Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
"Happy friggin' Christmas," said Lucinda Wiliams at the outset of her (sort of) livestream concert. "Rockin' around the Christmas tree has never held as much meaning as it does this year."
Williams hit the nail on the head with that comment, but if you were expecting an uplifting set from Williams and her backing band on her "Lu's Jukebox: Have Yourself a Rockin' Little Christmas with Lucinda" concert," you would have been sadly mistaken.
Not when you consider that most of the studio recording was steeped in the blues and songs like the mournful "Please Come Home for Christmas." Williams, a Louisiana native, was certainly well-suited to sing songs from the likes of Albert and Freddie King.
Unlike other livestreams, this was really a studio concert recording. It may have been presented live to the online audience, but this was more like a studio recording documentary. Prior to laying down almost every song, Williams gave a slight introduction (recorded in the studio), often giving her connection to the material.
"Anything with the color blue is alright in my book," said Williams in introducing Buck Owens' "Blue Christmas Lights." To say that Williams oozed every ounce out of sadness from the song might be an understatement.
Williams said when looking around for a version of "Run Run Rudolph," she came across that of blues guitarist Samantha Fish. This is probably unlike anything you've heard before of this song. It includes everything from surf guitar licks to straight out blues to a bit of a reggae sound at one point.
Williams reached back to the late great Texas blues guitarist Freed King for "Christmas Tears." "Freddie King and Christmas music go hand in hand because Christmas is about having the blues sometimes for a lot of people." Singing lines like "Everybody's singin' "Merry Christmas/As they watch the starry sky filled with reindeer/I'm smilin' on the outside/But on the inside I'm cryin' Christmas tears," it would be hard to argue with Williams.
Williams made the case for Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December" being ever relevant today. Saying it was one of her favorite songs ever, Williams explained that the idea is for a father laid off at the factory to provide for his son at the holidays. Williams captured the sadness, while also retaining the song's hopefulness of "we'll be alright." This was about as country as she got on this night.
Taking on Rosemary Clooney's "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," Williams went for the jazzy route., which may not have been the best route to take. Williams is a better blues singer than jazz. Williams did fare better on her closing song, the lighter sounding "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," using Ella Fitzgerald's version as the inspiration.
Lest everything appear glum about Christmas, Williams took on Albert King's "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'." Smart move, and Williams showed yet again her facility with the blues.
But not wanting to get too cheery, Williams quickly launched into "Please Come Home for Christmas" and her take on Tom Petty's rejiggered "Little Red Rooster" done Xmas style.
Yes it's been an unusual year to say the least and a time when people could use feel good music. Williams would have been found innocent of bringing the Christmas cheer if you were looking for an evening of tried-and-true, sing along holiday favorites. However, if you were looking for a down-and-dirty approach to the holiday season filled with great playing and full-throated emotion, then Williams would have to plead guilty. Case closed.
Blue Christmas Lights – Buck Owens
Run Run Rudolph - Samantha Fish version
Christmas Tears – Freddie King
If We Make It Through December – Merle Haggard
Merry Christmas Baby – Charles Brown
I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm – Rosemary Clooney
Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin – Albert King
Christmas Time in New Orleans
Please Home for Christmas
Little Red Rooster – Tom Petty version
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Ella Fitzgerald