CD Review by Marilyn Lester
Singer-actress, Tony nominee and Emmy winner, Liz Callaway, says she didn’t necessarily start out to make a Christmas CD this year, but we’re awfully glad she did––and there’s still lots of time to enjoy it. The twelve days of Christmas don’t end until January 6th. The 10 songs featured unquestionably express the title of the album: Comfort and Joy – An Acoustic Christmas. The collection is a perfect response to Covid Christmas 2020, with the consequences of the pandemic still unending. Into each tune Callaway infuses a heightened sense of intimacy, and the authenticity of hope. She’s teamed on this endeavor with ace guitarist and songwriter-producer, Peter Calo, whose arrangements (with Callaway) tailor themselves to the kind of low-key mood most of us are in this year. It’s an eclectic, unpretentious and straightforward body of work, with sheer elegance stemming from its directness. Each song is tenderly rendered, put forth in slow tempo, with Callaway communicating each lyric with authenticity and the sure force of meaning.
Callaway approached the recording project with the intention of pouring warmth into it. She succeeded. Callaway’s sweet yet underlying cool vocal tone never lacks warmth. She matches Calo’s heartfelt playing, resulting in a blend that’s never downhearted or maudlin, but rather soothing, soulful and thoughtful. It’s the kind of contemplative album that suits a late-night session by the fire with a warm drink––for chilling out and knowing everything eventually is going to be alright.
Sincerity permeates ever tune. From “Merry Christmas Darling,” wistful and longing, to God Bless My Family” (written by sister Ann Hampton Callaway), to the delightful and evocative “Christmas Eve (Could Not Ask for More).” “Hard Candy Christmas,” often sung as a strident protest is transformed into a prayerful lament with a dash of hope added. One of the highlights of Comfort and Joy – An Acoustic Christmas is the transformation of “Walking in the Air (Theme from the Snowman).” Callaway sings with guest artist Jann Klose. Their voices blend so harmoniously on the duet portions of the song that it’s almost celestial. In fact, the entirety of Klose’s arrangement elevates the piece to such heights that it’s becomes a modern hymn.
With the traditional carol/hymn, “O Holy Night,” Callaway finds a groove that suits to the proverbial “t” her clear, “choirboy” soprano. And like a Christmas miracle, her interpretation of the now classic favorite, “Christmas Time Is Here,” is nothing short of wondrous. It’s an odd tune; much like the minor key “Blue Skies” with its happy lyrics within a blue melody. “Christmas Time Is Here” can so often become dirge-like. Not with Callaway. She raises the tune up to one of good cheer and optimism. There’s plenty of comfort in joy in that.
Comfort and Joy – An Acoustic Christmas is produced by Liz Callaway and Peter Calo on the Working Girl Records label. Calo plays keyboard and guitars, and also mixed the album at Tater Tracks; it was mastered by Tom Brick at Absolute Audio Inc. The album is available on Amazon.com and LizCallaway.com, as well as on all digital platforms, including iTunes, Spotify and Apple.