Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, AL is May 16-18, 2014 - www.hangoutmusicfest.com

A Fine Frenzy

Oh, Blue Christmas

(Virgin)

[In the December issue, we reviewed a number of Christmas CDs, but more came in after deadline. We hope to deal with as many as we can over the course of the month.]

A Fine Frenzy

Oh, Blue Christmas

(Virgin)

5102+HoSI2L._SS500_Oh, Blue Christmas is a six-song EP evenly split between covers and originals, and its finest moment comes in the cover of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here.” The song from A Charlie Brown Christmas has proven to be the modern Christmas classic, and here it provides a musical framework that separates A Fine Frenzy from the bands that it recalls. Too often, I could be listening to a Christmas album by Frente or Sixpence None the Richer, or any number of other early ’90s pop bands built around acoustic guitars, a breathy female vocalist, and small, pretty songs. “Christmas Time is Here” coaxes the band out of its comfort zone as it trades the spare guitar for spare piano and evocative sounds that swell and recede.

The band’s compositions are clearly closer to its heart, and even though they’re wintry, they’re not terribly Christmas-y. “Redribbon Foxes” is lovely, but only “Wish You Well” threatens to evoke a moment of joy or unguarded warmth. When Alison Sudol sings “Ring-a-ling, a-ling” in the chorus, this song of familial conflict finds an uplifting moment. But even the end of the chorus starts to hedge toward the melancholy. I take the insertion of mariachi horns near the end and Sudol sounding fully awake as a sign that the end of the song should be heard as celebratory, but if so, celebration is not in A Fine Frenzy’s DNA.