Janet Full of Grace and Glory

So after I recommended Janet Paschal’s Christmas project the other day, I popped it into the cd player in my car and got that self-satisfied feeling that comes with having forgotten just how right I was. What is astonishing about the project — and would say this whether or not JP’s webmaster talked of putting a reference to my comments on JP’s website or not — is not just its (or rather Paschal’s) stylistic range, but how quietly forceful her voice. She can, of course, command a room with power and might if she must or pleases (cue appropriate Gaither Homecoming tapes), but there’s none of that here. Instead, Paschal’s singing voice on this project reminds me of what Emerson said about effective public speaking: the quieter you talk the more control you have over what you say. Almost every satisfying moment on the project (and there are many) come in places where she takes a word or phrase and deftly, masterfully embellishes it … often this only lasts for a second or two - a passing tone or a tasteful ornamentation - but the effect is hypnotically transforming, as if a hidden recorder has caught Paschal singing almost silently to herself, trying out new approaches to old lyrics (”What a Wonderful World,” which Paschal completely rescues from its clichéd past) or bringing her familiar voice to new material (”What a Strange Way to Save the World” and “Something Going on in Bethlehem” being the finest of the new songs here). These kinds of reshapings are solely the provenance of the confident and commanding - the sort of thing one does because one can, and because who needs to hear another Christmas project full of IAG wailing and other obnoxious preening from dilettantes and divas.But you need not have a music degree or a pitch-pipe in hand to enjoy Christmas. With the exception of “Christmas in Carolina” (and “Old Friends,” a pig of a tune that won’t make it to the prom even with Janet Paschal’s lipstick), the song selection here is a pleasant mix of Christmas standards (”Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Away in a Manger”), new appealingly smart religious numbers (”What a Strange Way,” “Something Going On”) and cheeky revamps of holiday favorites (namely, “Christmas Waltz,” whose background vocals make me laugh out loud and whose orchestral accompaniment is wise beyond Wayne Haun’s young years … recall that at the time of this project he was a pretty unknown commodity outside the hardcore sg/Daywind circles). Paschal couldn’t have known when she recorded this that she’d be scaling back her career as she’s had to do recently. Christmas is one of those treasures that gleams doubly bright for the way things turned out, giving off both the glow of native talent and the light of an increasingly rare gracefulness.

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