Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
randi Carlile was "Still Home for the Holidays" as her livestream concert attested. Decked out in a Santa hat at her home, Carlile promised "a whole shitload of Christmas music" with one of her band mates, Phil Hanseroth, popping the bubbly and sharing the proceeds.
Carlile, whose career has been ascendant in the Americana realm and with good reason, was not necessarily going for the tried-and-true of holiday musical fare although there was some of that.
Carlile launched the 80-minute show with her reading of Stevie Wonder's soulful "That's What Christmas Means to Me," although the song name-checked a few other Christmas songs.
Christmas doesn't mean presents for Carlile either. It's about love – at least what she sang about it in the '60s-styled "All I Want for Christmas Is You." The Hanseroth twins – Phil and Tim , who are long-time key members of Carlile's band, contributed "ooh" backing vocals in the best of girl groups. Carlile also was in great vocal form, blasting out the high notes of the song with command.
"It's too fun," said Carlile. She might as well have been talking the night as well.
Carlile continued mixing it up musically with Wham!'s "Last Christmas" by request of Carlile's wife. While the general mood of the evening was upbeat, this wasn't the case here as it had to do with a break-up and finding a "real love." That particular emotion is not reserved for Christmas songs.
There was a good vibe throughout with the idea of taking requests at a livestream a nice touch. Carlile and the twins offered "O Holy Night" with three-part a capella harmony. Carlile's voice was commanding, soaring on this particular song with the same sense of ownership as if she had written it herself.
Switching to piano, Carlile paid homage to Joni Mitchell, who Carlile said was watching from her home in California and was the first to tell the truth about Christmas ("Sometimes it's just fucking sad"), with "River." Yup, it definitely sounded incredibly sad with mournful cello from Neumann and Carlile's even sadder sounding vocals and piano playing. Mitchell later texted "bravo" on Carlile's reading of it. High praise indeed.
Saying "this is my theme song right now, this is for anybody who's stuck at home...and doing the best they can," Carlile turned to Dolly Parton for "Hard Candy Christmas," evoking Dolly in her vocal delivery. If this night did anything for listeners, it proved the depth and breadth of Carlile's immense abilities at convincingly tackle different styles of music. How else to explain songs by Wonder, Wham!, a traditional song, Mitchell and Parton all in the first seven songs?
Do not accuse Carlile of being a dilettante either as she sounded comfortable with whatever she attempted from the musical style to whatever the meaning of the songs.
"I'm ready to do some funny shit...I'm about to sing one of the creepiest Christmas songs of all time," she said. With that, Carlile's wife, Catherine Carlisle, took a seat with some apparent nervousness. The two traded lines on the recent traditional song "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Intricate for its vocal interplay, the Carliles tackled the timing perfectly. Catherine may not be a professional singer, but she sure played the part with her lovely British accent.
Not everything was Christmas oriented. Neumann told Carlile to move it on over so he could come out front. "Let's get some nice somber cello music in here for all of my Jewish brothers...I'm taking over the show," proclaimed Neumann. He may have started with more sounding cello runs, but he soon morphed into a few notes of "Kol Nidre," the prayer that starts Yom Kippur, but quickly switched to "I Have a Little Dreidel" for a few bars. Like his boss, he mixed the somber and joyous.
Carlile picked up on the former with her song, "The Heartache Can Wait." Carlile talked about "how complicated Christmas can be and the holidays in general...it's such a nostalgic and strange time for people."
Neumann lightened the song by saying at the end, "See you next year, 'Heartache Can Wait.'"
Carlile quickly brought it back down again with a solo piano take of Patty Griffin's "Mary."
But in keeping with the spirit of the season, Carlile knew how to keep it cheery by bringing out five children, including some of her own to sing "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." A sixth child was there, Neumann's six-week-old daughter, Amelia, but she wasn't exactly singing (or crying).
The cuteness persisted with the ensemble singing of "Jingle Bells." Ushered off the stage, one of the kids, Jack (Phil's son), was having none of it. "Let's do more singing," he said. That apparently would come later in private after the concert for the masses.
The yin/yang of the show continued with Carlile singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" solo on acoustic guitar in a superbly heartfelt version of the song. This made you want to hear Carlile in the flesh.
Ditto for the three-part harmony on "Silent Night."
With a final request, Carlile played the solemn sounding "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," with its upbeat message. Acknowledging the difficult year, Carlile held out the promise of brighter days ahead for all.
With ultimately uplifting evenings like this, one suspects those days will not be far away – especially if Carlile hits the road in 2021. "Going to be happy to see all your faces again," Carlile said. For sure.
That's What Christmas Means to Me
All I Want For Christmas Is You
Last Christmas – Wham! song
O Holy Night – a capella
River – Joni Mitchell song
Hard Candy Christmas – Dolly Parton song
Baby It's Cold Outside
Kol Nidre/I Have a Little Dreidel - Josh Neumann solo on cello
The Heartache Can Wait
Mary – Patty Griffin song with Carlile solo piano
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – with five kids
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas