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Story and bottom file photos by Andy Argyrakis
She may be a "Mississippi Girl," but the first half of Hill's performance was anything but southern (outside of her signature charm), revolving around the forthcoming holiday collection Joy To the World (out September 30 on Warner Brothers). Part traditional carols, half lighthearted sounds of the season and one original, the project is shaping up as a cross between big band ballads, swing and the occasionally country flourish. After taking the choir accompanied "Joy To the World" and the lush "What Child Is This?" to find her vocal footing, Hill had no trouble soaring through a Nat King Cole-styled rendition of "Holly Jolly Christmas," a jazzed down pop take on "Winter Wonderland" and the extremely moving new "A Baby Changes Everything" (chronicling the Christmas story through the metaphor of motherhood).
Hill hit additional strides in the second half, which tackled the bulk of her hits, plus showcased a good old fashioned rock n' roll affinity that's rarely seen in her shows with superstar hubby Tim McGraw (who was said to be in the house, but unfortunately never took the stage). After knocking ballads like "Cry" and "Breathe" out of the park with orchestral accompaniment, her regular backers plugged in for a fiery cover of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart." That sassy side continued on "Wild One" and "The Secret of Life" before returning to the sultry for "Let Me Let Go," all of which clearly appeased core country fans who were fervent long before her commercial crossover.
As the evening wrapped with the guilty pleasure radio glee of "The Way You Love Me" and the gritty spice of the aforementioned "Mississippi Girl," Hill balanced wide spread appeal with undeniable vocal talent and genuine charisma. The once in a lifetime taping also exposed a more personal side of the singer, who often paused in between songs to sign autographs and accept gifts from attendees. Of course, those off the cuff moments won't likely make it off the cutting room floor come the television broadcast, but they'll still be plenty for viewers of all seasonal and stylistic preferences to devour.
The Christmas portion of Faith Hill's "Soundstage" concert airs Thursday, November 27 (Thanksgiving) at 7 p.m. on WTTW11 with a repeat performance Saturday, November 29 at 6 p.m. For additional information, visit www.pbs.org/soundstage.
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