The Good: Good vocals, Musically mellow and good, Original songs are decent
The Bad: SHORT!
The Basics: Despite being dreadfully short, there is just enough to One More Drifter In The Snow to recommend it to Aimee Mann and Christmas fans!
For those who do not follow my many music reviews, one of my serious peeves is Christmas albums. I tend to find them to be a waste of time and money as they have a limited window where most people will actually listen to them and even great artists tend to do remarkably little with Christmas albums that have not been done before innumerable times. Yes, I tend to take the grinchy position that Christmas albums are largely a cashgrab by performers and artists who usually have too much integrity for such things. I mention this at the outset of my review of One More Drifter In The Snow because this is actually one of the few Christmas or holiday themed albums I enjoyed enough to recommend. That said, in the pantheon of all music it is still not a great album and it has several flaws I loathe.
On One More Drifter In The Snow, Aimee Mann presents traditional and popular Christmas songs alongside two new tracks, one of which was written by her. The album is alternately fun - "You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch" - and somber ("I'll Be Home For Christmas") and above all the album is short. Like most Christmas albums, Aimee Mann's holiday endeavor loses serious points by simple virtue that she makes none of the songs her own (except the two which she is the creator and first performer of). Once you've heard one soprano with a guitar or piano sing "The Christmas Song" or "White Christmas," truly you've pretty much heard them all.
With only ten songs occupying exactly thirty-three minutes, One More Drifter In The Snow is mostly a Christmas cover album. Mann co-wrote "Calling On Mary" and her husband, Michael Penn wrote "Christmastime." The other songs are covers like "Winter Wonderland" or the traditional "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." The album is largely presented with a nonsecular (Christian) bent, though they are presented with a mellow light rock sound as opposed to a choir sound. Aimee Mann provides all of the lead vocals, though in "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch," she is accompanied for the storytelling portion by Grant Lee Phillips. Aimee Mann did not produce the album, though she does play acoustic guitar on it while singing.
Instrumentally, One More Drifter In The Snow is very much a piano and acoustic guitar album with minimal percussion accenting the melodies. The songs are generally recognizable renditions of popular and traditional favorites. Mann keeps the instrumental accompaniment in its place, accenting the vocals and she does nothing audacious with the songs. In other words, these are Christmas songs that sound like one might remember them from other light rock artists. She is not trying to reinvent the wheel or make any of the songs distinctly her own. On "Christmastime," the organ and guitar are mellow pop and on "Calling On Mary," the instrumental accompaniment is so muted that it is almost forgettable.
Vocally, Aimee Mann proves her worth yet again as an incredible soprano who clearly can sing. She makes every line she sings clear and clean and her notes are beautiful and articulate, exactly what one might expect from a soprano who is releasing a Christmas album. Aimee Mann delivers vocally with her trademark intensity and the album is easy to listen to, even if it does have a more somber sound than many other artist's albums.
As for the writing, Mann's unique song is very much a new Christmas song, not a generic holiday song. She creates an appropriately singsong rhyme scheme which is easily memorable when she sings "I searched the skyline for a star / Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas / And baby I wondered where you are / Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas / 'Cause comfort's not possible when / You look past the joy to the end / Calling on Mary is voluntary / Unless you're alone like me / If there's a star above, then it can look like love / When they light up the Christmas tree" ("Calling On Mary"). The song continues Mann's recurring theme of loneliness and alienation and she does it quite well. However, like most Christmas songs, she ends with a sense of hope and that makes it more than just a Christmastime suicide anthem.
Ultimately, there is enough on One More Drifter In The Snow for holiday enthusiasts to hear that does not seem instantly familiar to them, which is pretty much what I look for in Christmas albums these days. Mann does not showboat, she just presents and the songs work because of that. Anyone looking for a truly different, mellow pop Christmas album will find it in One More Drifter In The Snow.
The best track is "Christmastime," the low point is "Whatever Happened To Christmas," which opens the album in a mediocre fashion.
For other works by ‘Til Tuesday and/or Aimee Mann, please check out my reviews of:
Voices Carry - 'Til Tuesday
Welcome Home - 'Til Tuesday
Coming Up Close: A Retrospective - 'Til Tuesday
I'm With Stupid
Lost In Space
For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.