'Christmas'

Artist: Stephanie Madsen

Album: “Christmas”

Chico, California-based singer/ songwriter Stephanie Madsen’s new nine-track album is a celebration of yuletide. Christmas albums have been made by artists disparate as a John Waters compilation, Grover Washington Jr.’s heavenly jazz and Blake Shelton’s “Oklahoma Christmas.”

Madsen’s approach followed a wholly traditional formula although she revealed in her press kit that the disc’s one original song was written poolside while wearing a swim suit. Despite it being penned during July in Cali, “Christmas Eve” taps cold winter evening imagery with cider warming on the stove.

There are festive lights to enjoy and carols to be sung together. Sleigh bells ring behind Madsen’s delightful vocals and backing female chorus celebrating the night that only comes around once a year. The rest of the album are traditional Christmas carols familiar to Christians in North America of the past couple centuries. There’s no “Santa’s Got a Choo Choo Train.” This is music you’d be more likely to hear in a church than a pub in December. It’s remarkable how many references there are to the Prince of Darkness in these compositions.

Madsen’s arrangement of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is particularly sensitive. Her take is gentle and slower than typical versions with careful emphasis on the intricate lyrics. “Angels We Have Heard on High” is one of the few up-tempo selections. Madsen played all the instruments for this project and there’s a curious squeaky one on this cut that’s unidentifiable. Piano and guitar are the two most often employed.

As might be expected based on the crystalline quality of Madsen’s voice, her copy of “Silent Night” is a standout. Although her own voice is layered-in throughout as back-up vocals, here she marshalled 4 and 6 year old sons into the choir. Madsen’s “Christmas” is music that Baby Jesus can surely be proud of.

Mack Burke

mburke@normantranscript.com

follow me @mackburke4

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