A Tracey Thorn Christmas album seems strange until you listen to it. Tinsel and Lights isn’t a normal tribute to tradition or a tongue-in-cheek spoof.
Through an eclectic selection of covers and a pair of original tunes, Tinsel and Lights paints Christmas as a myth of a time when people dream of catching a break and making changes.
“You loved it as a kid and now you need it more than you ever did,” Thorn sings on the her own “Joy.” “It’s because of the dark we see the beauty in the spark. That’s why, that’s why the carols make you cry.”
“Joy” stands out as a brilliant thesis statement and introduction to the rest of Tinsel and Lights. The covers range from Dolly Parton (“Hard Candy Christmas”) to Stephin Merritt (“Like a Snowman”) and Thorn sings them all without a touch of irony. Her deep, pure vocals, along with spare arrangements, add weight to each selection.
Her take on Randy Newman’s “Snow” is chilly and gorgeous. The uplifting horn lines on Joni Mitchell’s “River” are a perfect compliment to Thorn’s performance. She picks up the tempo on The White Stripes “In The Cold, Cold Night” turning it into a feverish shuffle and does the song more justice than Meg White ever could on vocals.
Low’s “Taking Down the Tree” is a perfect match thematically for Tinsel and Lights, but it’s one of the few times Thorn’s interpretation hurts the song. This version is too busy with the additions of drums and synth.
Of course, a Christmas album isn’t complete without at least one standard. Thorn’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is beautifully done and worthy of inclusion in anybody’s Christmas playlist alongside all the classics.
Thorn’s serious approach to a Christmas album makes Tinsel and Lights a modern and moving addition to the holiday canon.
Tinsel and Lights is available now on Merge Records.