december 2009

Pam Tillis
Stellar Cat Records
Released: 2007

Pam Tillis makes her first Christmas outing a memorable one, with a couple of new songs and a brace of vintage ones bedecked in fresh-cut holly and ivy, the better to make them all sound reinvigorated, soothing and homespun. Stylistically, she shows off her vocal versatility in jazz, pop and country settings, with note-perfect accompaniment provided by a tight-knit group of musicians who are eminently comfortable in any genre (including drummer/percussionist Eddie Bayers, guitarist Brent Mason, fiddler Stuart Duncan, steel/dobro master Tommy White and upright bassist Craig Nelson, among others, as well as terrific assemblage of background singers who prove vital to the tunestack's shifting textures). In contrast to Sinatra's easygoing rendition of the Sammy Cahn-Jule Styne standard, "Christmas Waltz," Tillis and her combo revise it as a swinging jazz workout, whereas they stay close to the traditional mellow, small combo, saloon-style groove of Frank Loesser's "(What Are You Doing) New Year's Eve," with Tillis approaching the lyrics in torchy, come-hither fashion, making of them a seductive invite to more sensual pleasures than Mr. Loesser might have thought were implicit in his guileless query. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" concludes the festivities on a dreamy note, its gentle strings, Vince Guaraldi-like piano impressions, rumbling upright bass and Pied Pipers-style background crooning, its warm tone supporting an easygoing Tillis vocal with precisely the right mixture of languor and anticipation. On the country side Tillis fans will swoon over the lush, Nashville Sound strings-steel-pop chorus treatment of Willie Nelson's seasonal heartbreaker, "Pretty Paper," and the blues-drenched heartache Tillis delivers, even as they break out their high-heeled sneakers to bop to "The Rockin' Christmas Medley," which comes out of western swing territory and—hey, hey—teams Pam with her fine-voiced dad Mel in a sprightly, good time duet on "Jingle Bell Rock"; Yuletide traditionalists who appreciate the standards in straightforward form will luxuriate in the beautiful "Silent Night Medley," a majestic meshing of "I Wonder As I Wander," "Away In a Manger" and "Silent Night" in arrangements powered by acoustic guitar, piano and bass, with Tillis and her background singers approaching the messages with both reserve and jubilation. The two new original songs, "Beautiful Night" and "Seasons," are more pop-oriented outings, the former a lilting, lighthearted evocation of a star-filled Christmas night featuring a lovely, measured vocal by Tillis complemented by Stuart Duncan's evocative fiddle soloing, whereas the latter is a lush production meant to underscore a confession of timeless love, to which Tillis adds an extra measure of subtly shaded emotion to get the point across. As she's been doing throughout her career, Pam Tillis takes a few chances, makes them all work, and when she gets something in her wheelhouse, she knocks it out of the park. Just In Time For Christmas, like the feelings revealed in "Seasons," is not a fleeting moment but rather one designed to ring true over time. It aims to endure. — 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