What a voice. Leslie Ritter makes a beautiful sound. And Scott Petito makes the rest of the music happen, masterfully.
When you talk about how a person sings, there are so many aspects in play. Their phrasing, their intonation, their expressiveness, the range of emotion, and those are but a few. But the most elemental thing is the basic sound that comes out when they open their mouth, their sound. And it is this basic element about Leslie Ritter's voice that floors me, the very nature of it is beauty itself. It is not stylized, it does not lean on vibrato, it does not contain any attitude or self consciousness--it is about the note, the melody, the song, the music that is being created.
That said, a Christmas record is a wondrous vehicle for such a voice, celebrating the season, and for Christians, the Savior's birth as well. And they get a lot of the season up there in Catskill NY, where they reside, and where Scott has his NRS Recording Studio, where many great records are made of Hudson Valley artists and beyond.
What's truly unusual about this great Christmas record is that half the fifteen tunes are original. And none are even remotely novelty songs, as one might find with original tunes on a Christmas record. They are classic songs, sacred songs in some instances. "If Mary Knew" is an awesome song, as is "Give A Little Hope" and their co-write with Longfellow, "The Bells of Christmas," in which Ritter displays an effortless reach that is quietly moving. Their read on the jazzy Guaraldi/Mendelson tune "Christmas Time Is Here" is world class, with a fabulous flugelhorn solo by Baikida Carroll. Beth Reineke, who is assistant engineer, sings a brilliant harmony on the traditional "In The Beal Mid-Winter."
Scott Petito's musicality is near boundless. Although he is as good a bassist as one can hope to hear, he shines very brightly on guitar, on every track. He lays down a mighty and mythic version of "We Three Kings" to close the record, all of it on bass(es).
If you buy only one CD for Christmas, we think you should get this one. If, like this writer, you go out of town for Christmas, pack this (and one for your hosts) in your suitcase with the presents. • Frank Goodman