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John Cowan Band

Comfort & Joy – 2009 (E1)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by John Cowan Band

Let's Make A Baby King, the funky Jesse Winchester song that comes along toward the end of John Cowan's Christmas CD may be the most joyous holiday recording so far this year. With its soulful backing vocals, the track comes off like James Brown unplugged in Nashville. And while Cowan and his band are best known for their bluegrass instrumental chops, this CD is most certainly a singer's album. For instance, Cowan's faux operatic take on Ave Maria follows directly after Let's Make a Baby King.

Cowan's R&B-inclined vocal partners - including Bonnie and Bekka Bramlett and Mike Farris - also go for the gospel together on Go Tell It On The Mountain, which closes this disc. And while the offering's soul sounds provide the most fun, there are also jazzy moments as well, exemplified by What Child Is This, and one where Cowan even does a spot-on Don Henley imitation during Christmas Everyday. Although it's mainly a hoot hearing Cowan take soulful/jazzy liberties with holiday-associated tunes, this approach goes a little south with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. There are just some songs, such as this one, which simply must remain somber.

But Cowan doesn't make the same mistake with What Child Is This and Silent Night, however, as each of these are given the serious respect they deserve, which serves to bring both comfort and joy.