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LABEL: Metro One Records
GENRE: Christmas/Pop
SPECIAL EFFECT(S): In the liner notes, Lewis tells how she and her band took just three days to record the entire set, nailing most of the songs by the second take.
PRODUCER(S): Brian Ray and Dan Garcia

With a nod to Jerry Maguire, I'll say that Crystal Lewis' Holiday "had me at hello." There's no sign here of those modern Christmas albums that feature a bag of unfamiliar new compositions and radical rearrangements of what used to be your favorite songs. Instead, Holiday charms with the simple present of a surefire voice backed only by a jazz combo of piano, bass, and drums, and the occasional orchestral splash.

There's an idealistic essence to the Yuletide season that we reach for every year; a dreamlike mix containing cold air and a warm fire, a box of biographical tree ornaments, a copy of It's a Wonderful Life, and a humbling nativity scene. Steeped in equal parts playfulness and reverence, Holiday fits nicely into that mix. Lewis' renditions of "Let It Snow" and "Winter Wonderland" are palpably fun and nostalgic while "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and "O Holy Night" shine their light on the true meaning of Christmas. In all, Lewis and friends get credit for arranging 7 of the 12 tracks, but every new tempo and phrasing is joyfully easy to follow.

Holiday really is an appropriate lesson in the appeal of simplicity, and the hip factor of not over thinking one's art. No, it's not a die-hard truth, but Christmas needn't be the annual season of musical reinvention. When tradition is placed in the right hands, it can be just as innovative and aesthetically pleasing as the next big thing.

--David Schrader