Bette’s holiday standards are as cozy as a winter fire
Fads may rule the music world 11 months a year, but once December rolls around, most of us get our jollies from the old familiar standbys.
There’s no sense messing with tradition here a lesson that Bette Midler appears to get on her newest collection of Christmas songs, “Cool Yule.” A warm throwback in the tradition of jazzy holiday tunes from the ’40s and ’50s, this charming compilation keeps the mood light and festive.
About half the cuts are holiday chestnuts “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and “White Christmas.” But the non-traditional ones are really endearing: the cool Steve Allen-penned title track, the Hawaiian standard “Mele Kalikimaka,” first popularized by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, and the Irving Berlin ballad “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.”
Production on “Cool Yule” is tasteful throughout, with lush string arrangements accompanying Midler’s still impressive vocals. Guests include queer crooner Johnny Mathis, who playfully trades lines with Ms. M on a medley of “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow.”
At a skimpy 37 minutes, “Cool Yule” could afford to add a few more tracks. A Christmas-themed update of Midler’s 1990 hit “From a Distance” comes off more as pandering than heartfelt. Small complaints aside, there’s little not to like about Midler’s holiday tinsel.
“Pretty Little Head”
“Pretty Little Head” is the followup that Nellie McKay insisted on.
After her impressive 2004 debut, “Get Away From Me,” the precocious New York pianist had an unwavering vision for her sophomore release. Rather than compromise, she parted company with Sony, her record label.
More than a year after the troubled project’s originally promised release date, McKay released the record on Hungry Mouse, her own imprint. A sprawling and perplexing set of songs, “Pretty Little Head” spotlights an impressive talent who desperately needs an editor.
At 23 tracks, “Pretty Little Head” comes in seven songs longer than Sony was willing to release. Yet it’s tough to figure just why this record couldn’t have been pared down for the better. With only a few exceptions, tracks range from forgettable to indulgent.
In place of the giddy-silly vibe of “Get Away from Me,” “Pretty Little Head” seems so wrapped up in its own so-clever narratives and in-jokes that it forgets it was supposed to entertain.
If you’re willing to put in the time, some songs eventually start to grow on you: like the gay marriage endorsing opener, “Cupcake,” or the same-sex romantic duet “We Had It Right,” featuring K.D. Lang.
Whether the album is worth all the repeat-listening effort is another question entirely.
From their beginnings in 1989, The Women’s Chorus of Dallas has evolved from a small local chorus to a world-class ensemble. A socially active organization committed to its vision of diversity and support of women’s causes, TWCD has been tireless in its work for causes from breast cancer to HIV. While not an explicitly lesbian group, TWCD has nonetheless made outreach to gay and lesbian groups a priority, becoming a member of the GALA association of gay and lesbian choruses from their beginning.
With their 18th anniversary around the corner, TWCD kicks off their 2007 season with a performance of seasonal favorites titled “Holiday Postcards.” In addition to the chorus itself, guests for the festive event include the DISD’s Children’s Honor Choir as well as the Brookhaven College Hand Bell Choir.
Support one of the pillars of Dallas’ arts community while getting yourself into the holiday spirit, and attend.
Carruth Auditorium on the campus of Southern Methodist University, 6101 Bishop Blvd. Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. $25. 214-520-7828.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 15, 2006
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