The Phantom Tollbooth

Holiday Songs and Lullabies
Artist: Shawn Colvin
Label: Columbia
Time:  36:35 minutes / 14 tracks

Shawn Colvin did a fabulous version of "Have Yourself a  Merry Little Christmas" on the 1990 Columbia compilation Acoustic Christmas.  Backed by piano, upright bass, and drums, she double-timed the song from the schmaltzy Hallmark greeting card it usually is into a jazzy lounge tune, long before lounge was hip. Her vocal twists and turns in the last "Hang a shining star above the highest bow" are worth the price of  admission alone (but the disc also includes fine carols by the likes of T-Bone Burnett, Rosanne Cash, and
The Hooters.)

Sadly, that wonderful track isn't on her new collection,  Holiday Songs and Lullabies, probably because it is so upbeat it would stick out like a red-nosed reindeer within this quiet little record.

At first, interspersing carols with lullabies seems as odd as Colvin's recording these tunes in a sweltering Austin studio while awaiting the birth of her first child. A coldly calculated marketing move perhaps?  Then "Silent Night" flows by and you're reminded that some of our best-loved Christmas carols are really lullabies.  "Sleep in Heavenly Peace,"

The title is at first misleading--one expects chestnuts roasting on open fires and "Auld Lang Syne"--yet all save one of the "holiday" songs here deal with the birth of the Christ.

The disc is about equally split between carols and lullabies, though "Silent Night," "Rocking," and "The Christ Child's Lullaby" land in both camps. Most of the remaining lullabies are simply Colvin's vocal with piano, a string quartet, and a guitar or oboe. Most of the Christmas tunes add a muted horn section, shimmering guitar work, bass, organ, and brushed drums into the mix.  As usual, Colvin's wonderful voice shines throughout.

Her selection of Christmas tunes includes a couple of infrequently covered ones:  "Love Came Down at Christmas" and "Little Road to Bethlehem," the latter loping along at mid-tempo.  The pace of the disc doesn't go beyond that.  (We're putting babies to sleep, y'know?)

The Maurice Sendak artwork is nifty, too. The idea for the album came from Colvin and pianist/producer Doug Petty discovering a common love of Sendak's 1965 children's book, _Lullabies & Night Songs_. (And while I'm recommending other records anyway, Carole King's _Really Rosie_ album from the mid-70s is well worth searching out for some fine songs based on Sendak's great children's books.)

This would make a great disc to throw on at a quiet holiday gathering, but you'd probably want to program out the lullabies (unless it's time to wrap up the shindig and you want to try something a bit more subtle before yawning and donning your pajamas.)  This leaves
you with about 21 minutes of music, which may not be worth the time it takes to program the player.

If you're a Colvin fan, you'll want Acoustic Christmas before picking this one up.  If you have small children, however, this combo platter will make for some excellent holiday "rocking" for you and your babies.

Dave Draeger (11/09/98)