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Monday, December 05, 2005

War of the Dian[e/a]s
(click here for introduction, and here for a word on copyright)

The best Christmas album of last year--hell, of the last several years--is Dianne Reeves' "Christmas Time Is Here" on the Blue Note label. Dianne Reeves is a jazz vocalist of staggering talent, the winner of three straight Grammy awards leading into this album, and she really makes the music shine. Her voice is glorious, her technique impeccable, her style playful and powerful.

You should go buy it right this very instant. Don't worry, the blog will be here when you get back. In fact, don't wait for Amazon. Go buy it at a regular store.

What?

Couldn't find it anywhere?

The clerks kept directing you to that display of 800 copies of Diana Krall's new Christmas album?

That's what has me so pissed off.

Diana Krall is a well-regarded jazz vocalist in her own right, winner of two Grammys and a few Junos (from her native Canada), and she has a new Christmas album out. You already know this. It's getting the hard sell in all the record stores. It's the one with the leggy blonde chick on the cover lounging seductively on a chaise, and the leggy blonde chick on the back in a hotel hallway, either on her way to a holiday quickie or from one. (As if a picture were a good reason to buy a sound recording.) She's that type perfectly described by Woody Allen in his short story "The Whore of Mensa" -- the kind of slutty that is perfectly attuned to the NPR set. Because of all this highbrow softcore, you can buy the album by the boxful at Best Buy. It's being sold with a hundred times the advertising and sales "presence" that Dianne Reeves' album was. I recommend it for all my readers who need ballast, or something to prop up a table leg.

Because that's the only real use for that piece of Christmas crap. It's the perfect album for low expectations--slickly produced, inoffensive, and well-known. It lays you down and gently massages you with warm cheese. It's unlikely to draw comment at Christmas parties. It's a Thomas Kincaid painting: pretty but unprovocative, skilled but uninspired, filled with sentiment calculated to satisfy her wide and well-heeled fan base.

But let me be clear: Diana Krall hates the baby Jesus. In the words of Bill Hicks, she is a demon let loose on the earth to lower the standards.

Dianne Reeves loves the baby Jesus. She makes good art for Him. She recorded a Christmas album that is actually moving, if you can believe it.

There's a significant argument to be made for never buying any Christmas music, especially not Christmas music that aims to be tender and gentle and moving. (See my former post about how much of that music sucks so hard.) But if you don't have an absolute rule against it, do yourself a favor and buy the album -- off Amazon, if you must. And you must, if you wish to avoid that leggy harpie.

Christmas is a time of sentiment, a time when people lower their guard, and for that reason some people lower their standards. I hold exactly the opposite view. Mediocre music hurts more at Christmastime, precisely because I have lowered my guard but not my standards. Maybe someday I'll learn better, but I hope not.

 5:29 PM

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