Bett Butler Featuring Joël Dilley - Winter Lullaby: Songs For The Christmas Child (2016)

Several reviews of albums released by jazz bassist Joël Dilley and his singing, piano playing wife, Bett Butler, have appeared on this blog. Each one has released several records on their own and they've also worked together. Their most recent joint effort is the 2016 Christmas album, Winter Lullaby: Songs for the Christmas Child and it serves as the final entry for November's Women's Music Month and as the introduction to the holiday season.

Butler wrote five of the twelve songs and plays piano. Her vocals include some jazz, pop and serious religious music. Dilley is the producer and arranger. He also added both acoustic and electric basses, and played keyboards. 

This is not an album aimed at children but Butler said she subtitled it Songs For The Christmas Child "with the thought in mind that the season – with its pleasures of giving and receiving – has the power to bring out the child in all of us."

Butler also explains her inspiration behind a few of the songs.

"Growing up, the holidays were a big deal around our house. My dad had an extensive collection of Christmas songs, which I’ve always loved – even the corny ones. Many of the selections on the album were ones I grew up with. Joël introduced me to “El Noi de la Mare;” he’d always loved Segovia’s version. And living in multi-cultural San Antonio, I came across “La Virgen fue Lavendera” while researching holiday songs in Spanish."

“No Place Like Home for Christmas” was recycled and re-written from a song I wrote decades ago for a local theater production."

“Are You Alone for Christmas Day” came from being separated from Joël one Christmas due to a family member's serious illness, which enabled me to imagine the loneliness of those without any family at all. And “Someone’s Child” was written for the Elf Louise Christmas Project, a local volunteer organization providing gifts for kids from financially struggling families. (Proceeds from that tune, and a portion of each album sold, are donated to that organization.)"

Butler and Dilley expound further in the disc's liner notes.

"For us music has always been about storytelling, because stories fuel our connection as human beings; so when we set out to make a Christmas album, we knew it would be about exploring the universal stories we all share."

"For many, the Christmas story is a celebration of the essence of their faith that two millennia ago, God came to Earth in human form to redeem humanity. But there are other stories here, too, very human stories that resonate in the contemporary world regardless of religious belief. There is the story of a refugee family fleeing persecution, relying on the mercy and generosity of strangers; and the story of a child born in poverty and injustice who grows up to profoundly influence the world. There is the story of a young mother caught up in the mundane chores of child care, and the story of guests so wrapped up in celebrating that they forget who the party is for. There is the story of expectations unmet, the story of nostalgia for home and family, and the story of loved ones lost and longed for."

"But ultimately, the Christmas story is the story of light in the midst of darkness, warmth in the midst of cold, hope in the midst of despair. It’s the story of mercy, generosity, peace, love, and forgiveness. No matter what your traditions or beliefs may be we hope you’ll find these things in the stories we share here."

On "Pat A Pan," a European carol from the 1700s, Butler adds new English lyrics. Another highlight, sung in French, is "Cantique de Noël (O Holy Night)" with just Dilley's piano as accompaniment. 

The arrangements include both jazz and acoustic balladry and the sacred songs were recorded to sound genuine, not some pop singer doing a generic cover version. They are all topped off with Butler's pleasing alto singing. 

Kudos go to Rene Saenz for his sax work on the jazz tracks and Karen Dickson Emerson adds some beautiful flute on "Pat A Pan." 

Even in these days of wokeness Butler and Dilley are not afraid to perform songs related to the original Christmas story and also, to their credit, they do not include a single piece that is overplayed and abused every holiday season. If you want "Jingle Bell Rock" or "Let It Snow" you'll need to look elsewhere. This is a very stellar and satisfying album.