The Christmas albums are upon us, and there is music for all tastes. Here are a few.
Stars of The Dukes of Hazzard, John Schneider and Tom Wopat, join forces for some slickly produced pop on Home for Christmas. The album is a more or less secular celebration of the joys and festivities of the season. There is also a bit of friendly banter between some of the songs and the singers’ voices blend seamlessly.
Tunes include perennials like “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “Sleigh Ride,” as well as less well-known pieces like “Holiday Season” and “Secret of Christmas.” They transform the Frank Loesser classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” into a “bromantic” “Johnny, It’s Cold Outside.” Wopat has an interesting jazzy take on “Blue Xmas” and Schneider is upfront in “Even the Snow.” The Dukes give a nod to their country image with “On a Quiet Christmas Morn,” a song which focuses on the religious roots of the day (and is thus, a non-secular exception).
But for those who prefer something more religiously centered, Australian singer/songwriter Peter Furler – ex-member of the Christian rock band Newsboys – is out with an album simply titled Christmas. Simple in title and in production, it is a simplicity mirrored in the purity of the performance. Furler has chosen a set of eight classic carols, and treats them with the respect that emphasizes their spiritual content. There are also two spoken word pieces.
Accompanied by David Ian, a Canadian jazz pianist whose 2013 album Vintage Christmas Wonderland took a somewhat laid-back approach to the holiday, Furler does a wonderful job with a repertoire that begins with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and closes with “Silent Night.” Between the two, there are beautifully sincere versions of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “What Child Is This?,” and “We Three Kings.” The closest he comes to a pop tune is “Little Drummer Boy.”
Furler’s Christmas is a quietly passionate celebration of the holiday.
Jazz enthusiasts should take a look at the Mack Avenue Records compendium It’s Christmas on Mack Avenue featuring selections from the label’s artists. This Mack Avenue release, reviewed here at the end of last month, has a wealth of fine performances, including the Christian McBride Trio’s raucous take on James Brown’s “Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto,” Cécile McLorin Salvant’s pensive “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Aaron Diehl’s solo piano version of “Christmas Star” and vibraphonist Warren Wolf’s work on “Carol of the Bells.”
If your tastes are more eclectic and you like your music raw, Seattle-based musical jack of all trades Tom Dyer documents his Green Monkey Records’ holiday productions over the years with the album Xmas-30 Years in the Making. Beginning with 2013 recordings, he puts together a set running back in time chronologically to 1983. These are songs that have little in common, except Xmas. Stylistically they run from ska and country to hard rock and chorale. On some Dyer is joined by local talent, on some he sings alone. These are songs you are unlikely to be hearing unless you search them out, but if you find them, you may well find a song or two to like.
The song Dyer is pushing, and push it he should is “No Lou This Xmas,” a tune that pays homage to Lou Reed using the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” and “The Night Before Christmas.” Check out the video. “Peace on Earth” is appropriately described as “Spaghetti western meets greensleeves” in the liner notes. “It’s a White Mule Christmas” is a roots piece Dyer dates back to 1937 from what he calls “an obscure hillbilly band,” the White Mule Family. The gravelly Green Monkey Chorale opens the album with something called “It’s Christmas (And I’m Jolly)” and return later on “Christmas Time for Sailors.”
The album ends with Dyer’s first Christmas recordings, and they—“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Angels We Have Heard on High”—are the most conventional pieces on the disc.
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