When singer and pianist Tony DeSare set out to create what he calls an “old-fashioned” Christmas album, he took as his model not 1957’s A Jolly Christmas With Frank Sinatra but that same year’s Close to You, a Nelson Riddle-arranged ballads session that paired Sinatra with the Hollywood String Quartet. DeSare, whose position among contemporary male crooners places him squarely between the pop sensibility of Michael Bublé and the jazz smarts of Harry Connick Jr., demonstrates his usual ease and agility across eight seasonal chestnuts and two originals. Apart from “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night,” the emphasis is on secular hits, among them a lightly swinging “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and a cozy “The Christmas Song.”
Working with Fred Barton and Tedd Firth to shape the arrangements-perhaps not of Riddle-level sharpness but still lush and sophisticated-DeSare recorded and mixed all 10 tracks in his home studio in upstate New York, complete with a six-member string section. New are “Christmas Home,” a snuggly waltz, and the darker, distinctly Billy Joel-esque “Christmas for You and Me.” And there’s a delightful bonus track, recorded live: “18 Versions of Jingle Bells,” a cornerstone of DeSare’s Christmas concerts that has steadily expanded over the years (much like John Pizzarelli’s ever-widening “I Like Jersey Best”). Here it includes polka, tango, classical, blues and ragtime variations alongside spot-on impressions of Michael McDonald, Neil Diamond and Randy Newman.