Advocate review of Mary Verdi’s new Christmas Album

Wednesday December 14, 2011

Mary Verdi wants to be part of your holiday tradition.

“I wanted to make sure I created a CD that people could play while wrapping gifts or making cookies, that sort of thing,” the Berkshire-based performer said of “Christmas in the Berkshires,” her new full-length album. “It was important for me to create a CD that would be a little bit of everything and bring back the nostalgia of that whole Christmas season that we just love.”

The result is an album that is decidedly traditional in its musical approach, with an emphasis on Christian spirituality.

“I think Christ just remains to be one of the best teachers that we’ve ever had of how to love everybody around you, and to celebrate the birthday of someone who was just so profoundly full of love, I think that is the epitome of my CD, I hope,” she explained.

The 15-song track listings include familiar chestnuts like “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Silver Bells” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” although it’s also dotted with songs of a more recent vintage by artists such as Amy Grant and a new song by Verdi herself.

“Ultimately I think we all want to hear all those songs we know so well,” she said. “I wanted to make sure it was a CD where we all get to hear those songs that we only hear once a year.”

Verdi’s vocals are featured, accompanied by Ben Kohn on piano, Tony Lee Thomas on some guitar and vocals and Joe Meo on saxophone. The concept for the album, Verdi’s fourth, came about after last year’s version of her annual Christmas concert, which for the first time was held at The Colonial. Verdi said many people approached her merchandise table seeking a Christmas-themed album, and her next step was clear.

Shortly thereafter, she sat down at her piano and composed “Christmas Time,” an elegant, holiday-themed song in the true tradition of sentimental Christmas ballads.

The album is a family affair, with Verdi’s children chipping in their vocals on “Silent Night.”

“I added my kids just because I felt that Christmas is so family-focused. I really wanted the CD to depict my family and not just make it a commercial CD but make it feel like we all do in the Berkshires and have this nice community around us,” Verdi said.

Underlining this sense of place is the cover art for the album, a gatefold watercolor painting by local artist Marguerite Bride of a snow-kissed Park Square, Pittsfield, set in 1912. There’s also the presence of some antique sleigh bells Verdi came across in a Connecticut antique shop on a hot August day, while searching for the perfect wintry effect.

“We were able to use these antique bells all through the CD,” she recalled. “They have a sound that’s just magical. It was gorgeous.”