Well on her way to being completely indistinguishable from her female-empowering, coffee-shop-soundtracking music, Sarah McLachlan is slowly, steadily turning herself into a reliable brand. Like Celine Dion and Bonnie Raitt, you know, for the most part, exactly what you’re getting when you pick up her latest album. Which is to say, said album will be stuffed with the same damn thing you’ve heard every other time you’ve ever purchased one of her records. Wintersong, McLachlan’s crack at a holiday-themed disc, cribs a track from a decade ago (her luminous cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter’s Night,” appearing on the 1996 compilation Rarities, B-Sides & Other Stuff) and spends most of the record enveloped in feathered harmony vocals and long-time producer Pierre Marchand’s thick blanket of distorted guitars and echo-drenched piano. Aside from the Lightfoot retread, Joni Mitchell’s “River” and John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” get the McLachlan velvet-glove treatment; the Mitchell cover is appropriately wistful but the tired reading of “Happy Xmas” adds absolutely nothing new to the song—if anything, its slavish fidelity to the source material underscores the fact that Phil Spector was subsuming pop songs in oceanic reverb long before Marchand and McLachlan ever recorded a note together. Of course, there’s also a new song: McLachlan penned the frosty, vivid title track, which fits snugly amid the sleek readings of such Yuletide classics as “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Silent Night,” and the always-welcome Vince Guaraldi gem “Christmastime Is Here,” featuring a smoldering instrumental cameo from Diana Krall. Lush atmospherics notwithstanding, Wintersong is a seasonal showcase for McLachlan’s cathedral-ready soprano wrapping itself around soaring hymns and autumnal pop songs. Sure, it’s as predictable and banal as your neighbor’s needlessly tacky Christmas display, but like those sparkling lights stapled to the gutter, it also has the capacity to be pretty fucking beautiful.
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