It seemed unlikely that queen of cool Tracey Thorn would release an album of festive hits. Her melancholic sound doesn’t really seem to lend itself to the joy and happiness needed for a Christmas song. But in 2012 that’s exactly what she did. ‘Tinsel & Lights’ was her fourth solo effort away from husband Ben Watt and their band Everything But The Girl. ‘Tinsel & Lights’ is the most understated Christmas album you are likely to hear. There are no sleigh bells, or that big wall of sound that has come eponymous with the season. Instead Thorn delivers twelve beautiful and calming tracks. Most of them are covers, but not the ones you’ll be expecting. For example Dolly Parton’s ‘Hard Candy Christmas ‘. In most she stays away from the obvious festive hits to instead introduce us to some great tracks that may previously be unfamiliar to us. But that’s one of the things that Thorn has always done best; taking a song, and claiming it as her own. Her instantly recognisable mellow vocals helps her put her own spin on whatever song she takes on.
Amongst the other covers on the album, one stands out a clear mile. Her version of Joni Mitchell’s river was always going to be a brave choice. With so many die-hard Joni fans around, taking on one of her songs could quite clearly have put her in the firing line. Until listening to ‘Tinsel & Lights’ I had not heard the song before. Once more she has put her own thing to it.
The reason I know this is a great album is that my favourite never stays the same. ‘Like A Snowman’ hid behind the more obvious stand out tracks for years. It’s only in the 2015 festive season that I listened to it and realised what a beautiful track it was. No doubt next year I will do the same with another track.
There are two tracks penned specially for the album. Opening track ‘Joy’ at first seems to be the one to beat. It kicks off with the lyrics ‘when someone very dear, calls you with the news everything’s all clear. It’s what you want to hear, but you know it might be different in the new year’. It’s the mind of bittersweet sentiment we expect from Ms. Thorn. The second is the title track ‘Tinsel & Lights’. It’s a track I could listen to over and over agin, Christmas or not. Signing Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside is a genius choice for guest vocalist on ‘Taking Down The Tree.’ Two of the mellowest and most distinguished voices of the eighties come together and sons perfectly in sync.
So if you fancy a different pace to your average Christmas album, and you’re not yet familiar with ‘Tinsel & Lights’, then it’s one to check out on a quiet night in, tree lights on and a glass of Baileys in hand. The best alternative Christmas album you are likely to hear.