Mandy Barnett may live in Nashville, but don't expect her Packard Music Hall show to be a typical country Christmas.
While the concert aims to be joyous, she also plans to tug at the heartstrings with a combination of numbers from her "Winter Wonderland" release as well as material popularized by Patsy Cline.
Talking about the album during a recent phone interview, Barnett said, "I wanted to do songs that you could play when you were having Christmas dinner, when you're decorating the tree; fun, festive, sentimental Christmas songs."
Barnett recalled memories of spending time with her grandparents and listening to the seasonal fare of Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley and Burl Ives. Those experiences influenced her choices such as the title track, "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "White Christmas," "This Time of the Year" and "(There's No Place Like Home) for the Holidays" and its Music City-meets-lush-pop production values that make each song feel as if you're listening to them while roasting chestnuts on an open fire.
As the album's producer, she enlisted some of the musicians and arrangers who played on the original versions of these holiday classics. They gave the 12 numbers the authentic "1960s vibe" Barnett wanted even if she had to be creative in order to get in the holiday spirit.
"We recorded it in June. It was 100 degrees. I did bring a Christmas tree into the studio and we turned the air way down. The good thing about a studio is that there's no windows, so you can pretty well get into that mindset because you can't see what's going on outside, and it might as well be 40 below."
If you go
WHO: Warren Civic Music Association - Mandy Barnett
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Packard Music Hall, 1703 Mahoning Ave. N.W., Warren
HOW MUCH: Single tickets are $35. For more information, call 330-399-4885.
The instrumental backing certainly shines but it's her honeyed voice that makes "Wonderland" soar. A gifted set of pipes is what set her apart when a 5-year-old Barnett started performing in churches. Two years later she made appearances at local political rallies, American Legion halls and fairs. At 10 she won a talent contest at Dollywood, which led to a daily show at the theme park plus the chance to go on rides all day until showtime.
Even as a teenager, her torch song delivery recalled Patsy Cline. That similarity resulted in Barnett appearing as the country icon for two years at the Ryman Theatre in the musical "AlwaysPatsy Cline." In 2011, she released "Sweet Dreams," an album of recordings made famous by Cline. They displayed her continuing growth as a vocalist, with a maturity that was hinted at on the 1995 "Always" cast album and her critically-acclaimed release, "I've Got a Right to Cry."
Many of the same voices that Barnett heard at her grandparents' house around the holidays would also come to influence her dedicated approach to the Countrypolitan style, which like the Nashville Sound, featured pop elements and string sections in an attempt to cross over to mainstream audiences. Glen Campbell, Tammy Wynette and Charlie Rich were some its biggest stars the late '60s and early '70s.
"When I first started out, it's something that people started calling me. I never heard of it before but I thought it was awesome and such a great term because I do love country but when I can record with an orchestra strings and steel guitar sound really great together.
"It's country with an uptown kind of sound like Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee and Jim Reeves. Some country purists don't like it because they don't want to like strings and that kind of thing, but I absolutely adore it because I love pop music, too. I was really influenced by all those great big band singers and pop singers from the '30s, '40s and '50s - Connie Francis, Dinah Washington and Patti Page, folks like that. And they all had their toe in country music. They cut a lot of country songs."
Barnett acknowledges that pursuing this sophisticated version of country goes against the current tide of artists who add a little to twang to what is at its core pop material and classic Southern rock 'n' roll, but she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I haven't fit in for a really long time but that's OK," she said. "I've always known it was going to be hard but I got into this because I love to sing. The fame is only part of it. Being able to sing wonderful songs and get that feeling out of it and that reward for myself is what I'm after. Doing this kind of music is what does it for me.
"I need the payoff, too, not just a financial payoff. It needs to be rewarding for me and I need to feel good about what I'm doing. These songs are the kind of songs that I enjoy singing. They're vocally challenging, and I get something out of it."