Spend a Swinging Christmas with Norah Jones, Tony Bennett,
and Lady Gaga

Christmas music can fall under many categories. There are the pre-rock era, great American songbook recordings and albums of vocal and instrumental Christmas music. Starting in the ’50s, rock and pop music Christmas albums began to emerge. Since the ’70s there have also been wonderful, jazz, roots and acoustic Christmas albums.

Unfortunately, sometime around the ’80s, some very commercial, cringe-worthy music was also released and even topped the charts. When an artist hits the mark and gets it right, they create music that evokes warm memories of the Christmas season when it was released and can be enjoyed every year like the return of an old friend. The 2021 release of I Dream of Christmas released by Blue Note from Norah Jones is such a recording.

Jones mixes old favorites with some wonderful newly written tunes, creating an album of seamless warm feelings that combines jazz and country in a way that only she can muster. Jones puts her own lush jazz take on the Charlie Brown Christmas favorite “Christmas Time Is Here.” “White Christmas” and especially “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” have a distinctive melancholy feel that reflects the second holiday season the world is facing with Covid.

“Blue Christmas” has more of a country feel than the Elvis Presley original and outstrips the often-uninspired covers of this well-worn holiday classic. The most upbeat covers are “Winter Wonderland” and “Run Rudolph Run,” with the latter seeming the least likely to be covered by Jones, but which again she does in a fresh new way.

The originals here are truly inspired. Writing new Christmas songs is challenging, but on such songs as “Christmas Calling,” “Christmas Glow,” “It’s Only Christmas Once A Year,” and “A Holiday with You,” Jones proves she can write holiday songs that don’t fall back on tired cliches. She also wrote “Christmastime” and “You’re Not Alone” with Leon Michaels and they are equally as good. This is one of the best contemporary Christmas albums in years and one that is sure to bring good cheer every Christmas.

The pre-rock singers of jazz and the great American songbook have traditionally been adept at making Christmas music that has a cozy, timeless and cheery quality. Many such albums were released in the 1950s and 1960s. One of the best is Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album, originally released in 1968. The album has just been reissued by Sony Legacy and is a must-have for lovers of classic Christmas albums and superior vinyl reissues from the golden age of analog stereo.

Arguably the greatest American pop singer of all time, according to one Francis Albert Sinatra, Bennett swings through these holiday classics with the able assistance of arranger Robert Farnon. Canadian Farnon mostly recorded in England and four tracks were recorded there and the other six in Bennett’s hometown Manhattan. The album has a classy, elegant feel, never resorts to holiday music cliches or a bombastic sound.

This reissue is beautifully packaged with the original “2-eyes” period Columbia Records label and a sleeve with several paintings of the season by Bennett himself. The covers of “My Favorite Things” and “Winter Wonderland” have been staples of the season since their release. The title cut and “Christmasland” are sophisticated takes on seasonal music that only Bennett can perform so perfectly. This vinyl reissue is easily the best holiday music reissue of the year and a must for any serious collector of Christmas music on vinyl.

Tony Bennett also has a new album out with Lady Gaga, entitled Love For Sale, from Streamline/ Insterscope/ Columbia. It’s a tribute to the music of Cole Porter. Bennett has done projects in the past consisting of an entire album of the music of a great American songbook writer. He’s done albums covering Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern as well as two on Rodgers and Hart.

When Bennet and Lady Gaga did their only other studio album, Cheek to Cheek, in 2014, they opened it with Porter’s “Anything Goes.” That album also had two Irving Berlin songs and one from Jerome Kern. There are six duets here, two lead vocals from Bennett and two from Lady Gaga. As for the musical backing, four are provided by an orchestra and the Tony Bennett Quartet, three by a big band and the Tony Bennett Quartet, and three by the Brian Newman Quintet.

There are Porter favorites here such as “It’s De-Lovely,” “Night and Day,” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “Let’s Do It,” and “Just One of Those Things.” “I Concentrate On You,” known more through several Brazilian music covers was a delicious choice and closing the album with the upbeat and ethereal “Dream Dancing” was a stroke of genius.

The best way to listen to the album is on the 180-gram vinyl release. The warmth and purity of the singing and music really shine through. This is sophisticated popular music at its best and Bennett and Lady Gaga have come up with an understated approach that’s fresh and lively.

Lady Gaga really shines when she is given the opportunity to step away from her pop persona, as she did on the previous Bennett collaboration album and on the soundtrack of the remake of A Star Is Born. Bennett is simply ageless. No other popular music artist has had a career of such longevity and relevance. This is an album that is truly de-lovely.

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