The latest release from soul music legend Bunny Sigler has quite a familiar ring. The single “White Christmas” from the forthcoming album When You’re In Love at Christmas Time goes beyond the usual in making a holiday themed statement and, instead, does that plus entertaining listeners with substantive musical values. This brilliant music veteran never panders to the sentimentality of his audience; instead, his take on this perennial Christmas classic swirls and moves with all of the individuality longtime music observers have always noted about Sigler. This is a man from a different generation with different priorities who, nonetheless, is an artist for all time and never sounds anything less than relevant despite essaying one of the biggest seasonal classics ever recorded. It has a lightly orchestrated quality thanks to the dense layering of instruments, but the track remains remarkably soulful and firmly in keeping with Sigler’s history
It’s his voice that is the unequivocal star of the show. Sigler doesn’t come in immediately and a small assortment of backing vocalists sets an early tone, but when he makes his entrance, the song’s character immediately changes. The truly great singers have what used to be dubbed “presence”. Their appearance, along with an accompanying band and melody, has a transformative effect on anything it touches. Sigler’s deep tone and careful, but deeply emotive phrasing gives added lift to an already fine musical performance and he sings the classic lyrics without any obvious nod to the illustrious vocalists who’ve preceded him. There’s a deft touch to his singing, as well, that discerning listeners will find impossible to ignore. Rather than playing up the song, as many interpreters of Christmas material are wont to do, Sigler opts for silky smooth understatement and coaxes each line out with the sort of luxurious deliberation that most singers, frankly, don’t have the chops to handle.
The arrangement is equally on point. He eschews the big ticket instruments of the genre in favor of piano, lightly applied keyboards, guitar, and restrained percussion that, nonetheless, gives the track much of its internal momentum. The careful weaving of these sonic elements has a surprising combination of density and fleet-footed musicality, but Sigler and his collaborators never overextended themselves. The song clocks out just before the four minute mark and it plays like an ideal length for this fond tribute and re-invention. The re-invention at work here is, arguably, the song’s most stunning quality. Rather than miring himself down with some ham-fisted recreation of earlier versions, Sigler rebuilds “White Christmas” in his own image and succeeds wildly.
This is the result when a top notch and long popular performer takes a turn with an outright standard. Instead of merely striking a few expected poses and hitting all of the inevitable marks, Sigler indulges audiences with the familiar while staking out new territory as his own. This stunning combination of the personal and traditional gives Sigler’s interpretation a flavor all its own that others could scarcely replicate.