Christmas/Holiday Cheer: Aimee Mann, “Calling On Mary”

Aimee Mann has long been one of my go-to artists. I was on the ‘Til Tuesday bandwagon enough back in the 80s–I ripped their first two albums onto cassette pretty early in grad school and would listen to that tape on trips back and forth to KY (that’s how I came to fall utterly in love with “Coming Up Close”). But it was her first few solo albums that really put her front and center in my listening; Whatever and I’m With Stupid are both way good, and Bachelor No. 2 remains close to the top of my “favorite albums of the last quarter century” list.

So it was a pretty easy call to buy One More Drifter in the Snow, her Christmas album, soon after its release in 2006. It’s not particularly long: 10 songs, 33 minutes. Several cuts are standard choices for such an affair, including “The Christmas Song,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” I’d call the overall feel of the album both retro (think 50s and 60s) and fairly subdued (things kick off with Jimmy Webb’s “Whatever Happened to Christmas”–she doesn’t seem to be doing this to pep us up!). The duet with Grant Lee Phillips on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is perhaps the closest thing to a fun piece on the disk.

There are a couple of originals, too.  One, “Christmastime,” was written by Mann’s husband, Michael Penn (I could definitely envision him doing a version of it). The other is one she co-wrote, the closing track “Calling On Mary.” It’s just what you’d expect from Mann–a meditation on lost love and loneliness at the holidays–and it’s a perfect bookend to the Webb piece–“‘Cause comfort’s not possible when/You look past the joy to the end.”

In spite of the lack of cheeriness, I make sure to listen to One More Drifter each year; it’s a good antidote to crass commercialization and hyper-peppy Christmas music.

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