The Friday Morning Listen: Pink Martini – Joy To The World (2010)

Share this:

Photo by Autumn de Wilde

by Mark Saleski

It’s that time of year again. The time when you’re afraid to go into that store, afraid to watch the television, afraid to turn on the radio — for fear of hearing “Jingle Bell Rock.” Or “The Christmas Song.” Or “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” Take your pick, because everybody seems to have a Christmas tune that they detest. Heck, I’ve got a friend who will only listen Vince Guaraldi’s music from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Everything else is out.

My friend’s stand against the music of a season might be a little extreme, but I can see where he’s coming from. Yes, there are some great versions of the old classics, but there’s also some absolute dreck. My approach is not to avoid the music but to seek out interesting variations in all genres. So every year I buy a new Christmas CD in a genre I haven’t heard before: classical, folk, blues, jazz, reggae, metal, rock, country, Cajun. If the idea of it sounds good in my head, then I’ll take a chance on it. Christmas songs on guitar? Why not?! Pipe organ? Sure. Those curly wires that turn red in the toaster? Absolutely!

OK, so they haven’t made that last one yet, but you can bet my name will be on the pre-order list when I find out about it.

A risky proposition? What, you wouldn’t want to gamble on Tori Amos’ Midwinter Graces or Bob Dylan’s Christmas In The Heart? I did, and enjoyed both quite a bit. The article I wrote about them was subtitled “The faerie velvet voice meets ‘The Croak’.” Heh.

This year, I’ve gone to the super-erudite group Pink Martini. I learned of them in my lounge phase. They’re a band that can take on many different genres and feel completely comfortable in each. But what happens when they take on the spirit of this season? China Forbes & company are more than up to the task. Instead of “loung-i-fying” the songs, Pink Martini have searched for the thread that runs not only through the season but all around the world. As they put it: a non-denominational holiday album.

So yes, the album’s reach goes far beyond the swank versions of “Santa Baby,” and “Do You Hear What I Here?” There’s a gorgeous version of the Hebrew prayer “Elohai N’tzor” sung by Forbes along with Ari Shapiro (Yep, the NPR correspondent) and Ida Rae Cahana. Backed by Thomas Lauderdale on piano and Patricia Costa Kim on accordion, the song provides one of Joy To The World‘s many soaring hilights. “Silent Night” is particularly affecting with choruses sung in German, Arabic, and English. The entrance of the Portland Boychoir on the latter is stunning. The juxtaposition of Ms. Forbes and Saori Yuki on separate versions of “White Christmas — first in English and then in Japanese — really incredible.

The truth is that I was expecting a CD of Pink Martini-ized Christmas tunes and instead got a whole lot more. From the handbells & choral arrangement of “Carol of the Bells” to the “world samba” of the closing “Auld Lang Syne,” sung in English, French, and Arabic & supported by the Lions of Batucada percussion ensemble, Joy To The World gives you a new way to look at all of those (maybe worn out) classics.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at
Mark Saleski
Share this: