en: Joy to the World (Pink Martini album) [info]
Portland's eclectic 12-piece 'little orchestra' have always teetered between sincere affection for the diverse range of music they mine, and an undeniable penchant for retro kitsch. So it's no surprise that their fifth release turns out to be a full-blown Christmas album. Or, as the press release puts it, a "non-denominational and inclusive holiday album", consisting of (mostly) well-known Christmas and other festive songs from around the world. Since they have famously multi-lingual singer China Forbes, there's no real need for guests, though that doesn't stop them roping in quite a few. The concept seems tailor-made for this group, and indeed fits them pretty much like a glove.
They like White Christmas so much they do it twice, first with Forbes giving her best Julie London impression over Dan Faehnle's jazzy guitar sketches. Then there's a surprising lovely version in Japanese by Saori Yuki ("the Barbara Streisand of Japan") backed by the crooning of The Pacific Youth Choir, who also appear on the suitably frosty-sounding Shchedryk (Ukrainian Bell Carol).
The hilarious Santa Baby has been done by everyone from Madonna to Taylor Swift, though none has ever matched the late, great Eartha Kitt's camp proto-bling version, and Pink Martini wisely don't stray far from it. However, Auld Lang Syne gets a lively samba overhaul, with verses in English, French and Arabic, while We Three Kings has an understated Afrobeat flavour, and both work surprisingly well.
It's unlikely the world needs any more covers of Little Drummer Boy, and the reverent Hebrew prayer Elohai, N'tzor and the Chinese language Congratulations - A Happy New Year Song sit a little awkwardly with some of the more comic moments. The only original composition is A Snowglobe Christmas - co-written by Forbes and Pink Martini founder Thomas M. Lauderdale - and it slips seamlessly into the flow.
Of course, the arrangements and winter wonderland production aesthetics are immaculate throughout, with Lauderdale's versatile piano skills especially noteworthy. It's hard to decide how much of it is tongue-in-cheek, and the feeling that Pink Martini are ever so gently pulling your leg is never far away. But that shouldn't spoil the (sleigh) ride.