Kate and Anna McGarrigle don't record together all that often anymore, but when they do, they tend to make an event of the occasion. Like the pair's 1998 album The McGarrigle Hour, The McGarrigle Christmas Hour ropes in pals like Emmylou Harris and Beth Orton, plus family members, including Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Kate's children with Loudon Wainwright III. The theme, naturally, is Christmas, and the McGarrigles offer multiple takes on the subject. The album-opening traditional song "Seven Joys Of Mary" clicks through its title subject to a reverent, almost medieval arrangement, while elsewhere, Rufus sings "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" in an inflection that has nothing to do with piety.

Still the sisters themselves have the best moments, particularly on a cover of Jackson Browne's "Rebel Jesus" where their sweet harmonies tap into some of the season's hypocrisies. But all such worries are forgotten, or at least forgiven, by the time the full chorus breaks out "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" as a lovely, insistent march, sounding committed to spreading tidings of comfort and joy, one family at a time.

Advertisement