One Track Mind: Vanessa Carlton, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" (2011)

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Having already shown a smart penchant for pensive, piano-driven pop, Vanessa Carlton becomes quieter still for this effective update of a modern-day John Lennon holiday standard.

Carlton, whose Grammy-nominated single “A Thousand Miles” went Top 5 for the then-22 year old in 2002, doesn’t employ the stop-start time signatures or billowing orchestra whooshes of that smash. Instead, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is treated with a hushed reverence — like a song sung late at night, as the stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

In fact, it’s just piano and a delicately wrought classical backing at first. Even when Carlton, who was set to perform on the CBS Saturday Early Show today, ramps up into the familiar (and typically blaring) war-is-over finale, she does so with a far more subdued chorus than originally used by Lennon.

This considered rendering underlines the song’s wistful, yet timeless call for peace — a message that hasn’t lost any of its emotional punch, despite having been first issued four decades ago.

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is part of a four-song holiday EP called Hear the Bells, released by Razor and Tie. Also featured are the familiar Yuletide standard “Do You Hear What I Hear,” as well as acoustic versions of the title track — originally found on Carlton’s fourth studio album Rabbits on the Run, released last summer — and “A Thousand Miles,” in her first-ever re-recording of the song. Carlton has just wrapped up a national tour opening for Matt Nathanson in support of Rabbits.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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