Reviewed by Johan Palme on 24th December, 2015
Christmas, even to those who despise it, is a singularly meaningful holiday. It’s deeply embedded in the psychological makeup of society, and everyone has a relationship to it, good or bad. For some, it’s a time of uncomfortable meetings, a reminder of traumatic memories rather left forgotten. For others, the little whisps of nostalgic memory are intensely therapeutic, happy reminicences triggering feelings of hope and new light in the darkest of seasons. For some, the darkness coincides with seasonal depression, and the supposedly merry Christmas surrounding becomes tough to bear; for others, the Christmas period is a time to take a pause, wind down and reflect on the year gone by, all its ups and downs. The symbols of birth and rebirth, dark winter solistice and a star of hope, past and future, are all heavy in the holiday.
Remarkably, June Christy’s This Time Of Year is a truly unique concept album that covers all of these topics, and more. It’s an album that really gets deep into the psychological impact of Christmas, its joys and sorrows, with stiking thematic subtlety and an upbeat, ultimately hopeful literary verve. Its ten songs, all newly written by the same songwriting team, strike a rare balance between playful accessibility and nuanced complexity in dealing with all these mixed emotions, augmented by Pete Rugolo’s erudite, jazzy arrangments.
And then there’s June Christy herself. The sublime, knowing contrast of her blonde girlish image (still there at 36) and her smoldering, smoky contralto vocals is perfectly suited to the childish glee and grown-up self-analysis that permeates this album. She makes every song sound like it should be a merry Christmas classic, making you almost forget the literary intricacy within. Light and dark, she is truly Christmas, with all the meaningful things that can possibly be.