Aimee Mann: “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
Ah, you might have thought I wasn’t doing the Christmas music thing today, when you saw the post title include Aimee Mann, but you are so wrong. Quite the opposite. I am, in fact, doing the Christmas music thing. As is Aimee, because as luck would have it, she released a Christmas album back in 2006, Another Drifter in the Snow. And the only reason I cast doubt on the likelihood that you realized this was a Christmas song is that Aimee Mann is one of the more unlikely artists to record a Christmas album. Her songwriting is typically of the more downbeat variety (great as it is, she rarely comes across as a cheery person), so the idea of Mann putting on a Santa cap and singing about the joys of Christmas almost seems wrong.
But Aimee succeeded in putting together a solid Christmas collection that doesn’t sound very wrong at all. It includes two originals, one of them the truly excellent “Calling on Mary,” which could have also easily worked on any of Mann’s other albums, melody-wise; only the subject matter is really Christmas-y. Mann also tackles a number of Christmas standards, including the well-loved “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Sadly, that one is among the less-successful of the bunch, because the real star of that song is Grant Lee Phillips (of Grant Lee Buffalo), who takes on the Boris Karloff narrative segments with true flair — and as a result makes Mann’s sung portions come across rather blandly.
The most successful song on the album is Mann’s take on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” — the song’s minor-key melody fits Mann’s temperament and voice like a glove. It ends up sounding like it was written for her, and for a song as old, traditional, and oft-covered as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” that’s saying a lot. The oom-pah-pah arrangement is perfect here, and in fact might have worked equally well for Tom Waits as it does for Mann.
Hmmm . . . now that I mention it, a Tom Waits Christmas album would be simply awesome, don’t you think? He already wrote “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” — just 9 more songs to go!