Album: Tracey Thorn, Tinsel and Lights (Strange Feeling)


Rather than do the easy thing and lend her famously languid tones to a set of Christmas standards, former Everything But the Girl singer Thorn has come up with a selection of 10 cover versions (and two self-penned originals), many only tangentially Christmassy, from tasteful, cheese-free sources.

These include indie names such as Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, Sufjan Stevens, Jack White, Low, and her contemporary Green Gartside from Scritti Politti (who duets beautifully on "Taking Down the Tree"), as well as more classic songwriters such as Dolly Parton, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman and the prolific Canadian Ron Sexsmith. Indeed, the only old-fashioned (roast) chestnut is "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".

The midwinter they depict is often bleak indeed, with mention of nosebleeds and cancer diagnoses, but if there's a unifying thread, aside from the obvious seasonal theme, it's the attempt to find cautious cause for optimism in the darkest night.

And therefore, in its own downbeat, understated way, Tinsel and Lights does more for festive good cheer than any number of more traditional Christmas albums that go straight for the razzle-dazzle.