Karrin Allyson – Yuletide Hideaway (2013)

Some Christmas songs, you don’t mess with. It’s perfectly fine to take “Winter Wonderland” at an unusually contemplative pace, and to update “Let It Snow” with a B-3. But Karrin Allyson plays it straight — as she must — with Charlie Brown.

The four-time Grammy nominee gets it all right on Yuletide Hideaway, goosing some favorites with a playful sense of holiday cheer even as she settles into an dreamy elegance on others. And the originals are of a piece, from the wurlitzer-driven, Chris Caswell co-written title track to “You’re All I Need for Christmas,” another Caswell track featuring the ageless Lee Sklar on electric bass. She does justice on hard-to-cover jazz favorites like Bill Evans’ “It’s Love, It’s Christmas” and Dave Frishberg’ reliably hip “Snowbound.”

Still, for me, it would all come down to “Christmas Time Is Here,” the Peanuts classic. I not only enjoy, but (at this late date) really expect, artists of Allyson’s caliber and wit to dissemble mid-century warhorses from Sammy Cahn and Mel Torme. The themes by Vince Guaraldi and Lee Mendelson, however, are something different: New classics, childhood favorites, emotional touchstones. Things not yet ready for knowing winks and clever intrigue.

And so, when I found Allyson ruminating gorgeously at the piano alongside this whispering accompaniment by drummer Todd Strait, I must have let out an audible sigh of relief. Guitarist Rod Fleeman and acoustic bassist Gerald Spaits complete an Allyson arrangement characterized by a light dusting of swing, but otherwise largely remain in the candlelit shadows. That puts Allyson’s perfectly attenuated vocal musings at center stage, as she adds just the right combination of expectancy and reflectiveness. It’s perfect.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.