Need some perfect season-greeting music for Christmas Eve and Day? You can’t go wrong with two excellent new albums by fiercely independent, iconic women artists–Annie Lennox’s A Christmas Cornucopia and Shelby Lynne’s Merry Christmas.
Lennox earned her feminist-for-life stripes with decades worth of powerful, unapologetic songs and singing–and not just with her corny-but-rousing 1985 duet with Aretha Franklin, “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves”:
She’s never been in better voice, touching and wise, on her new CD. Try “See Amid the Winter’s Snow” for a taste (and for a look at how Lennox is more beautiful than ever at 56–her birthday is on Christmas!):
As for Shelby Lynne, her Christmas album is her second release of the year on her brand-new, self-owned label, Everso, following her well-received, stripped-down collection of love-and-drinking-and-everyday-life songs, Tears, Lies & Alibis.
A Christmas album seemed surprising–was the rowdy Lynne [pdf] going soft on us? Hardly. She has always mixed heartbreak with her love of a good party–as well as venturing widely from pure Nashville to country swing to Americana to Dusty Springfield–so I shouldn’t have imagined that she’d be any less adventurous or pendulum-swinging in her spin on Christmas.
She puts a jazz touch to some Christmas standards, a country lilt to others, and on her two originals she veers from party (“Ain’t Nothin’ Like Christmas”) to pathos (“Christmas”). The latter’s the most powerful cut on the album, as Lynne remembers the shadow her troubled father could cast over the year-end celebration, opening with the lyrics, “Christmas makes me sad/ Daddy’s being bad …” By song’s end, she is fairly wailing a self-soothing “Merry Christmas …. to me.”
Here, Lynne sings a gorgeous version of “O Holy Night” in the most unlikely of settings:
The busy Lynne was also part of a “sisters doin’ it for themselves” tour this fall, along with her younger “sissy” Allison Moorer, who put out a terrific album of her own this year, Crows. It was a long-awaited pairing for fans of the Alabama sisters, who have maintained a don’t ask/don’t tell policy about their careers until now.
Their harmonies sound soldered together, honed as kids on car drives with their mom and encouraged by their dad. Listen here to more of their personal tale–which includes the inescapable tragedy of their parents’ murder/suicide–and to several songs. A duet album is promised for next year.
All three of these women artists, Lennox and Lynne and Moorer, belie the sort of homogenized, lobotomized, over-sexualized, cookie-cutter women singers the mainstream music industry often wants to foist on the public. (American Idol, anyone?). Each is a great gift to us, on Christmas or any other day.