Aimee Mann

    One More Drifter in the Snow


    If someone compiled a list of musicians least likely to release a Christmas album, Aimee Mann’s name would appear just below Elliott Smith’s. And Elliott Smith is dead. Nevertheless, Mann has defied expectations by releasing One More Drifter in the Snow, an album of classic Christmas tunes, along with a couple of original Christmas-themed songs.


    It would be hard for anyone familiar with her music to imagine Mann “getting into the Christmas spirit.” Her songs tend toward the acerbic, the sarcastic; there’s an underlying sense of anger and disappointment that permeates her best work. (Perfect for the holidays, right?) So listeners may experience a little psychological dissonance when they hear her working through a collection of Christmas standards. When she wishes us a Merry Christmas, as she does on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” we must wonder, Does she really want us to have a Merry Christmas, or is she employing some subtle irony?


    Even if we take Mann’s cheerful holiday wishes at face value, it’s still unclear if she’s the right person to deliver them. Though her vocal delivery is expressive, her voice isn’t well-suited for crooning songs such as “Winter Wonderland” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Bing Crosby she ain’t. Furthermore, Mann’s dry wit cannot convincingly sell an over-the-top number like “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” She fares better on more somber songs like Jimmy Webb’s “Whatever Happened to Christmas” and a sparse arrangement of “White Christmas.” The orchestrations on these songs have a classy, retro feel that jives well with Mann’s vocals.


    Not surprisingly, the best tracks on the album are the two originals: “Christmastime,” written by Michael Penn and Jon Brion (Mann’s husband and ex-producer/ex-boyfriend, respectively), and “Calling on Mary,” which Mann co-wrote with the album’s producer, Paul Bryan. Both songs address the darker side of Christmas: how it feels to be alone during the holidays. This material is right in Mann’s wheelhouse, and she knocks it out of the tinsel-lined park.


    One More Drifter in the Snow isn’t the most festive Christmas album. If you’re looking for holiday cheer, look elsewhere — Pat Boone probably has something you’ll enjoy. But for a bracing dose of holiday gloom, this may be the right place to look.