- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sarah McLachlan



Fans of Canadian siren Sarah McLachlan may be slightly disappointed she chose not to break her three-year studio silence with a record of all-new material. Instead, her latest, “Wintersong,” is a collection of holiday music — i.e., a Christmas album.

The genre may at first seem like a peculiar choice for a few reasons, among them that the mildly religious and majorly seasonal material could be a turnoff for some longtime supporters, that even the purchased copies will sit on the shelf 10 months of the year and that an album made up mainly of covers doesn’t give the artist a lot of room for creative maneuvering.

None of that has dissuaded stars from every era and genre from capitalizing on holiday cheer.

If anyone should be making a holiday album, it’s Miss McLachlan; she’s smooth and spiritual, even sultry where appropriate. On “Wintersong,” her ethereal pipes glide through both traditional and contemporary melodies like ice skaters on a frozen pond.

The disc offers classics (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”); more contemporary tunes such as Joni Mitchell’s “River”; and one all-new title track Miss McLachlan wrote, “Wintersong.”

Though she uses new arrangements, some of the older, more radio- and mall-friendly tunes make the singer sound slightly generic. It’s fun to hear her experiment a bit by stepping outside of the gift-wrapped box, but she’s much better in the album’s folksier ditties and select ballads.

Among the highlights is Miss McLachlan’s rendition of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter’s Night,” one of several tributes to fellow Canadian musicians. Its plodding rhythm, country-tinged guitars and echoing lyrics mesh well with the songstress’ style, as does Diana Krall’s piano work on “Christmas Time Is Here,” the melody introduced in 1965 by Charlie Brown and his pathetic little Christmas tree.

“Silent Night” also leaves the artist’s star shining. While preserving the integrity of the original song, Miss McLachlan carves out a space for herself by adding strings of high notes that re-create the signature goose-bump-inducing sound heard on songs such as “Fear” and “Angel.”

“Wintersong” is the album’s main under-the-tree treat, a haunting ballad built around a George Winstonesque piano with sweet lyrics about finding warmth amid winter memories of a lost loved one: “This is how I see you/In the snow on Christmas morning/Love and happiness surround you/As you throw your arms up to the sky/I keep this moment by and by.”

This won’t be Miss McLachlan’s best selling album, and as a multiplatinum artist, perhaps that’s not what she’s seeking. What she has created is a nice seasonal soundtrack that hides bright treasures among standard holiday fare.

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