Valerie Ahneman: Christmas with a French Twist

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Valerie Ahneman
with Bon Chic Bon Genre

Christmas with a French Twist

(Hi-Top Productions)

December 15. 2015

Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes

Joyeux Noel. Parisienne chanteuse Valerie Ahneman has released a Christmas album collaborating with her talented rock band Bon Chic Bon Genre.

This recording is consistently interesting on many levels. For starters, how often does one hear Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” sung in French?

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With a driving, pop-flavored beat, she pulls this off with flair, for a more cheerful delivery than usual. In fact, Ahneman’s spin on these familiar holiday classics is anything but usual. She brings less fire and brimstone to most interpretations than we might be used to. Instead, she repeatedly leans toward a more casual, laid-back approach.

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But, that is her strength and she knows how to work it.

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For instance, the terrific band sets a pseudo, pop-flavored mood that sizzles, led by Steve Hansen’s sprightly guitar riffs, on the beloved “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Hugh Martin (sung in English). Hopefully, anyone familiar with Eartha Kitt’s mischievous take on “Santa Baby” is open to a slightly come-hither spin that is just fun here. And, no one will think of Elvis Presley when they hear Ahneman’s smoky “Blue Christmas” with a haunting sax wail by Joe Meo. Robert Wells and Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”) has never sounded as wistful, sung in French with a clever pop arrangement that retains the original mood of this evergreen. Sometimes, her delivery gets a little too playful.

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And, sometimes it’s just plain refreshing at a time of year when endlessly familiar holiday songs are streaming everywhere.

While some of these songs have enjoyed a wide currency around the globe for decades, hearing new interpretations is welcome.

Her vocals are mostly upbeat and, while not recalling the natural darkness of a Piaf or Morreau, retain a sense of whimsy that works just fine. At times, more depth might be called for, but she has her own style that is compelling sans drama.

Other cuts worth noting are “Christmas Time Is Here” and the debut of a fine new song, “I Believe in Christmas Eve” by Jay Sweeney. He gets credit as arranger for the disc as well as piano and keyboard duties. Hansen does an excellent job on guitar, bass, and drums (and is also the producer), and Meo is on saxophone and flute.  

John Hoglund

For over 30 years, John Hoglund has been a respected entertainment writer covering cabaret, jazz, theater and recordings. His writings have appeared in numerous outlets including the Bistro Bits column for Back Stage. John moderated seminars and forums for the International Cabaret Conference At Yale. He produced many celebrity fundraisers in NYC including one of the first benefits after 9/11: “HeartSong:The Heroes' Concert” at The Bottom Line featuring 36 major stars. He co-produced “HeartSong2: The Heroes' Concert” for Katrina victims at Symphony Space and “Miracle On 35th Street” with a star-studded lineup. Other fund raising efforts include the first benefits for Broadway Cares and God's Love, We Deliver. John served on the Board of Directors of MAC for 12 years. He is well known for championing new and rising talents.