december 2009

Kathy Mattea
Released: 2003

Anyone who's been listening to Kathy Mattea's recent albums knows to expect the unexpected, and that's what she delivers on this, her second Christmas album (the first was 1993's Grammy-winning Good News). This time around she takes some old favorites and gives them a new twist, brings da funk a couple of times, and spices the seasonal mix with some new songs by contemporary writers such as Marc Cohn and the team of Melissa Manchester-Beth Nielsen Chapman. The opening "Christmas Collage" is a powerful moment melding five traditional carols, including a polyphonic rendering of "O Come All Ye Faithful," into a heady mix of Christmas sentiments centered on the birth of Christ's impact on the world. Some of the bits are sung a cappella or with minimal accompaniment, others with more ornate arrangements; at other times all the songs are in play, singing voices swirling around each other until they merge into a triumphant chorus of "What Child Is This?" Cohn's "Baby King" is a funky gospel call-and-response number anticipating the new world the Christ child will shape. "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" is a showcase for Mattea's magnificent, expressive voice, accompanied only by a lightly strummed acoustic guitar in a delicate arrangement that underscores the lyrics' reverence for the Holy Birth. In a startling transformation of a Yuletide favorite, "O Come All Ye Faithful" begins a cappella in Latin, then slinks into a greasy soul groove. The Manchester-Nielsen-Chapman song, "There's Still My Joy," is a powerful tale of healing after tragedy and drawing strength from the season. Mattea's emotion is palpable, and no wonder—her father, who sings on a bonus track, passed away while she was recording this album. His genial voice is preserved here, a touching Christmas memory for Mattea on this most personal of seasonal celebrations. — David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024