426

Lea Delaria: Be A Santa

Bruce Lindsay By

Sign in to view read count
Christmas can do strange things to musicians: there are plenty of artistic car crashes littering the road to Santa's Grotto. But sometimes an artist gets it right, by luck or by design, and a Yuletide project endures for many years. Vocalist, comedian and Broadway performer Lea DeLaria is, happily, in the latter camp with Be A Santa, an album full of festive standards that swings like a sleigh bell on a Christmas tree and entertains in stylish fashion.

DeLaria, whose Play It Cool (Warner Brothers Records, 2001) was The Times' Jazz Album Of The Year, has taken the eminently sensible step of surrounding herself with some of the UK's finest jazz players. Pianist Janette Mason, excellent throughout, co-arranged the tunes with DeLaria. Their intention, according to the singer, was to recreate the feel of '50s and '60s arrangements and they succeed admirably—authentic, respectful but not too reverential.

Like most Christmases, the album has a couple of less-than-magical moments. The instrumental version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" sounds too much like a brass band Dickens Christmas for comfort (despite Simon Little's excellent bass lines and Martin Shaw's lively trumpet solo), while DeLaria's vocal on Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time is Here" occasionally sounds uncharacteristically tentative. But for the most part the bands bring freshness and originality to these often hackneyed old songs.

DeLaria makes the most of her vocal power on Frank Loesser's bluesy "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"—the tune also features Mason's funky and confident Hammond playing. Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne's "Be A Santa" finds the singer at her most expressive—the way she phrases "jolly" is a joy. On Felix Bernard and Richard Smith's "Winter Wonderland" her vocal is slightly mellower, with a real sense of looking forward to the snowy weather. DeLaria and Mason give Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" a more upbeat and energetic arrangement than usual: Anthony Kerr contributes a lyrical and bright vibraphone solo while DeLaria adds some scat and closes the track with a festive "Ho, Ho, Ho."

DeLaria and Mason co-composed the only original tune: "A Modern Christmas Tale," which the singer describes as their "Trojan Horse of a track." It's a stunningly accurate take on a '50s Christmas song: indeed, until DeLaria sings about credit cards, parking problems and bling, it could readily pass muster as a song from a Perry Como Christmas Special.

Be A Santa is very definitely a Yuletide album, but it's not one that should be consigned to oblivion for the remaining 11 months of the year. The arrangements and the performances have a quality that ensure the tunes will be just as welcome on a cloudy and wet September evening—after all, a good song isn't just for Christmas.

Track Listing: Santa Claus is Coming to Town; What Are You Doing This New Year's Eve?; Winter Wonderland; Sleigh Ride; Christmas Time is Here; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; A Modern Christmas Tale; The Man With The Bag; Be A Santa; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; White Christmas.

Personnel: Lea DeLaria: vocals; Janette Mason: piano, Hammond organ; Julian Siegel: saxophones; Martin Shaw: trumpet; Anthony Kerr: vibraphone; Simon Little: acoustic bass, electric bass; Mark Fletcher: drums; Geoff Gascoyne: acoustic bass (5, 8, 10).

Title: Be A Santa | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Warner Classics & Jazz

Tags

Watch

comments powered by Disqus

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Album Reviews
Read more articles
Be A Santa

Be A Santa

Warner Classics & Jazz
2010

buy
Double Standards

Double Standards

Telarc Records
2005

buy
 

Double Standards

Warner Bros. Records
2003

buy
 

Play It Cool

Warner Bros.
2001

buy

Upcoming Shows

Date Detail Price
Dec15Sun
Lea DeLaria
Wilbur Theatre
Boston, MA

Related Articles

Read Migrations Album Reviews
Migrations
By Dan McClenaghan
June 25, 2019
Read Samba Azul Album Reviews
Samba Azul
By Mackenzie Horne
June 25, 2019
Read Blue Waltz - Live at Gustavs Album Reviews
Blue Waltz - Live at Gustavs
By Jakob Baekgaard
June 25, 2019
Read Deep In The Mountains Album Reviews
Deep In The Mountains
By Chris Mosey
June 25, 2019
Read Phoenix Rising Album Reviews
Phoenix Rising
By Jack Bowers
June 24, 2019
Read Last Works Album Reviews
Last Works
By Doug Hall
June 24, 2019
Read The Change Album Reviews
The Change
By Roger Farbey
June 24, 2019