Mindy Smith,
My Holiday
(Vanguard, 2007)

Because I am a unreconstructed old-time folknik, my idea of a satisfyingly soulful holiday album is a collection of ancient carols and pagan ceremonial songs sung by the likes of the Watersons (Waterson:Carthy in their current incarnation) or a bluegrass band reviving seasonal hillbilly standards like Tex Logan's "Christmas Time's A-Comin'" (a rewrite of the traditional "Breaking up Christmas") and "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem." It definitely is not the crap you hear playing on the soundtrack of a chain department store as you're doing your part for the further commercialization of the season.

Mindy Smith's My Holiday is none of the above. Mostly, what it does for me is make me want to hear Smith in her usual gig, as a folk-oriented singer-songwriter who has generated admiring buzz but who, till now, has escaped my listening. This Christmas album is about half standards, the best of them a pure and lovely version of the centuries-old "Away in a Manger" (it doesn't hurt that Alison Krauss is singing harmony on the chorus), though each is done in a spare arrangement with Smith's vocals, shaded delicately in a balance of folk-pop and jazz, that is far removed from the usual kitsch.

The other songs are Smith originals, three of them co-writes, everyone fine of kind, with a warm and intimate sound built around her voice and acoustic guitar as other instruments hover modestly in the background -- well, with two exceptions: "I'll Be Home for Christmas," which actually rocks there toward the end, and "Come Around," a generically produced pop tune and presumably the one sent to radio stations.

If you're looking for a pleasing modern Christmas record, you could very easily do a whole lot worse. Since you won't be listening to this from January through October, though, you might do as I intend to do: seek out Smith's two other Vanguard albums.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Jerome Clark

15 December 2007

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