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Perhaps the lasting legacy of the McGarrigle/Wainwright family—mother and aunt Kate and Anna, father Loudon, kids Rufus and Martha—will be these musicians’ propensity for swirling the sacred and the profane, folk tradition with urbane wit. It’s why the prettiest song on Martha’s recent debut was about a chick with a dick, and why the churchiest on Rufus’s Want Two was called “Gay Messiah.” On this Christmas disc, they tend the tradition with a stately reading of Jackson Browne’s “Rebel Jesus,” Martha bidding pleasure and cheer “from a heathen and a pagan” over little-drummer-boy snare reports.
Beyond Emmylou Harris’s “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and a “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” rich with Banana Republic pennywhistle, the program deviates admirably from holiday-album protocol. Proud Montrealers, Kate and Anna lead the group through “Il Est Né/Ça Bergers,” while Rufus somehow resists chewing the scenery to a pulp in Frank Loesser’s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” reprised from a Gap spot he did in 1999. Yet like the thoughtful song-catchers they are, the clan imbue the relatively obscure material with the same warmth you expect from Burl Ives. It’s jingle-bell pre-rock of uncommon charm.
Kate and Anna McGarrigle play Carnegie Hall December 21.