Barbra Streisand’s Christmas Memories a Sophisticated, Somber Listen
By Kristin Battestella
Where Christmas today is mostly kid-centric, Barbra Streisand’s platinum 2001Christmas Memories release proves that not only is there nothing wrong with a mature, somber holiday album, but that such pensive sophistication may be exactly what December needs.
The expected long-winded notes are no less soft, tender, and gentle to start I’ll Be Home for Christmas and smooth background orchestration helps bend the melody, letting the vocals linger while retaining the familiar bittersweet. Christmas Memories’ swanky but melancholy tone continues with the combined Broadway style and dinner for two sway of A Christmas Love Song. Although it is tough to understand the lyrics at times or find the romantic December wording, there’s so pleasing a dance here that it doesn’t even matter. This excellent elegance rolls on with What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve. Considering all the sweet singers who’ve recorded it, I’ve never realized how much this song seems meant for Barbra. It’s jazzy, velvet, mature yet a hopeful inquiry. There’s no need for big arrangements – just intimate music and a stunning plea. How can one refuse?
I Remember continues the downhearted merriment on Christmas Memories with a quiet nostalgia and storytelling verse. Maybe it’s generic in its Yule recollections or a bit rambling, granted. However, something here will tug your heartstrings whilst listening alone in the wee hours before the tree. This is a bit of a sad song indeed made more so considering its post 9/11 release. Fortunately, Snowbound is more romantic and traditionally fireside. I would say kinky, but this tune is too mature for that, so classy the juicy need not be said. The more familiar It Must Have Been the Mistletoe is perhaps as pop as Christmas Memories gets – there is a bit more orchestration and a breezy, effortless delivery creating plenty of winter love and Christmas charm.
Though it may seem as if Christmas Lullaby is meant to affectionately put the kids to bed come Christmas Eve, the poignant lyrics of hope, joy, and peace resonate with deeper feelings amid the tear jerking Broadway moments. Naturally, the titular Christmas Mem’ries encapsulates the wistful, evocative mood of the session perfectly with its somber, swaying delivery. The childhood talk of baking cookies and waking Christmas morning gives an aged, holiday patina, allowing the season to be vintage like a fine wine rather than remaining perpetually juvenile. Christmas Memories might sound like a lot of the same at times, but the pleasant delivery and sentimental lyrics keep the 45 minutes plus moving over your candlelit dinner. Grown Up Christmas List continues the tender – it’s tear inducing at best and downright upsetting at worst. Considering the album’s late 2001 date, these heartwarming notes, crescendos, and lyrical peace and harmony for which an adult would ask Santa take on a more profound meaning.
A shorter version of Ave Maria appeared on Barbra’s 1967 A Christmas Album, but Christmas Memories provides almost five minutes of down and good medieval Latin and reverence. This is perhaps the most Catholic infused and Christ centric of a Christmas ode one can get, yet the uplifting, ascending voices here transcend language with a solemn, therapeutic universal indeed. Closer continues the melancholy with a perfectly understandable, tearful rendition. In a season where many are separated or depressed, why are so many Christmas albums so dang jolly? It’s an ironically pleasing change to have a lonely December vocal. The poignant, show-stopping finale One God has choir accents to match its sweeping, united message – which again takes on more meaning in the wake of its release. Instead of homogenizing the holiday quarter into one moneymaking mishmash without belief, why not just accept our common spring to the season?
Understandably, some listeners may find Christmas Memories too depressing or over the top in it’s hugging, holding hands, Kumbaya feeling. This session captures the bleakness of a Christmas after September 11th and may be dated in that regard. But why not have an album not meant for a youthful, festive, kitschy and ridiculously happy audience? Where Barbra’s A Christmas Album was traditionally split between religious and secular sides, the new or less familiar material on Christmas Memories fills the void for solitary singles or older couples who may perennially experience the sadness of the season – and that’s actually pretty darn nice.