Christmas playlist part one: Aimee Mann

If the phrase “Aimee Mann Christmas album” seems weird at first, you’re not alone. Most Christmas albums seem like cash grabs, which would be weird for Indie-to-the-core Mann. Rest assured, this is not your standard Christmas fare. Mann’s not afraid to be downbeat and explore the somber side of the holiday.

Mann’s Christmas album includes a mix of standards and two originals, one by Mann and Paul Bryan, one by Mann’s husband Michael Penn (“Christmastime”). “Whatever Happened to Christmas” opens the album, a perfect tune for drinking whiskey by the fire, alone.

“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” is beautiful but not exactly joyous. Penn’s contribution, “Christmastime,” brings to mind hints of Elvis Costello It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album, but I doubt you’ll be hearing it on the department store rotation this holiday season.

Mann’s take on “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch” is fun. It’s faithful to the original without being a carbon copy, with Grant Lee Philips doing co-vocal duties. It’s hard to live up to Thurl Ravenscroft’s original take, but Philips does an admirable job.

If you want to feel the traditional Christmas spirit, Mann’s take on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is what the proverbial doctor ordered. You know, if doctors ordered that sort of thing.

“Calling on Mary,” the Mann/Bryan original, is my favorite track on the album and feels a lot like Mann’s previous album The Forgotten Arm. It would have been right at home on that album. It’s also the source of the album title:

Calling on Mary is voluntary
Unless you’re alone like me
If there’s a star above, then it can look like love
When they light up the Christmas tree

And to all the lost souls down below:
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
What’s one more drifter in the snow?
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas

Bonus Track “I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas”

Off the aforementioned Forgotten Arm album, “Clean Up for Christmas” is about kicking an addiction in time for Christmas. Not exactly festive, but it’s a powerful and gorgeous song.

Tried to find a good YouTube version to link to, but to my ear the uploads I found were a bit off. Do dial it up on the streaming service of your choice if you haven’t listened to it before. Actually, just go ahead and cue up The Forgotten Arm and One More Drifter in the Snow back to back if you’ve got a little time and would like an antidote to schmaltzy Christmas tunes this week.

Back tomorrow with another peek into my Christmastime playlist. If you have suggestions, please share!

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