Gwen Stefani flaunts love for Blake Shelton on Christmas album

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Blake Shelton understands the fascination over his relationship with Gwen Stefani, but he wishes it would calm down. ‘In people’s defense, I think it’s so hard for people to wrap their head around why Gwen would want to be with me,’ said Shelton. ‘I don’t blame ’em.’
Wochit

Time again for the annual singer cash grab – aka the Christmas album – and Gwen Stefani enters the 2017 fray with “You Make It Feel Like Christmas.”

It feels forced, as do so many other Christmas albums. Stefani rolls through renditions of classic holiday tunes and offers the obligatory original songs (because an original Christmas hit can make a singer’s career) – all in a style that aims to suit her aesthetic.

Trouble is, Stefani hasn’t established a new aesthetic. She ain’t no hollaback girl anymore, and her “just a girl” days as the No Doubt lead singer were a lifetime ago. Lately, Stefani has been more of a celebrity than an artist – a coach on “The Voice,” recent ex-wife of Gavin Rossdale and, especially, the newish girlfriend of Blake Shelton.

To her credit, Stefani manages to both celebrate the season and express her love for Shelton on “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” – the title track is even a duet between Stefani and Shelton (both also co-wrote the song).

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It’s not easy to walk into a family and find acceptance, especially amid a divorce…but Blake Shelton has torn down the walls when it comes to Gwen Stefani and her three sons. It’s been about a year and a half since the country singer and the No Doubt rocker made things official in 2015, but their romance came during a rocky breakup for both Voice coaches. However, things are going well. A source tells US Weekly, “Gwen’s kids adore Blake…they think he’s so cool!”
Wochit

But like their ill-matched, exaggerated voices – her quirky pop tone and his downhome twang – “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” doesn’t quite come together.

Sure, the Andrews Sisters-styled backing harmonies on the brassy “Jingle Bless,” the peppy revamp of “White Christmas” and the swaying “Let It Snow” are satisfying, and her takes on “Santa Baby” and George Michael’s “Last Christmas” are serviceable, if not everything they should have been.

Yet Stefani sounds bored on “Silent Night,” and generally flat on the half-dozen new songs, including the homey country ballad “When I Was a Little Girl” and syrupy “I Never Kissed Anyone With Blue Eyes” (both of which are obvious nods to Shelton). And when Stefani brings to mind an ersatz Stevie Nicks on “Christmas Eve,” listeners might find themselves actually longing for a Stevie Nicks version of the song.

Ultimately “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” does feel like one kind of Christmas – the kind that is mildly diverting and sweet, albeit rote, and passable, even though it doesn’t deliver what you wished for.

Gwen Stefani

“You Make It Feel Like Christmas”

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

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Josh Ritter lets loose on eclectic “Gathering”

Veteran singer-songwriter Josh Ritter says he turned himself loose for his ninth full-length album, “Gathering,” and the result is a robust collection of disparate songs by an artist in his prime.

The 40-year-old isn’t especially complicated as he hopscotches through perspectives and styles, but his confidence and skills sell the release as a liberating, old-fashioned album featuring isolated moments in a range of emotions rather than an intricately assembled project with an overarching theme.

Listeners will sense an anything-goes vibe early, as “Gathering” opens with a spiritualistic intro, “Shaker Love Song (Leah),” and shifts into the subsequent “Showboat,” which improbably enough sounds like Tom Jones singing Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey,” though with braggadocio (and self-effacing) lyrics.

Ritter doesn’t get stuck in the 1960s, however, as he advances his show through three cornerstone emotions – playfulness, sadness and sweetness.

He’s clearly having fun in the frayed-around-the-edges rockabilly of “Friendamine,” the steel-decorated, bass-heavy, up-tempo “Feels Like Lightning” and the swinging country romp “Cry Softly,” where he points to the door and says, “If you’ve got to cry, cry softly.” And in the gospel hoedown “Oh Lord (Part 3),” you can sense him winking as he sings, “Oh Lord, will you ever have a plan for me?”

By contrast, the mood is darker, if sometimes wry, in the organ-driven “When Will I Be Changed?” featuring Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, in the tender melancholy of “Train Go By,” and in the smoldering anxiety of “Dreams.”

Meanwhile, Ritter is disarmingly effective when he gently dials it down and lets the love flow, as he does within the tranquility of the 7-and-a-half minute “Myrna Loy,” the soulmate-themed closer “Strangers” (“I can’t believe that we were ever strangers”) and the textured lullaby “Thunderbolt’s Goodnight,” where he experiences a revelation: “I thought the sun was coming down, but the sun was coming up.”

By turning himself loose, Ritter set himself free.

Josh Ritter

“Gathering”

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

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Jessica Lea Mayfield needs no apologies for “Sorry”

Jessica Lea Mayfield plunges into the depths of hell on her new “Sorry Is Gone.”

The Ohio-native singer-songwriter’s new release reveals the perspective of a woman trapped in a tragic relationship. She struggles for resilience as she copes with mental and physical abuse, depression, helplessness, fatalism and isolation.

If Beyonce’s “Lemonade” is dark, “Sorry Is Gone” is pitch black – with scant sugar to offset the sourness.

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USA TODAY’s Maeve McDermott on Beyoncé’s new release ‘Lemonade’.
USA TODAY

Mayfield’s lilting voice shows traces of her childhood spent as a bluegrass performer, and occasional guitar lines dovetail into an alt-country aesthetic, yet “Sorry Is Gone” is a rock album, owing more to her past associations with Black Keys producer Dan Auerbach and her affection for the Foo Fighters.

Sonically, “Sorry Is Gone” is almost as heavy and electric as Mayfield’s lyrics, but not quite.

The album opens at full tilt, a locomotive chug carrying Mayfield as she proclaims, “I’m a good girl now, I can hardly stand it.” She subsequently journeys through the melodic resonance of the title track before arriving at the jangling “Meadow,” where she shifts into self-protective mode.

Mayfield’s defenses often fail her, however. In the ominous metallic swamp of “Soaked Through,” she discloses, “He shook me and he cried and he said ‘please stay’ … So I stayed a little longer.” And she opens the disturbing “Maybe Whatever” with, “The shotgun’s under the futon/This is not my idea of fun.’”

The air is lighter on the bluegrass-flavored “Safe 2 Connect 2,” but her mood, delivered in near-monotone, isn’t: “Is there no one it’s safe to connect to anymore?” Also, even though she claims to be fine on her own on “Burn Me Out,” she drops in lines like, “All my friends think I’m dead/That’s why I don’t hear from them.”

Late on “Sorry Is Gone” Mayfield sings of cleansing herself from her bleak relationship (“Offa My Hands”) and fighting sadness (“World Won’t Stop”), though it’s hard to say if she has truly moved on.

It might be unreasonable to expect a happy ending from such a troubling story, so an inconclusive one will do.

Jessica Lea Mayfield

“Sorry Is Gone”

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

 

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