CAROLYN LEE JONES
CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE
CD and digital album
Sounding confidently unruffled and grounded, singer Carolyn Lee Jones has an approach to her Christmas songs that settles into a middle ground between the extremes of overly sentimental and offhandedly cool. Her vocals are unforced and unpretentious as she breezes through melodies in a straightforward way while the musicians cook up more complex jazzy touches and tangents underneath her vocal lines and in the breaks. Emotions seem to be kept in check as there’s nary an opportunity taken to pause or linger over an image as things keep moving along evenly, like a smooth winter sleigh ride.
The title song of Christmas Time Is Here (the performer’s fifth solo collection) does allow for a less busy accompaniment and gentler pace for an effective and affectionate take on the understated melody we know from the animated “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” “Red Christmas,” about being in the red from overspending on holiday stuff, is a bit of humor written by Jeanie Perkins (a Texas-based music person, like Ms. Jones). “White Christmas” and another Irving Berlin number that’s Christmas-adjacent for its inclusion in the movie White Christmas, “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep),” both shrug off their potential for pensiveness and yearning, feeling kind of casual.
A highlight, Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” finds Carolyn Lee Jones digging deepest into jazz singer mode. But wait a minute—that isn’t a holiday song! I suppose its lyric’s mention of winter is the reason for inclusion. (A different version was released as a single in the past.) Also among the 12 selections are “Jingles, the Christmas Cat,” a cute item recorded by the late Freddy Cole and the classic indelibly performed by his brother, Nat King Cole: “The Christmas Song,” aka “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” Carolyn Lee Jones and the very able musicians, with arrangements by either David Pierce of keyboardist Brad WIlliams, make for good company, not fluffy or stuffy, with jazzy underpinnings.