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Music DVD Review: Chris Isaak – Christmas

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You all think it's an easy life, being a music reviewer. Oh, I can hear you say, how cool, all those free CDs and DVDs, not to mention the concerts and whatnots. That's the life for me. Well, think again. Because, and I cannot stress this enough, over here in reviewer land, the Christmas releases start to arrive in October! Bloody October. Sheesh.

And one of the first out of the bag was the Chris Isaak Soundstage Christmas Special. Now I've always had a soft spot for Chris Isaak. I remember him playing a show in an old converted church in Edinburgh, way back in the day, and he was absolutely fantastic. Full of energy, sprinting up and down the pews, dashing to the balcony to play a guitar solo, in the midst of some red hot rock 'n' roll. But then he seemed to disappear into the grainy world of ballads, cable TV, and infomercials, so I lost interest.

But here he is, many years later, looking insufferably young, with a fabulous range of suits to go with his Christmas special. As always, this was filmed in the midst of a blazing hot California summer, which may explain the lack of festive cheer and decorations. Mr Isaak had also just recorded a Christmas album, so in amongst the old chestnuts, there are a handful of self penned Yuletide tunes.

Now, one of the things that annoys me, as a child of the seventies, is how dull Christmas songs have become since the glory days of Slade, Wizzard, and their ilk. So, I wasn't surprised to be sitting through a pedestrian, down tempo set of songs, with even "Let It Snow" being subjected to a snoozy rhythm. Which made it all the more surprising when the original material turned out to be the best on offer. Chris has penned some cracking wee tunes in the shape of "Gotta Be Good" and "Hey Santa". Songs with a spark about them, they deserve to be Christmas standards of the future.

He's got a great band backing him, even if they do seem to have a propensity for smooth jazz, something that aids special guest Michael Buble, who pops up to sing "The Christmas Song" as well as the aforementioned "Let It Snow". Brian McKnight turns up for "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", but fares less well, and Stevie Nicks puts in an appearance on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", before they all take to the stage for "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer".

The only bonus feature on the DVD is the song "I'll be Home for Christmas", which has been culled from the same concert, so isn't really a bonus. As with all the Soundstage releases, the audio and video are top notch. For those who don't know, the PBS series Soundstage predated music television as we know it in its original run from 1974-1985. Then in 2003, the series returned in brand, spanking new high definition format. This show actually dates back to 2004, having been originally released in 2005, so don't let the spanky new cover fool you.

However, despite my reservations about the dullness of Christmas songs in general and the lack of glitter on offer, I can see this getting wheeled out for a sing song, come the festive season.

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About Stuart A Hamilton

  • I appreciate the review, but its written from the point of view of someone who has little familiarity with this artist and his long career.

    To use a VERY overused American Idol cliche, Chris Isaak is the only artist that could sing the phone book and I’d be there swooning, hanging on every word. His voice and range is spectacular, and that’s what sets him apart from other artists.

    He also to this day puts on a very good show, and his backing band is the best out there. They’ve been together for 20 years, and something extraordinary happens when all their talents are combined on one stage.

    I can’t wait to check out the DVD. It sounds like it will be a real treat for his avid fans.