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Sarah Dawn Finer: Winterland

Album Notes

Continuing the recent tradition of festive albums from Melodifestivalen regulars, Winterland is the first seasonal offering from Swedish-American vocalist Sarah Dawn Finer. One of the more understated and soulful artists to emerge from her homeland's thriving schlager-pop scene, her third studio album following 2007's A Finer Dawn and 2009's Moving On isn't as dramatic a departure from her signature sound as recent Christmas efforts by Carola and Charlotte Perrelli, but it's still a surprise to hear just how authentically organic and subtle the 14-track collection is. Backed by Jesper Nordenstrom's simple but gorgeous acoustic arrangements and smoky barroom jazz production, Finer has toned down her occasional power ballad tendencies in favor of a restrained and timeless vocal style that at times evokes the raw emotion of Adele and at others the honey-dripped tones of Karen Carpenter. Her bluesy take on Judy Garland's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which also features a guest appearance from trombonist Nils Landgren, and her string-soaked rendition of Bing Crosby's "I'll Be Home For Christmas" show she can put her own spin on the classic yuletide standards. But as beautifully performed as the likes of Sarah McLachlan's modern favorite "Angel," traditional carol "In the Bleak Midwinter," and New Year folk song "Auld Lang Syne" are, Winterland's strengths lie in its less ubiquitous song choices. "Winter Song" is a breathtaking interpretation of Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson's heartbreaking duet, featuring subtle military drums, melancholic harmonica, and the stunning vocals of blues-pop singer Louise Hoffsten; "Maybe This Christmas" is an enchanting adaptation of a lesser-known track by Canadian troubadour Ron Sexsmith; and her cover of "Sometimes It Snows in April" effortlessly turns the Prince original into a wintry 1950s Peggy Lee-esque torch song. Two self-penned tracks, the gospel-infused "I'll Be Your Wish Tonight" and "Karleksvisan," a Swedish version of Moving On album track "For a Friend," are just as likely to conjure up images of chestnuts roasting on an open fire as the more familiar material. In an increasingly crowded market, Winterland just might be the best Swedish Christmas album of the last ten years. ~ Jon O'Brien


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