Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Hannah Bushong / Sleigh Bells In the Air

Jason Hoffman

Whatzup Features Writer

Published December 22, 2011

Heads Up! This article is 11 years old.

Hannah Bushong may be a mere 18 years old, but it’s almost as if she was born in 1918. I don’t mean to be insulting to the young lady, but rather pay a compliment, because her singing style, and indeed the entirety of Sleigh Bells in the Air, her debut album, is reminiscent of classic Christmas music made in the 30s and 40s by such Yuletide stalwarts as Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald. While many young whippersnappers are doing their best to “rock up” holiday classics with heavy guitars, heavier drums and techno gimmicks, Bushong shows herself restrained by good taste, for the most part populating her selections with a jazz combo of clean guitar, bass, drums and piano. The same can be said for the arrangements. There’ll be none of that “remaking the classics” here; nor will there be any vocal grandstanding of the American Idol type with a big Star Search finish soaring three octaves above human hearing.

Sleigh Bells in the Air, in its simplicity and respectful approach, leaves itself wide open to be a boring rehash. Indeed in lesser hands that could have been the case with this album. However, Sleigh Bells in the Air is anything but tiresome. For instance, the musicianship throughout is top-notch and the band is tight. Whether they are playing the upbeat “Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland” decked out with finger snaps or skirting the edge of somber in “The Christmas Song,” this talented group of musicians is spot on, providing levity where appropriate (such as the playful piano solo in “Christmastime is Here”) and knowing when to lay back and let the vocals shine.

And shine they do! Occasionally, vocal harmonies add a bit of sugar, such as on “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town” where you’ll be reminded of great vocal groups like The Andrews Sisters. But most of the time it’s just Hannah on her own, effortlessly breathing life into each song, reminding the listener that these classics are sold on the strength of the vocalist. That said, there’s plenty of great musicianship, most notably in the many brief guitar solos and clean accompaniment performed by Tim Bushong, father of Hannah and owner of TBush Recording, one of the area’s premier recording facilities. The songs are further rounded out with vibraphones, trombones and saxophones, each putting in brief appearances and never overstaying their welcome.

As you might expect with anything coming out of TBush Recording, the production is crisp and complete, with nothing to detract from the songs themselves. Sleigh Bells In The Air is the kind of album you can enjoy with family and friends as you celebrate the holiday, never being obtrusive but providing plenty of meat should someone wish to pay closer attention. Four full-length songs are available to sample at or you could catch Hannah and her crew playing live at several spots around town this month.

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