- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Looking for a little yuletide cheer? No, not spiked eggnog. And not the stuff oozing from every mall in town. Treat yourself — and your family — to one of the several holiday concerts going on this week.

The gifted singer Suzy Bogguss spikes Christmas with a little swing at the Birchmere on Saturday, inspired by her holiday CD “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Miss Bogguss is best-known for her country music hits in the ‘80s and ‘90s, such as “Drive South” and “All My Lovin’ ” (with Chet Atkins). Yet her CD “Swing,” which came out earlier this year, arced through big-band standards with more jive than twang.

Fans who have followed Miss Bogguss through her nearly 20-year-long career probably weren’t too surprised by the change in tone.

“Maybe it seemed like a drastic change to some because I did the whole thing like that instead of being as eclectic as I usually am on my records,” she explains. “This time I just felt really secure this was the record I wanted to make. I’ve been comparing it to Willie Nelson’s ‘Stardust’ — just doing something a little different. It wasn’t like Willie Nelson wasn’t Willie Nelson anymore.”

A softer swing runs through “…Merry Little Christmas,” which Miss Bogguss recorded three years ago and, until last month, had only made available through her Web site. Timing caused most of the delay — the project was finished too late for a holiday release and the next year was consumed with finding a new record label and putting together “Swing.” Now, happy with her new label, Compadre Records, and a summer full of touring for “Swing” behind her, Miss Bogguss says she was ready to release the Christmas CD.

“We’re just doing a few concert dates. It’s been a busy year putting out two albums, but I thought we had to do this,” she says.

She promises that the Birchmere show will have the same “warm and fuzzy” feeling that she and her band tried to infuse into their Christmas-in-July recording sessions.

“It’s the old kinda combo feel — upright bass, real piano, very acoustic. There’s not a whole lot of production, we’re just keeping it real simple,” she says.

With a clear, nearly flawless soprano like hers, she can afford to do away with the pyrotechnics. Miss Bogguss’ singing is as sweet and rich as a platter of Christmas cookies. Her song selections are purposefully traditional and irresistible for even the humbuggiest of Scrooges.

Miss Bogguss grew up in what she describes as a “very Cleaver family — there were four kids, two boys, two girls — Scotty, Terry, Suzy and Sally” in Aledo, Ill., and she wanted to recapture the honesty and simplicity of her childhood Christmases. Her rendition of “Oh, Holy Night,” she says, is not that different from the version she did in sixth grade accompanied by just her guitar. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” comes complete with the funny lyrics that made Suzy giggle as a Girl Scout.

“I wanted this record to be something to put in the collection: a bulk of standards that you could pull out and know it was going to make you feel Christmasy,” she says.

The “Swinging Little Christmas” set at the Birchmere will include a few selections from “Swing,” some original holiday tunes and a heaping helping of familiar songs from the CD that inspired it.

“A lot of it is the tradition,” she says about the spirit with which she chose the songs and created the show. “You uncover those feelings this time of year and you know what it is that makes you feel that way, the warm memories — even if it’s just the feeling you get from remembering movies that you watched about Christmas. That’s the vibe I wanted.”

• • •

For a more traditional touch, take in The Joy of Christmas, raising the rafters all weekend at the Washington National Cathedral. The Washington Symphonic Brass band, the Heritage Signature Chorale, carillonneur Edward Nassorm and organist Eric Plutz are part of a holiday program sponsored by the Cathedral Choral Society that will also include an Advent wreath procession and the premiere of a new carol by John Rutter. The Saturday and Sunday shows begin at 4 p.m.; both include a special free pre-concert discussion of the history of the program and its music, at 2:30 p.m. There will also be an evening concert Monday at 7:30 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit www.cathedral choralsociety.org or call 202/537-5527.

And on Sunday, put a little Latin heat in your holiday with Navidad! A Christmas Tale. This annual family Christmas concert is presented by Coral Cantigas, a District-based chorus that specializes in the performance of music from Latin America, Spain, and the Caribbean. This year’s event will tell the traditional Christmas story with Spanish and Portuguese accents. The Children’s Chorus of Silver Spring will perform and there will also be a singalong, so bring your maracas. “Navidad!” takes place Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda. For tickets or more information, go to www.cantigas.org or call 301/424-8296.


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