Reviewed by Johan Palme on 26th December, 2016
A young, talented country music singer – from an island where country was something you mostly heard on the radio – way outside her usual style. A semi-retired A&R man and sometime arranger whose heyday way forty years earlier, living out his last decades in the sun. Apparently, that’s the recipe for particularly appealing outsider music for Christmas.
Melveen Leed, former beauty queen from the medium-sized Hawaiian island of Moloka’i, had just had significant success working on a series of pop-country Nashville-style albums partly sung in Hawaiian. Her producer, A&R man and arranger, Charles “Bud” Dant, had spent over fifty years in the music business – being most well-known as the original arranger of Hoagie Carmicheal’s immortal “Stardust”, turning it from an upbeat dance band number into a yearning ballad. But he hadn’t produced anything of a similar calibre for decades, and had spent the previous few years making medium-sized pop hits, and a bit of dixieland and irish folk music. There’s no hint on the previous records with Melveen Leed that they were capable of anything other than well-crafted country together.
And then, there’s this Christmas album.
Melveen Leed took the opportunity to take her capable voice into new territories outside her range and experience. Charles “Bud” Dant went back to harvest the Christmas arrangements from his heyday, thirty years past, but filtered through years of forgetfullness, avant-garde and age. And the result is astonishing. The arrangements are strange contrapunctal, rhythmically and harmonically loosely connected to the sung material, which keeps on switching in quality and style. And beside all this, the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra provides very competently musical interpretations of what must have been unusual material to work from. Under the well-belted vocals doing strange improvisations on familiar meoldies, through frankly bizarre chord progressions, quality musicians are desperately trying to turn on the holiday spirit. It’s surprisingly wonderful.