There is, it seems, nothing to which Collette Cooper cannot turn her hand. She is a writer, singer, actress, and poet. Cooper proves her depth of talent again on this Christmas release. ‘Darkside of Christmas'( Thelonious Punk records) is an alternative take on the familiar deluge of yuletide projects.The album is a Christmas record but reflects the current political and social environment caused by the impact of national and global events. Cooper is deeply empathetic to her fellow human beings, which is apparent on every track. She touches on seasonal jollities but recognizes recent global difficulties, too, and manages to imbue the emotions of love, loss, and the understanding that Christmas festivities can temporarily mask the realities of some situations. Like a gift-wrapped present, Cooper includes compassion, wry wit, edgy humour, and outstanding musicianship in a seasonal release perfect for our time. Cooper is gifted with a voice unmistakable in its husky tones, packed with pathos and emotion that can take you on a journey from heartbreak to heavenly bliss in an instant.
Along with Cooper’s individual take on Christmas carols and songs, there is poignancy when she sings ‘Another Day,’ which is dedicated to her best friend Claire Bonham, who unexpectedly passed away in 2020.
Cooper‘s friend and principal cellist in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Richard Harwood, joins Cooper for the album. His unrivaled bowmanship is intensely felt in their version of ‘Silent Night.’ She also recruited notable jazz musicians Andy Davies ( Tony Kofi, Kitty La Roar, and more) and Kevin Davy ( Finlay Quaye, Lamb, and others) on trumpets and Liam Stevens (Aydenne Simone, Liam Stevens Quartet, and more)and James Pearson (James Pearson Trio, Wynton Marsalis, Cleo Laine and more) on piano. Their presence enhances the recording with their individual and collective dexterity and flair. The Kings Voices Gospel Choir adds vibrancy and warmth, and legendary British actor Ray Winstone lends his distinctive voice to some numbers, topping what proves a sumptuous seasonal feast.
Trumpet heralds Gruber and Mohr’s ‘Silent Night‘ to open the album. Ray Winstone’s liquid tones recite Cooper’s original poem. “Christmas night falls upon the darkness of the land, the blackbird crows where the brave man stands, but there in the night is an imminent light beaming down bright, yet hides where the brave man stands upon the darkness of the land.” Cooper enters with her sensual rendition of the familiar carol, underpinned by Harwood’s sumptuous and richly dark ‘cello. Gospel–infused styling gives Cooper’s rich, deep vocals room to fly and the gentle, lilting background harmonies from King’s Voices add to the atmosphere. The ‘cello solo adds a touch of the divine, and all is calm – until Cooper, in her inimitable manner, lifts the vocal intensity rising in arcs and emotive ripples over the increasingly textured vocal lines of the choir. The harmonics of the final bars are wonderful, with Cooper handing back to the whispering snowstorm effects and sensual trumpet song.
George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So,’ is delivered with all the sassiness of a succubus, and the energy of a sprite. Usually a male solo, this lady delivers on full throttle with unctuous spirituality, combining an irreverence for the words of the holy book with respect to the original annotation. It ends with repeated bars from ‘Christmas Bells.’ Sportin‘ Life, the character who sings this song in ‘Porgy and Bess’ might well approve.
Cooper’s original composition ‘ Another Day’ is a tribute to her friend Claire Bonham. It was written after Bonham died in March 2020, shortly after seeing Cooper for New Year. The words are meaningful, the vocals poignant and packed with emotion. Underpinning the track is the beautiful ‘cello line and melodic piano from James Pearson. ‘When you walked by my window on a snowy New Year’s Day, and you smiled, and I waved,‘ Cooper sings, ‘how could I know there wouldn‘t be another day?’ The number is profoundly evocative and sad, yet also there is hope. ‘Next time you walk by my window, I know there will be another day, and we’ll smile, and we’ll wave ….A New Year’s day with you.‘
Bob Thiele and George Weiss’ ‘What A Wonderful World’ is preceded by the clinking of glasses and the voices of friends laughing and sharing good times before the song begins with a gentle piano introduction from Liam Stevens. Cooper duets with the piano, paying homage to the original song but adding her individual vocals. Stevens delivers a powerful interpretation of the melody in the second third, just past the three–minute mark. A great take on the song.
‘Darkside of Christmas‘ is another Cooper original. Introduced by Winston’s lightly menacing rendition of her poetry again, before Cooper sings of a dark side of Christmas when the festivities and lights hide the loneliness of the street. ‘He rests on his park bench dated 1963, he prays for one last time ‘please save me!’ There is a dark side of Christmas, but the church bells ring the truth, there is a dark side of Christmas, but the light comes shining through.” He waits by the church door holding broken dreams; he waits for just one more chance to be redeemed.
The song’s lyrics may have you in tears, and Cooper delivers them with emotion and empathy. The poor man with regrets and needs is alone while the church bells ring. Andy Davis adds his trumpet voice to the song, which Kevin Davy joins, over the Kings Voices choir and ever-more complex piano, which rises in the background. A beautifully worked number packed with power and emotion.
‘Run Santa Baby,’ written by Cooper and Gregory MacDonald, tells of the near-panic Santa has near Christmas, to pay the rent, sort the hungry reindeer on his tail and not an elf in sight. What if Santa had 12 days to pay his rent and no money just before Christmas? Oh dear, what to do? How about a rollicking blues-infused number and singing about the situation? Ok, go! The number features some stellar guitar work from Jack Parry, outstanding bluesy vocals, crazy piano, a bonkers trumpet solo packed with cheek, and the whole thing is underpinned by a steadfast rhythm, hand claps, and ends with Winstone’s reminder ‘Where the brave man stands.’
This album was recorded at Abbey Road and Dean Street Studios, with original artwork by the acclaimed photographer Rankin. ‘Darkside Of Christmas’ is a unique and stylish work, destined to indulge all of this year’s Scrooges and maybe a few Tiny Tim’s for good measure!
This album is something different, something seasonal. Christmas is coming, the twinkling lights are glittering, and the presents are wrapped but spare a thought for your fellow man. By the way, no humbugs are allowed.