For this disc, Irene Nachreiner put bossa nova, salsa, and perhaps a stray touch of mambo here and there into some of the season's traditionals but also looked long and hard to locate a number of obscure European Christmas songs, then brought in a backing band that knew how to polish up a World music patina. Patapan/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is delivered in an uptempo south of the border environment that calls to mind old Sergio Mendes mixed with some of the vocal combos of the same era (Singers Unlimited, etc.), and, if you want to discover where Cat Stevens got the musical base for Morning has Broken, it's displayed quite explicitly here in Sweet Baby Jesus.
Nachreiner possesses a mid-range voice perfect for lullabies, gentle and soothing, and many of these cuts are indeed nocturnes despite the jazzy tempos. She also reflects a bit of Barbara Streisand (when, that is, Babs isn't in her over-the-top mode) in a slightly nasal tone that lends an earthier shade to the madonna and child ambiance. Rocking is a bit of a surprise, ushering an essence of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and It's A Beautiful Day into an almost klezmerish beat.
The only occasional problem I have with A Hot and Spicy Christmas is in the engineering (and, once or twice, the balance of the mix), which sometimes cuts out too much atmosphere, giving the impression of an otherwise empty studio rather than the lush and ages-enshrined feeling the whole disc deserves. Silent Night shows the contrast well as against some of the rest of the menu. A very pleasant plainsong number with angelic backing vocals (Nachreiner tracking herself) and synth, it lures the ear into that familiar haze of memory which provides familiar resonances to settle into, something demanded of seasonal fare, even when it's latinized. Likewise, Cantique de Noel sparks nostalgia, especially with a ranchero flavor that spreads the parameters nicely.
On the other hand, that same sonic lack can even be beneficial, as in Il est ne le Divin Enfant, sung in the original French, where the slight austerity amid decorous instrumentation provokes thoughts of cloisters brightened by holiday celebrants. Either way, there's plenty to hearten the holiday air here, so when you tire of too much of the Sinatra or, God help us, John Tesh Xmas affairs, you know where to go for relief.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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