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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Annie Lennox: A Christmas Cornucopia

Annie Get Your Gun Christmas CD.

We have a couple of confessions to make; things about us that you may not know. First, we're huge Annie Lennox fans and have been from the moment she unveiled her neon orange crewcut to the world lo, these many years ago.

Second, we are total Christmas Queens. Not as extensive as some gay men we know, who own thousands of expensive ornaments and miles of lighting, but we do enjoy getting our Christmas on. Tom has a playlist of Christmas music that is literally an entire day long. You can put it on at 8 in the morning and not reach the end of it by late that night. Every year he tweaks the lists and puts the songs in a more pleasing order (Classical/choral first, then old school stuff like Bing and Nat and Rosemary, then the bluesy/jazzy stuff like Ella and Etta, then the goofy stuff like RuPaul and Eartha Kitt, then the classic pop stuff, like John Lennon, Elton, The Pretenders, Madonna, and finally the electronic/lounge stuff, which always makes a perfect way to end the day, sipping on something warm and anesthetizing while falling asleep to the glow of colored lights with various cats purring on various laps.

So you can imagine our giddiness when the following press release landed in our inbox.

"On November 15th 2010, Annie Lennox releases her sixth solo album. A Christmas Cornucopia is a collection of new, inspired interpretations of 11 traditional festive songs, rounded out by a new Lennox composition, Universal Child, available digitally from 12th October.

“All the income that I earn from Universal Child will be paid to the Annie Lennox Foundation.” The Annie Lennox Foundation raises money for projects supporting and educating women and children in Africa with HIV/AIDS.

“I’ve known these songs, these carols all my life, I’ve sung them since I was little,” says the songwriter and singer of The Holly And The Ivy, Silent Night, The First Noel and other, less-widely-known songs such as Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant, and Lullay Lullay. “ They’re just in me. They’re a huge part of my life. So it’s not an arbitrary selection. Those relationships with those pieces of music were there intrinsically before I approached the recording.”

Here is where we squee'd, because "Il Est Ne" and "Lullay Lullay" are two of our very favorite old, old, old school carols and it's very difficult to find versions that we like.

"The music on the album was mostly played by Lennox, in collaboration with co producer Mike Stevens, and recorded in his southwest London studio – at the bottom of his garden. But to achieve the resonance and vibrancy that were integral to Lennox’s ideas for these re-energized reboots, the pair also worked with a 30-piece orchestra at Pinewood Studios. And they travelled further afield too: to South Africa, to record with the African Children’s Choir, a remarkable organization with which impassioned campaigner and activist Lennox has long had a relationship."

“There are 34 different choirs. They’re like a big extended family – the people who work with them, their careers, are called aunties and uncles. And it’s so precious – if you asked them, as we did with these eight and nine year olds, ‘how is your life different now that you’re in the choir?’ They would say things like, ‘Now I get really good food to eat.’ Or, ‘Now I wear nice clothes.’

“I had met them several times before, through 44664 (Nelson Mandela’s HIV AIDS foundation) – we had this ongoing connection, and I felt that if I was to record any children’s voices it had to be theirs.”

A Christmas Cornucopia is no saccharine packaged selection box. As befits its title, it offers an abundance of songs – drawn from British, French and German traditions – and a host of ideas. On Lullay Lullay, “a lullaby I’ve known for years and the darkest carol I think,” Lennox draws direct links between the Nativity and the plight of Africa’s child soldiers. “Lullay Lullay alludes to the killing of first-born boy children by King Herod… and going back more deeply into the story of the song, I kept getting images of child soldiers in my head…The violation of children is endemic in many so places. Even though this carol is ancient, the brutality of the subject matter is just as relevant today.

LUV. HUH. If you've never heard "Lullay Lullay," (also known as the Coventry Carol), it is by far the most haunting and even depressing Christmas song you will ever hear, but it's also incredibly beautiful. Her low, soulful, emotive voice is perfect for it.

And if all of this wasn't enough to make us clap, the promotional art, CD cover and even the video for "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" all reference Victorian Christmas art and Christmas cards, something else in which we have an interest. We have a small collection of vintage Christmas cards we display each year that we got for a song from a dealer who didn't know what he had. We've spent money on some expensive decorations over the years, (Each of our cats has a velvet Christmas stocking trimmed in gold thread. Not one of our cats give a shit.) But those gorgeous, glittery cards from over a century ago are still our favorites.

You can listen to excerpts from the rest of the tracks (as well as fool around with a 3D CD cover) here.

[Photo Credit: flylifeinc.com, annielennox.com - Video Credit: vevo.com]

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