October 14, 2021 Norah Jones – I Dream of Christmas (Album Review)
If you’re doubtful that you can channel your inner Buddy the Elf before Halloween, you are not alone. But if anyone can do it, the inimitable Norah Jones is a sure bet—because what is there that Miss Jones cannot do? So bring on the hot cocoa and get ready to jingle your bells, because her first-ever holiday album, I Dream of Christmas, arrives on Friday, October 15, 2021 thanks to Blue Note Records.
A prolific songbird, Jones delivered her very first-ever live album, Till We Meet Again, back in April. So what is a 9-time Grammy Award winner to do with so much downtime? If you’re a singer, songwriter, and pianist whose voice has melted the hearts of millions across the globe for nearly 20 years now, spreading some holiday cheer during an especially complicated time is part and (gift-wrapped) parcel of promoting joy and togetherness.
I Dream of Christmas, therefore, is many things, but it is not an ostentatious display of neon reverie. While other artists seem to believe that the higher the pile of tinsel, the closer they get to the Man With the Bag, Jones approaches her material, as always, with a reassuring warmth that is conveyed through respectful simplicity. Her voice might deliver the words and the festive sentiments, but Jones is not here to be the disco ball at your New Year’s Eve soiree.
This is made clear in her selection of holiday favorites, which is devoid of lords a-leapin’, “Jingle Bells,” and everyone’s favorite talking snowman, also opting to sidestep the likes of Dan Fogelberg’s melodramatic “Same Old Auld Lang Syne,” heinous tearjerker “The Christmas Shoes,” and the overplayed Mariah Carey mega-hit, “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Instead, Jones selects songs that feel tailor-made for her minimalistic approach and velvety vocals: “Blue Christmas” and “Christmas Time Is Here” being prime examples.
Produced by Leon Michels (Lee Fields, Chicano Batman), the 13-song I Dream of Christmas features a stellar group of musicians that includes Brian Blade on drums, Tony Scherr and Nick Movshon on bass, Russ Pahl on pedal steel guitar, Marika Hughes on cello, Dave Guy on trumpet, Raymond Mason on trombone, as well as Michels on saxophone, flute, percussion, and more.
With her talented cohorts at her side, Jones sets the tone by choosing to open with one of her original pieces, “Christmas Calling (Jolly Jones).” An appropriately bubbly smile, the upbeat track is anchored by a gentle beat that accompanies Jones’ vocal and piano magic. A sweet little number that will make listeners yearn for the warmth of a fireplace and the loving spirit that permeates December, it happily invites listeners into the originals that follow.
This includes the shimmy of “Christmas Glow” and the sugar cookie ‘carpe diem’ of “It’s Only Christmas Once A Year,” as well as “A Holiday With You,” a goblet of eggnog shared between a romantic duo. Meanwhile, several of the originals set themselves apart with an understated Gospel influence, such as “Christmastime,” which delivers an ivory waterfall to the ears as it urges listeners toward understanding and kindness—all year round. “You’re Not Alone” takes this eclecticism a step further, melding Gospel and Country influences to create a spiritual moment.
Of course, each of the originals is complemented beautifully by Jones’ selection of classics. A woman who can seemingly do it all, she brings the feel of Christmas on Bourbon Street to the Alvin & the Chipmunks’ classic “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” then delivers a divine performance of Irving Berlin’s beloved “White Christmas.” It’s a testament to her talents that the velvety smooth “Blue Christmas” feels as though it was written for her voice, just as the languid beauty of “Winter Wonderland” takes on a whole new feel in her capable hands.
In fact, Jones is cautious when leaving her mark on each of the holiday favorites that she covers, gently jazzing them up yet maintaining the integrity of the originals. For example, what sounds like a cajon provides the surprising backbone for an invigorating take on “Run Rudolph Run,” and “Christmas Time Is Here” twinkles like the luster of “the moon on the crest of the new fallen snow.” In this, there is a sense of childhood joy for the holidays that is communicated as the wish for “such spirit through the year” feels especially sincere on Jones’ lips.
Appropriately, she closes out the album with “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?,” complete with hopes for a satisfying 2022. Which is really the heart of I Dream of Christmas: using the magic of the holiday spirit and its love and understanding as a balm against the struggles of the past few years and an inspiration to carry that joy and togetherness into next year. It is a lofty dream relayed through the universal language: music.
There’s a sultry sway to Jones’ entrancing vocal performance that brings intimacy to each of her songs, relaying her passion for the holiday spirit. But much like Goo Goo Dolls’ It’s Christmas All Over from last year, I Dream of Christmas is an adult holiday record meant to serve as a tasteful yet festive accompaniment to your celebrations. It never begs for the spotlight or devolves into melodrama, instead gifting its listeners a familiar sense of warmth that feels akin to the embrace of a loved one. For this, Cryptic Rock gives I Dream of Christmas 5 of 5 stars.