The genre of female-led pseudo-Christian acoustic-minded pop/rock (a surprisingly large category that includes acts such as the Innocence Mission and Over the Rhine, as well as Mormon variation Low) is at times prone to cloying sentimentalism. So while a Christmas album from Sixpence None the Richer isn’t much of a surprise, one would figure the band would be self-aware enough not to put themselves into the sentimental trap of holiday music. Except for a clever riff on “Blackbird” in their rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” Sixpence’s collection of Christmas tunes, The Dawn of Grace, is pretty much what you might expect: an entire album full of songs that sound like a Yuletide “Kiss Me.” “Christmas Island” tries to say the album is all just a bit of schmaltzy fun (“How’d you like to hang a stocking on a great big coconut tree?”), and I might agree if Sixpence didn’t have a history of syrupy sincerity. It’s not that bathos can’t (or shouldn’t) be taken seriously. This is a needle that Sufjan Stevens manages to thread consistently (particularly in his fantastically overindulgent five-volume opus Songs for Christmas). In this collection, singer Leigh Nash’s voice is appropriately airy, and the guitar work is sufficiently, um, acoustic. It seems, however, the “it” factor that transforms Sufjan from maudlin to profound is lacking here. The album just doesn’t work—even for a sentimental bastard like me.
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