COURTNEY COLLINS & JEREMY YLVISAKER WITH JT BATES & MICHAEL LEWIS – Welcome to Christmastown
If you like your Christmas music a bit unorthodox, you will love this album. Welcome to Christmastown has quickly assumed the top position in my all-time favorite seasonal recordings.
For those who remember, Courtney Collins was one of the best female singers in town, fronting the rock outfit Arena Venus before joining forces with Red Eye Records. Collins has released a solo album, Violet Night, and now does most of her recording in the Twin Cities area. Collins is also the producer of the madly popular Chad Vader video series. Welcome to Christmastown is not Collins’ first venture into holiday music; Arena Venus also released a Christmas album entitled Yuletide Swank.
Collins’ voice is a dark, sultry cocktail of sensual tease and she loves to experiment with arrangements that ultimately suit her style quite effectively. Teaming up with Minneapolis’s Jeremy Ylvisaker has proven to be a good move on her part. The two construct sophisticated yet playful atmospheres that use electronics as an undercurrent, creating a perceptible uneasiness. Matching this approach to Christmas music is most effective. Who else would make the Island of Misfit Toys (“The Most Wonderful Day of the Year”) sound so hypnotically inviting? Here Collins and Ylviskaer share a rare vocal. The two also harmonize wonderfully on “The Peace Carol,” a song written by Bob Beers, a member of the Beers music family of traditional and folk music fame.
The range of styles is especially enjoyable. From the electronic dirge of “Song of Mary” to the old-style mood of “Christmas Time Is Here” to the electronic jazz of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” to the inclusion of Ron Sexsmith’s “Maybe This Christmas,” Neil Young’s “Winterlong” and Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” the album is a surprise at every turn. The group, which also includes drummer JT Bates and bassist/clarinetist/saxophonist Michael Lewis, also includes “A Marshmallow World,” a 40’s Christmas tune that Collins must surely have heard on A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, a holiday album from 1963. Equally surprising is the classical-meets-country instrumental of “Welcome Christmas,” sung by the Whos of Whoville in Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
Weirdly and beautifully demented, this album sums up nicely the twisted abomination that Christmas has become while simultaneously preserving the childlike sense of wonder it invokes.