Jonathan Karrant - Christmas Wish Tour, December 10, 2023
906 Cocktail and Cigar Lounge, 906 Garrison Avenue, Fort Smith, Arkansas 72901
The interior of the 906 Cocktail and Cigar Lounge at 906 Garrison Avenue in Fort Smith, Arkansas, looks about as far from a “Hell on the border” saloon existing at the turn of the last century as singer Jonathan Karrant looks being a product of the same. Karrant, who is presenting his annual holiday performance, was welcomed by his hometown with open arms and a sold-out venue.
It is a matter of semantics. Karrant considers himself a "Song Stylist." He is as much a cabaret singer as a jazz singer. He falls squarely into that hip group of male vocalists plying their trade in the 1950s and ‘60s: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Bing Crosby, and Bobby Darin. Elements of these singers inform rather than define Karrant’s art, which he jealously makes only his own.
Once his supporting trio was seated (Band members included local musicians, pianist Adams Collins, bassist Logan Dooly, and drummer Mark Steele), Buddy Kell, general manager of 906, introduced Karrant to his home crowd as he kicked off the show with a festively rollicking “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.” As present as Karrant is on his recordings, they cannot compare to the singer live. Karrant’s voice is sweetly warm with just the sharpness of edge to give him a robust virility.
Karrant was very comfortable before this crowd and they were very comfortable with him. This intimate relationship created a beautifully embracing environment for his show as he deftly winded his way through “Walking In A Winter Wonderland,” “Christmas Time Is Here,” and “Grown Up Christmas List” (which he performed in duet with Diane Schurr on Christmas Wish). After a sprite and swinging “What Are You Doing Years Eve,” Karrant breaks Christmas character to deliver a chrisp cuff-shoot “Fly Me To The Moon.
Where Karrant excelled in the performance, as he did on Christmas Wish, was on three inventive mash-ups. He transforms “Blue Christmas/Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me” from novelty tunes to New Orleans Second Line jaunts in the Winter sunshine. “I Wonder As I Wander/We Three Kings” rises humidly from the fecund southern soil, as if rural Leider, had Schubert been from Mississippi. The encore was Karrant’s show-stopper, a slightly boozy, gospel-laden “Silent Night/O Holy Night” with the two songs tonally meshed with one another. Here, Karrant shows off his beautifully balanced tenor voice, ending the show with supreme expertise and gratitude.
O Night Divine, indeed.