise prevented from curdling by the unusual application of harmonium and feather-light jazz guitar. The only track I'm not sure about is "You're A Mean One, Mr Grinch"; though even here, the pantomime tone is well-judged. Someday, all Christmas albums will be this way.
DOWNLOAD THIS: 'Whatever Happened To Christmas', 'Calling On Mary', 'Christmastime', 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas'Reuse content