How many recordings—78s to 45s to LPs to CDs—of Christmas/Seasonal songs have I heard in my life? Pop singers likes Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, and even opera stars have all given it a try. After a while, they start to blend into a homogenous mixture; and one can only wish for a new approach.
Many years ago , I became acquainted with singer Josee Vachon, who specializes in French-Canadian songs. I tried to get a copy of her unusual Christmas CD title “Reve de Noel” (Dream of Christmas) before the holiday itself, but a stray e-mail did me in. But rather than wait for 51 more weeks and because a good recording is good no matter when heard, I will talk about this album at the start of this new year.
Josee has that voice just right for folksongs and programs like this one. As with secular folk songs, I grew to realize that simplicity is the essence of this musical genre. While the grand approach, such as that of the Morman Tabernacle Choir, sounds majestic, it overpowers what should be the simple message of the story of the Nativity.
With this in mind, Josee has taken a novel approach. Living in Framingham, MA and appealing to a French-Canadian public, she has taken 15 selections, most of which will sound familiar to us all, and used French translations that either change the context of the original lyrics or paraphrase them in a most delightful way. (I still have enough French to follow the printed texts. Alas, there are no English translations.)
For example, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” becomes a hymn of praise to the Christ Child, while “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer” is summoned to Heaven. There are fairly straight translations of “White Christmas,” “Jingle bells,” and “Winter Wonderland” (which becomes “Au royaume du Bonhomme Hiver” In the kingdom of Goodman Winter).
Among the old traditional numbers are “The first Noel,” “Little drummer boy,” “Silent night’ and of course “What child is this?” (which goes back to Henry VIII when it was “Greensleeves,” and much later took on a Christmas set of lyrics).
The singer and her guitar is backed up by percussion, bass, organ, and keyboards; and in one selection by the Rhode Island Cajun band Magnolia. So while the tree still stands in the livingroom, keep the spirit still bright with “Reve de Noel.” See www.joseevachon.com for more information about purchasing this and other CDs.