As a genre, holiday music has an entirely different alignment than most, being song- and theme-driven, and any approach, from pop, rock, country, blues, and jazz to new age and classical, will work. And since it is also seasonal, and therefore shared by all, it's the ultimate crossover genre, a kind of jointly shared catalog of songs full of ready-made motifs and themes, and in the case of Christmas music, a unified hope for joy and peace on earth. What soprano Renée Fleming has done with the David Frost-produced Christmas in New York, her first holiday album, is add place to the mix. Conjuring moments of a wintery carriage ride through Central Park, twinkling lights, and bright fallen snow on 5th Avenue, Rockefeller Center aglow, and chestnuts roasting on every corner, Fleming's first Christmas album, although tracked in the studio, flows and unfolds like a limited-run seasonal Broadway stage tribute to the city, complete with a host of guests like Kelli O'Hara, Rufus Wainwright, Gregory Porter, Brad Mehldau, and Wynton Marsalis. There's a gentle, jazzy, folky crossover pop feel to things, with Fleming's beautiful voice showing endless little stylistic variations from track to track, from the opening "Winter Wonderland," which features Marsalis-led horns, through the country-folk-tinged "Silver Bells" (a duet with O'Hara), and then closing things out in a nice story arc with the Christmas lullaby "Still, Still, Still," a duet with Kurt Elling. The curveball here, and one of the best tracks, is a gorgeous and hushed version of Sandy Denny's "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" (featuring Mehldau), which shows just how versatile this timeless song (which one would not, at first, think of as a Christmas song) is, and in Fleming's hands, it sums up the rush and glow, hurry and flow and emotional pull of a Christmas season in New York City. Look for this set to become a seasonal favorite. ~ Steve Leggett
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