||This is Doug Hammer's second Christmas album (his previous, Noel, was released in 2008) and it's a beaut! Seventeen carols (just a few secular) and one wintry/seasonal original are played on solo piano in a relaxed, gentle manner, making Christmas Lights a fantastic soundtrack to quiet times in front of the fire, de-stressing from this super-busy time of the year. Hammer excels at infusing deep emotion into a minimalist approach (Haiku, another album he released this year, showcases this side of his musical persona even better). While his arrangements of these time-tested classics sometimes spin off into original improvisation territory, he does so with such taste and respect that these new approaches sound even better because of it. Of course, now and then the energy of a carol goes up a notch (his "Deck the Halls" is giddy and fun-filled, with cascading notes bouncing off one another playfully and he displays some serious jazz/boogie-woogie chops on a particularly grin-inducing, toe-tapping take on "Good King Wenceslas." I was reminded of what Bill Murray's character did with Paganini's Rhapsody variation in the film Groundhog Day). Most of the music here is low-key, again making it an ideal late night listen. The original title track, inspired by his childhood recollections of the Hammer family driving around and looking at their suburban Chicago neighborhood's outdoor light displays, is charming, nostalgic, and almost brought a tear to this curmudgeon's eye. Christmas Lights is as good as it gets when it comes to not just solo piano holiday music, but Christmas carols, period!