Chris Standring, Kathrin Shorr make instant Christmas classics in ‘Send Me Some Snow’
Review first appeared in Examiner Nov. 30, 2011.
“We had this grandiose aspiration of composing brand new Christmas classics. Crazy idea, I know. But, we didn’t want to do another rehash of ‘Jingle Bells’ and all … ‘Silent Night’ [as much as we loved them]. We wanted to do something that would excite us, as much as the people who were going to be buying this record.”
It takes some chutzpah to put together a Christmas album of entirely original, entirely swinging compositions, and hope to compete against the proven classics. But jazz guitarist Chris Standring and folk-pop vocalist Kathrin Shorr managed to do just that, while having a ball trying.
They fell into the project, about two years ago, after finding musical connection at a random party. Standring — who’s made a big name for himself amongst the jazz elite with his contemporary urban and recently lush orchestral switch-up style — couldn’t help but be enchanted by Shorr’s stand-out voice, at turns fanciful, stark, confident, and fluid. He accompanied her on the spot with his guitar, greatly appreciating her vocal chops and originality of presentation. But then, she’s been at this for quite some time too, earning herself big-time notice with her husband Tim Burlingame in their duo band, Sweet Talk Radio.
Later, he thought of her after writing the bare bones of the song that would become the title track of their first duet album, Send Me Some Snow. He sent her a rough draft of his track and she replied back, back and forth they would go, until a song came from the collaboration. This song turned into another, then another, until an album came from it, encompassing both artists’ fondest wish to do something different, but nostalgic, classical, evocative, yet the sum of their original parts.
“I knew Kate had an affinity for holiday songs and she did a wonderful version of ‘Winter Wodnerland’ at Hotel Café, so I thought it might be fun to see if she might want to write a Christmas song together,” Standring explained. “When I sent her the track that developed into Send Me Some Snow, I didn’t think it would grow into something this substantial. But everything developed organically. I invited her to my studio and we wrote another, then another. If we had contrived a full album from the start, I don’t think it would have been as incredible an experience.”
Or as effortlessly listenable.
This album (released on Ultimate Vibe Recordings, November 1st) from start to finish, swings. Perhaps it has as much to do with the musical caliber of both successful artists in their own right, as it does their respective, essential genre-style contributions. Standring’s sound jazz foundation, with acoustic flourishes really nests in well with Shorr’s innate sense of rhythm, melody, and emotional sincerity.
“We both wanted to add to the conversation, add to the holiday. Hopefully this will be something that people will bring into their already existing holiday collection,” described Shorr, who wrote the lyrics to all the songs she collaborated on the music with. “We kind of went back to the classics … Sinatra, the Rat Pack, … kinda went back to what they did, there’s a reason those songs are classics, there’s a nostalgia, an emotion to them that is unmistakably Christmas. And so we both really strive to, in our own way, capture that nostalgia for ourselves… and get all of that into the feelings, but do it in a way that kind of drew on both of our backgrounds. Chris obviously comes from a jazz background, and I come from more of a folk-pop background.”
The jazz and the folk-pop come together incredibly well. Send Me Some Snow, smartly placed as the opening and title number, is the perfect marriage of jazz chic and a pop sensibility in the smooth, flowing vocals and acoustically toned music. It could easily be on today’s Top 40, alongside Sara Bareilles and Lady Gaga. The strings, plucky and lush in the background, accent the artists’ intent to harken the classic Christmas nostalgia of the 1940s and ‘50s.
“Naughty Or Nice” goes out on a limb, with a sexy, bold drag. It could’ve tanked as a pathetic, pretentious failure of bravado and edge — except Kathrin Shorr couldn’t sing a false note if she tried. She makes this jazzy scatty, in-your-face number truly an original, delightful instant classic. Love the “Naughty or nice, are you sugar or spice, boom-boom.”
Standring and Shorr do a lot more than fill up an entire album of originals that instantly sound like classics and do Christmas proud. They also try and succeed in approaching this most popular of universal holidays from different, more intimate perspectives.
“Dear Santa” is a tender, restrained tear-jerker with hints of Sting and those old Santa musicals for children, told from the perspective of Mrs. Claus, who misses her man on Christmas Eve while he’s out giving toys to children everywhere. Shorr is the star of this musical number, never plying on with excessive sentimentality. Instead, stripping away the artifice she could’ve lazily resorted to, into some real thought-provoking reflection on what it must be like for Santa’s wife. The melody is especially haunting in its plaintive, child-like loveliness and an almost exotic European “Sound Of Music” choral.
The beautiful “Christmas In Tinseltown” — here is where Standring really shines on guitar, bringing out the even more enchanting in Shorr’s twinkling voice — shines a light on sunny, warm places during the holidays, like California, where these two work and play. Despite the glitter of Hollywood and Tinseltown in general, they manage to zero in on the underpinnings of what still really matters: the heart and soul of two individuals finding love.
And “Through The Holidays” — about someone asking a loved one not to walk away from a relationship at least until after Christmas — will just make you weep. The strength of the vocal and lyrical punch, given a light stroke of the guitar and the poignant opening of children laughing, sends this song above and beyond the usual mindless holiday fare, as a strong, serious social statement to last 365 days a year.
Another easy Top 40 (although all of these songs could qualify) is “There’s No Time Like Christmas Time,” which manages to be both sad and happy, romantic and wistful, with a touch of Jobim. Shorr touches on all the things that make Christmas special with her breathless caress — “I’m counting to 10, there’s that feeling again, my eyes are as wide as a winter wind, reindeer that fly, pine trees that shine” — while Standring underscores them with floating, flickering, angular guitar play, as if counting snowflakes.
These two have a musical chemistry that’s magic, reflected in such melodic depth and lyrical finesse; nothing’s forced or self-conscious. They may have realized a classic Christmas album, blending vintage with contemporary in their original songs, but they really weren’t hung up on becoming the next, big Christmas sensation. It just happened along the way.
The only real intentional acts were to gather some of the best L.A. session players for the job, Larry Steen, Dave Karasony, Dan Lutz, Mitchel Forman, Dino Soldo, and to bring in the vintage sounds in the string arrangements, drums, upright bass, vocals. “Throughout the process, it occurred to us, much to our surprise, that we were creating something very original that few if any artists in our genres had done in the past,” Standring said. “We couldn’t find anyone who had done an entire album of originals with this kind of vintage sound. Our creativity was spurred by the desire to do something fresh and new but that would tug at people’s hearts like the standards do. Christmas music has an emotional power like no other to bring on feelings of nostalgia and sentimentality.”
Along the way, Chris Standring and Kathrin Shorr discovered a mutual vibe seasoned jazz musicians the world over would kill for. “When you work with someone you vibe so well with, it’s like you’re coming from the same place creatively. We ‘got’ each other musically and that’s a rare thing to discover,” Shorr raved.
It shows. All over this Christmas classic.