Sarah Dawn Finer | Winterland
Sarah Dawn Finer is one of the most successful and recognized voices in Sweden, having released her first album ("A Finer Dawn") back in 2006, followed by four more, including 2010's spectacular Winterland. Hands down, this continues to be my absolute favorite holiday album. What strikes me most about this collection is how timeless it sounds.
This singer, songwriter and actress is something of a household name in Sweden, but not very well known in the US. Though raised in Sweden, her father has British roots and her mother is from the United States. She has participated several times in Sweden's Melodifestivalen (their qualifying contest for the Eurovision Song Contest) with entries "I Remember Love" (2007) and "Moving On" (2009), each of which became chart toppers in Sweden.
Winterland contains some incredible covers of classic Christmas/holiday songs that you'd expect to find on a holiday album, including "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", "The Christmas Song" and "Christmas Time Is Here" (this one in particular, stays so true to the tempo, style and arrangement of the original version by Vince Guaraldi of "Charlie Brown Christmas" fame). Sarah's voice is full, soulful and warm - and complements these winter songs beautifully. At times, I even hear hints of Donna Summer - I think Sarah could do a knockout cover of one of Donna's songs if that opportunity ever presented itself (think "Last Dance"!).
The remaining song selections are a bit less traditional, but align with the seasonal "winter" theme of the album. These are some of the standout tracks, with songs like "Angel" (Sarah McLachlan), "Winter Song" (Sara Bareilles), "River" (Joni Mitchell), "What a Wonderful World" (Louis Armstrong) and "Sometimes It Snows In April" (Prince). The Prince cover is simply recorded with piano and strings and is the most breathtaking version of this song I've ever heard. Sarah notes that "Sometimes It Snows in April" was, oddly enough, recorded on a snowy, cold April day in Stockholm, and was one of her best live-recording moments.
Aside from the covers, Winterland includes two original compositions from Sarah Dawn Finer and Peter Hallström: "I'll Be Your Wish Tonight" and "Kärleksvisan" (Love Song). Both fit in perfectly among the other tracks. "Kärleksvisan" is a Swedish language version of one of Sarah's early songs ("For A Friend"). It was featured in the 2009 award winning film "Så Olika" (So Different), where Sarah also makes an appearance singing it. This song is often played and performed at weddings throughout Sweden.
I was lucky to see Sarah perform one of her "Vinterland" shows in Stockholm (2014). It was a magical experience to be submersed in the Christmas mood and festivities in Sweden and watch this multi-talented singer perform English and Swedish winter songs for a sold-out house.