CHRISTMAS EYES LINER NOTES
A major singer/songwriter with a compelling voice and the ability to write insightful lyrics, Janelle Donovan has always loved Christmas songs. “My parents were into Christmas music and had tons of albums. The whole family sang along together. My two brothers, my sister and I used to sing Christmas carols all through the neighborhood.”
In 2001 Janelle (along with Tony Perrino and Joe Mele) recorded an EP, Christmas Love, that became very popular. “People loved the fact that we did some originals plus interesting arrangements of old favorites. The only complaint I ever got about the album was that the fans wanted more, a full CD.” The title cut in particular was a hit and Janelle had success performing at Christmas festivals, even singing for the official lighting of the New York State Christmas tree.
Janelle first met Tony Perrino in the 1990s and they have been writing songs together ever since. Perrino, who has played with Delbert McClintock, Blue Oyster Cult, Savoy Brown, Dickey Betts and many others, is a multi-instrumentalist who not only plays bass, drums, organ, keyboards, percussion and flute but is a fine singer too. Through Perrino, Janelle was introduced to the versatile guitarist Joe Mele who is also an excellent bassist. After moving to Los Angeles, the singer has been fortunate to meet Mark Cargill and Greg Cook. “Mark is one of my co-writers and is an exquisite violinist who works many of the major studios in town. When I hear the solos and fills that he played on the album, I get chills. Greg Cook is a very sophisticated piano player and keyboardist. Mark and Greg know how to blend with my voice and weave in and out with my singing.”
Joined by Tony Perrino, Joe Mele, Mark Cargill and Greg Cook, four of her favorite musicians and people, Janelle has expanded the original Christmas Love EP into a full-length CD titled Christmas Eyes. The collection begins with the title cut. “Christmas Eyes” (written by Janelle, Cargill and Cook) is a memorable ballad that could become a standard someday. “When I wrote the lyrics for this song, I was thinking about the people all around me who were struggling to make ends meet. Folks had lost jobs, health insurance, homes. I have family and friends that I love who were struggling just the same. I wanted to reach out and lift people’s spirits. I remembered Christmas eves in my past when times were dire, but we found a way to be merry by treasuring each other and remembering where all good things come from- a power greater than ourselves. For myself, I know that if I am full of resentment and looking for someone to blame that I can’t feel much joy or gratitude. It’s not that things shouldn’t change, but sometimes in order to find peace, I need to let go of my worries-to let myself find personal power in the things that can not be taken from me, such as the sparkle in a loved one’s eyes. That is what 'Christmas Eyes' is about.”
On a swinging “Good King Wenceslas,” which is subtitled “Good King Jazz Man,” trumpeter Andrew Carney is a featured guest. This joyous version of a traditional Yuletide favorite (which was originally an ancient drinking song) features Janelle as a jazz singer. She is clearly inspired by the playing of both Carney and Cargill
“Silent Night” starts out in a straightforward manner, features some beautiful violin playing, and becomes jazz fusion with the passionate guitarist playing of Mele.
Of the originals, “Dancing Round The Tree With Santa” is perhaps the most fun and certainly quite fanciful. “This was inspired by a little girl from our family. I loved watching her when she was three, being so happy dancing around the Christmas tree even though there wasn't any music. In the song I have everyone dancing, including Santa.” The goodtime country song is followed by the traditional “Go Tell It On The Mountain” which is given a country/bluegrass treatment. Perrino takes a down home vocal that contrasts well with Janelle, and Mele's country guitar fits the piece perfectly.
“Count Your Blessings,” which was introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1940s, gives one a rare opportunity to hear Tony Perrino playing some very effective flute. The superior obscurity has philosophical lyrics about being grateful that makes it a logical part of the Christmas season.
The country ballad “Christmas Love,” which Janelle co-wrote with Perrino, was a hit for her in 2001 and still sounds fresh and relevant a decade later. Its sentiments are timeless.
“Since we had such a great violinist in Mark, and I had always wanted to hear an instrumental rendition of 'Silent Night,' I had his violin replace my vocal for the second version. The musicians created an interesting blend of jazz and bluegrass.”
The sacred piece “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” is described by Janelle as “a plea for heavenly help. When I hear it I feel like I’m standing out on a desert plain looking at a huge sky full of stars.” The CD concludes with a second version of “Christmas Eyes,” the album mix. The piece is a perfect Christmas Eve love song, six minutes that can be spent slow dancing in front of a warm fireplace.
The music on Christmas Eyes, which covers a wide range of styles and mixes together newer pieces with traditional songs, forms a heartwarming, compelling and festive set of music. In summarizing the message behind the music, Janelle Donovan says, “I hope that listeners will remember what they already know in their hearts, that Christmas is much more than the material aspects. The important things are the treasures in life, especially our loved ones. I also hope that listeners will find this music to be a lot of fun.” Considering how infectious the collection is, there is little doubt that Christmas Eyes will be enjoyed all year round.
Scott Yanow, Author of ten books including The Jazz Singers, Swing, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76