Tis the season for packed malls, angry shoppers, and Christmas music. It seems anywhere you go from mid-November on, your ears will be bombarded with techno-carols and muzak versions of traditional pieces. It’s enough to make even those most filled with the joy of the season feel overwhelmed - and let’s not even get started on those of us who don’t celebrate Christmas at all. Like me.
Some may think it’s odd to be a non-Christian writing about a Christmas album, but I like Allison Crowe, and Tidings isn’t any old holiday disc. On this release, Allison offers up a mix of traditional hymns as well as a selection of covers all beautifully enveloped in her unique style. There are no hokey gimmicks and no cutesy kids’ songs. Best of all, there is enough of a blend of styles that you won’t find yourself bored at any point or on spiritual music overload.
The album begins with an excellent a capella version of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” which immediately showcases her silky but strong voice. This moves quickly into a version of Joni Mitchell’s “River,” which is a hit just for being included, but Allison approaches the song by accompanying herself on piano and with tons of finesse. This is a simply beautiful track that fits just as easily with a spiritual album as it would a folk record.
Crowe’s other more modern covers include Leonard Cohen’s “Hallellujah,” Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” the Rolling Stones’ “Shine a Light,” and “Let it Be” and “In My Life,” both by the Beatles. The Cohen and McLachlan tunes are starkly stunning pieces that blend perfectly with the theme of Tidings. The Beatles songs fit as well, but it’s important to note that Crowe really makes these her own, whereas so many musicians come off like karaoke singers when attempting to tackle anything from the Fab Five catalog.
Allison’s approach for the other hymns is one of sheer simplicity. She is complemented on three tracks by David Baird (bass) and Kevin Clevette (drums), but everything else is just her and a piano with a little bit of tambourine. You will find the more familiar such as “Silent Night” and “The First Noel” side by side with the unusual “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “What Child is This?” All are presented with such poise and exquisiteness that you can’t help but feel inspired.
While Tidings is definitely a Christmas album, there is clearly quite a bit for most people to enjoy here. This would make a perfect backdrop to any holiday party or even just for a quiet winter night in front of a roaring fire. If you celebrate Christmas, this is one release that should be in your stereo for many Decembers to come.
- Jennifer Patton, 11/29/2004
Review published by Delusions of Adequacy