Albert and Gage - One More Christmas

Richard Banks


     I must admit this is my kind of music. It's a not-so-well-kept secret that I got into this Christmas CD racket to feed a raging Christmas music habit. And as I descended the slippery slope, I found that I like a lot of what's out there and can listen to musical genres I thought I'd never hear. But I mostly want to spend my free time listening to the rock and roll, the acoustic, the bluegrass, the ethnic folk. Ok, and the jazz, too, though I usually prefer to act low-brow and turn up my South-of-bourgeois nose at jazz as much as listen to it. But enough about me.

     Albert and Gage are from Austin. I'm from Austin. So, I'm pretty sure before I remove the cellophane they'll be familiar like neighbors and comfortable like my favorite sweater. And I was right with that surmise, as far it goes, but what I didn't know to expect was the gentle, unassuming way these two--Christine Albert and Chris Gage--would so casually toss out their wonderful new Christmas composition One More Christmas, the title cut, and then follow up with such an uncommon assortment of familiar, yet seldom recorded holiday tunes.

     Some holiday records try to bowl you over with studio production and pickers, trusting overwrought pathos to pass for art. One More Christmas--both the song and the entire CD--are the antithesis of this sort of artificial sweetener. The arrangements on One More Christmas are fully articulated, both vocally and instrumentally, yet so simple and "unmanufactured" that one wonders why more records aren't produced this way. Every song is a unique listening experience. Christine Albert's voice is that lone flower growing beside the road, unique and golden, strong and unyielding, and at the same time accessible and vulnerable.

     Chris Gage does most of the heavy lifting, instrumental-wise. Never having found an instrument he can't play, he eventually gets around to playing everything with a neck or a keyboard before the duo wraps up with Go Tell it on the Mountain. And he sings, too, most notably on the song I'd least expect to hear him sing: Joni Mitchell's River, the almost-Christmas song everybody's afraid to record, probably because Ms. Mitchell's work is almost sacred, giving even the most accomplished singer-songwriters an inferiority complex.( I'll have to think about it, but I'm not sure I've ever heard anybody cover a Joni Mitchell song.) Gage makes the song work, juxtaposed against Ms. Albert's harmony, even after he claims to get weak in the knees.

     There's plenty of the acoustic Austin sound here--The Angels Cried is an example, with all that accordion and dobro, but there's so much more here, too. There's the easy listening favorite Baby It's Cold Outside, a bow to jazzy east coast sensibilities with Vince Guaraldi's Linus and Lucy, not to overlook Ms. Albert's impressive vocal performance on Un Flambeau Jeanette Isabelle. I'll stop with the name-dropping, but there's not a song on this release undeserving of mention.

     Because Chris Gage only has two hands, the production is ably assisted by Brad Fordham on bass, Paul Pearcy on drums and percussion, Glenn Kawamoto on fretless bass. There is plenty of music here, but it is never overbearing; there is emotion, but it isn't over-wrought. There's production value, but not the show-off Nashville variety.

     There's a bonus track, too. I don't know how to describe the bonus track. It's a bonus. The entire record is a bonus.

--Richard Banks