Well, last year, Christine Lavin issued the 2013 best Xmas anthology (here), and David Ian has released a couple of extremely cool holiday discs over a 3-year period (here and here), and that Skaggs Family CD/DVD Vol. 2 twofer was awfully damn good (here), so I'm always anxious to hear who the next artist or populist capellmeister might be and what they'll be gifting us with. I think, even though it's only September, I may have already found this year's stunner. It's none other than this one, That's What I Love about Christmas, a compendium of originals (except for one track) written by Rick Lang, from whom we've previously heard in the very delectable 2011 Look to the Light (here).
The unique slant to this disc is that Lang doesn't play or sing a note on it but instead composes, scribes the poetry, and mouthwateringly arranges everything…and, man, can he ever also assemble a top-flight array of musicians to put the frosting on a very generous seasonal rum cake. Lang is a Christian but, I have to strongly suspect, very Humanistically so (after all, what was Jesus if not a consummate Humanist, hm?), and his sonic modalities not only variously swing, groove, mellow down, float to the heavens, and invoke pensivity but the accompanying lyrics are wisely set, embracing just about every aspect of an adult/family Christmas holiday, as much for atheist ex-Catholics like me as for the more thoughtful followers of Christ of every stripe…except, probably, fundamentalists (and I can just hear Monsignor Redahan's head exploding back at St. Joe's as he frantically searches for Jesuit materials in this CD).
Stephen Mougin possesses a very gratifying dose of Tennessee Ernie Ford in his voice, plays guitar too. Wife (?) Jana Mougin covers two gorgeous cuts, kind of a female Gordon Lightfoot, while Annie Selleck bounces between Dan Hicks-ish esprit and mellifuous reminiscence. Aaron Till sings on only one track, but his tone is very similar to Mougin's, and the two would've dueted extremely well together. On the other hand, having just him on Old Man Winter is perfect, a bit of Ford also present along with a melancholy Roger Miller. The Winter vibe is everywhere present on That's What, even in the swing cuts, stuck neatly into the holiday's observance, but nothing is forced or heavy-handed, no proselytization, just a ten-spot of extremely satisfying songs for the seasontide.
Rick Lang is a VERY talented gent, but Mougin's no slouch either. Not only did he write the title cut but also produced and engineered the entire shebang, and it's as pristine as newly fallen snow, light, easy on the ear, sparkling, wistful and bracing simultaneously. The instrumental Snowfall ironically underscores everything, a cut worthy of a Windham Hill record. I'll be very much surprised if any of the later discs I'll be getting as December edges will be able to top this. But, hey, it's only September as I pen this critique, so who knows? If anything possibly could one-up That's What I Love About Christmas…well, man o man o man, have I ever got a great end of 2014 in store for me!
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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