Maxine Linehan may not have been previously well known to Vermonters but that will change with the release of her holiday-themed album “This Time of Year.”
This CD reveals a star vocalist with the appeal of Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, whose program of songs lean heavily on a holiday experience that is neither a syrupy rehashing of over-recorded holiday pap, nor inappropriately jingly in this year of extreme political angst and pandemic concern.
Linehan, who has lived in Manchester Center with her family for four years, is Irish-born, having grown up in Cork. She has an interesting résumé that includes stints in the world of theater and as an attorney in New York City.
“This Time of Year” reflects Linehan’s and her producer-husband Andrew Koss’ concept of how to present a holiday album that favors superb vocals, well-chosen songs and an instrumental backup that is subtle yet full.
There is a song mix on this 12-track album that includes new material such as the title track and track eight’s “I Think of You (Holiday Edition)” for which Koss has co-writing credits.
Lesser-known holiday-themed material includes “Somewhere in my Memory/Believe,” “Underneath the Tree,” which Kelly Clarkson co-wrote; “The Perfect Year,” from the pen of Andrew Lloyd Webber; and “Memories,” co-written by Adam Levine, lead singer in Maroon 5, which starts with a hint of Pachelbel’s Canon in the introduction.
The album includes two genuine standards, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”; a nod to her new home state, “Moonlight in Vermont”; and the Sammy Fain classic, “I’ll Be Seeing You.” A surprising track is the Lennon/Ono song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”
There’s a titch of traditional Celtic music on the track “Christmas the Way I Remember,” which uses the music of the song “Loch Lomond.” The one overtly religious track is the album’s finale, “Silent Night.”
Throughout this delightful album we hear a voice that molds itself to the music. Linehan can belt out a tune or keep her voice in a restrained setting depending on what the material requires. While Irish by birth her accent is minimal in her singing.
“This Time of Year” was recorded in Vermont at the studio Koss has built at the family home. For music back up, the producer enlisted a favorite group of classical string players, from Taconic Musicians based in the Manchester area. These players have previously collaborated on several other Lineham studio recordings and have appeared with her onstage in her few Vermont performances. Other players on the album were generally recruited from the area.
“It really is extraordinary and took me by surprise the musicianship here,” Linehan said by phone. “Vermont is such an artistic state and reminds me of Ireland,” she observed.
She said she sees music as “a very big part of Vermont life. Everybody has instruments in their homes like in Ireland. Music is everywhere here, there are many opportunities to hear and play music.”
Linehan has kept a relatively low profile in the four years she has lived in Vermont. “We are not pandemic transplants,” she said. She had lived in New York since 2002 working as an attorney and obtaining American citizenship but said, “The arts have always been in my blood.”
The move to Vermont was based on a lifestyle change. “I didn’t want my life to be in an office on Third Avenue.”
Linehan’s musical career includes interpreting the songbooks of varied artists from U2, Petula Clark and Streisand. As a teenager she sang with the Irish Operatic Repertory Company in Cork. She landed roles in a number of theater productions including “Bronte: A portrait of Charlotte” (Off-Broadway), “Oliver!” (UK), and the national tour of “South Pacific.”
She holds a bachelor of laws degree from the University of London and a graduate degree from The Inns of Court School of Law in London.
After several years in New York as an attorney she said the artistic electricity of the city drew her back to the arts. “When I got to New York, I realized I wasn’t happy with my chosen path. She left the law and started over again as a performer.
The Linehan-Koss family chose Vermont because they were familiar with the state and loved the ambiance. “Andrew has been coming here since he was 7. He spent summers here and had a ski home here,” she said.
“The first time I came to Vermont I thought this is the most beautiful place in the country,” Linehan said, comparing the scenery to her native Ireland. “Vermont is a wonderful place to raise our children. We are so blessed to live here.”
Linehan’s Vermont performances have been limited to the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, where she has performed two full concerts. She said she would like to expand her performances in the state and is planning a tour of her holiday show for next winter.
“This Time of Year” is a unique holiday album. It gets you in the mood for the season, emphasizes the importance of family in its lyrics and holds your attention with the formidable vocals, all without pounding your eardrums with songs you could sing in your sleep that have lost all sense of emotion. It’s a highly recommended holiday experience.