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Issue 1084

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LEDISI: SHE, OF GOOD CHEER!

Ledisi @bluesandsoul.com
Ledisi @bluesandsoul.com Ledisi @bluesandsoul.com Ledisi @bluesandsoul.com Ledisi @bluesandsoul.com

I confess Iâve never been a big fan of Christmas albums. Usually, artists pull from the same pool of songs and while there are frequent attempts to create ânewâ arrangements, even a wonderful song like Donny Hathawayâs 'This Christmas' can only be reinterpreted so many ways!

This year, thereâs a veritable spate of holiday sets â from Aretha Franklin (amazingly her first), Brian McKnight, Al Jarreau and Patti Austin, all joining the ranks of Anita Baker, Dianne Reeves, Dionne Warwick, The Whispers, The Isley Brothers, Roberta Flack, Stephanie Mills, Patti LaBelle, Luther Vandross and more, all of whom have given us their own yuletide fare over the years.

Joining their ranks - and as far as we can tell â the first âneo-soulâ artist to tackle the season of good cheer. Of course, it doesnât hurt that Ledisi Young is a superb multi-faceted vocalist who can bring her none-too-shabby skills to virtually any tune (check her contribution to the 2007 'We All Love Ella' set and the 'Forever, For Always, For Luther' album for evidence). Nonetheless, breathing new life into 'Silent Night' and 'What Are You Doing New Yearâs Eve' (both tunes featured on countless Xmas projects) takes some inventiveness and as is her wont, Ledisi stepped up to the plate to record 'Itâs Christmas,' her second album for Verve (following her two independently-released CDs). âItâs definitely not like any other album Iâve ever recorded!â the ever-upbeat songstress reveals. Itâs not just gospel, R&B or jazz. In fact, I did everything on one record and that was so much fun! Iâm hoping it will become something that people will pull out, year after year.â

The original idea was for Ledisi to record just four holiday-oriented songs âpossibly just for i-Tunes,â explains the lady whose past year has included live tributes to Quincy Jones (at Montreux) and Patti LaBelle, a stint in a musical ('Once On This Island') and her first appearance on the big screen (with George Clooney in 'Leatherheads'). âI started working with [producer] Rex Rideout while I was on tour and once we started, we figured we might as well do an nature album. We did three days of recording and Iâve never finished an album this fast in my life: it was insane but we did it!â

Fortunately, Ledisi did bring some freshness to the whole concept by including some new original material (such as the title track, co-written with George Duke) as well as interpretations of the old spiritual 'Children Go Where I Send Thee' (previously recorded by numerous folks such as Nina Simone, Johnny Cash and Mahalia Jackson), the Jackson Fiveâs 'Give Love On Christmas Day' and Louis Armstrongâs 'What A Wonderful World.' Ledisi explains, âOne of my aunts played all the Motown Christmas albums. Whenever we came to visit, sheâd be playing the Jackson Fiveâs album. âWe would go over and eat and sheâd be playing 'Give Love On Christmas Day' with Michael Jackson and his brothers. Iâve always loved me some Jackson Five and we recorded it in the original key they sang it in.â The Armstrong classic was particularly poignant for Ledisi given her family connections with New Orleans (his birthplace): it was a song she performed at shows in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and she notes, âIâve always wanted to record it and this album seemed like the perfect opportunity. It seems to make people cry when they hear it.â The rousing 'Children Go' is Ledisiâs reminder of her own childhood: âI had this great aunt â her name was Augusta but we called her âGa.â When she sang, she would shake the church up! She had this commanding, almost operatic style and when she finished, the whole congregation would be shoutinâ. âChildren Goâ reminds me of her, of how it was for me at home, growing upâ¦â

To make sure that Ledisi was in the holiday spirit when she recorded the album in the summer, âwe set the studio up as if it was Christmas with ornaments andâ¦cookies at the end of the night!â Considering that âit might be my favorite of all my albums because everything worked so organically and we did just one take on almost everything,â Ledisi says âthe vibe of the album was meant to be more like how it would be for the grown ups after Christmas, when there would be grown folk talk, when people would start to drink while the kids were asleep. I would sneak out because I wanted to be part of that energy. Iâd say there was lot of risk in me doing a Christmas album, even down to how I look on the CD cover but Iâm happy I did it and the last song on the album is [an original] âThank You.â That was my way of saying thanks to God for all the blessings, all the things that have gone in my career. When I think of Christmas, I think of a time to be grateful for all that I have in my life.â
Words DAVID NATHAN

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