ROCKIN’ AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TURNTABLE!
A SPILL MAGAZINE BREAKDOWN OF SOME OF THE TOP 2017 CHRISTMAS RELEASES
You can blame Bing Crosby, or thank him, it all depends on how much you like Christmas music. In 1928 Bing Crosby provided the vocals for Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra’s recording of “Christmas Melodies”, and it turned out to be a huge success. Then Bing scored again in 1935, with his version of “Silent Night”, with all proceeds going to the Catholic Church and their charities. A Christmas benefit record, Bing set the standard. Since then there have been thousands of Christmas albums, ranging from heavy metal to country to pop, and all stops in between. Every year, new albums and singles are issued, and 2017 is no exception. Here is a round-up of some of this year’s Christmas releases. Let me stress, they are in no particular order.
Great Lake Swimmers
They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore
November 24, 2017
This album wins cutest sleeve of the year. This is a very traditional and melancholic Christmas EP from the Great Lake Swimmers. It is achingly beautiful, heartfelt, and beautifully played. It features two original and two traditional carols. The title track, “They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore” is one of the best songs the Great Lake Swimmers has ever recorded, and certainly the highlight of the EP.
November 16, 2017
This is a reissue of Bad Religion’s classic 2013 Christmas Songs album, which includes their cover of “Father Christmas”. Not since The Yobs has Christmas been this punk and this angry. Bad Religion tackle the classics and carols. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” rocks, and “White Christmas” sounds like The Sex Pistols are taking a turn at it. I am glad to see the return of this album, and the additional Kinks cover is worth the admission alone. It is a great addition to the Bad Religion catalog, and at times you may catch yourself thinking that these guys are somewhat sincere in their versions. Or you can just enjoy the plain insanity of it, your choice. One thing is true, though, if you want to rid yourself of elderly family members on Christmas day after dinner, this album will do the trick.
Sultans of Strings
Fontana North/Universal Music
October 13, 2017
This is a great Christmas album, and very understated. Sultans of Strings bring together many guests to produce this fantastic Christmas album, one of the best Christmas albums released this year. Their playing is top notch, and with the inclusion of singers such as Rebecca Campbell (who does a beautiful version of “Little Drummer Boy”), or Nikki Yanofsky (who takes on the classic “The Christmas Song” and makes it her own) you have a winner. But then you have Paddy Maloney of The Chieftains (and he knows a thing or two about brilliant Christmas albums) playing on a medley, and you know you have found the perfect Christmas album for all occasions and many different audiences. A fantastic album.
A Very Bros Christmas
Dine Alone Records
November 24, 2017
A Very Bros Christmas Vol 1 is a wonderful single from these two talented Sheepdog brothers, Ewan and Shamus Currie. This is a two song EP, or as we used to call them, singles. But here’s the thing, both of the songs are simply brilliant. They have wonderful melodies, intelligent lyrics, and great production. “It’s Christmas Day” is reminiscent of the Christmas records The Killers have issued, and yet the song is distinctly Bros. This song should be a staple on Christmas radio stations. “These Things Comfort Me” is also brilliant. Genuine and sincere, these gentle Christmas songs are full of nostalgia and good cheer. This is an all-around fantastic record, and if you can, find the single issued on Record Store Day, as it should be on vinyl.
— BROS (@BROSmakingmusic) November 24, 2017
October 20, 2017
Cheap Trick released a Christmas album? Well, it seems weird at first, but then the needle hits the groove, and you are in Cheap Trick Land where Christmas rocks and good cheer is spread everywhere. “Merry Christmas, Darlings”, opens the album and sets the cheery tone. Cheap Trick dips into the mid 1970s glam rock for some of their covers, including “Merry Xmas Everybody” (Slade), and “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” (Wizzard), but then cover the beautiful (and seldom heard) Harry Nilsson song “Remember Christmas”, which is a faithful and lovely rendering. But overall, this is Cheap Trick rocking Christmas and Christmas Christmas is a fun Christmas album, heck it is a fun Cheap Trick album, period. When Cheap Trick covers The Ramones (“Merry Christmas [I Don’t Want To Fight”]), you know you are going to enjoy this one.
You Make It Feel Like Christmas
October 6, 2017
Do you remember when Gwen Stefani was in a ska band, and was seen as ‘cutting edge’? Those days are gone. Now we have a ‘middle of the road singer’, albeit very talented, content to be part of Christmas variety shows and duet with Blake Shelton (on the title track). The album is produced well, and it would sound great at the office Christmas party, and sure she does a cute version of “Santa Baby”, but this is just not what one would expect from Stefani. It is bland. Check out Bad Religion for their punk take on Christmas Carols; Stefani’s album is one you can play when the older relatives come over for Christmas dinner. The song “Christmas Eve” is a clear highlight, but such highlights are few and far between. Although it is not a bad album, I did expect more from Stefani, though I am sure her loyal following will dig the album.
November 17, 2017
You know what to expect when you listen to a Sia album — the unexpected. From the front sleeve, (fantastic picture) to the music inside the sleeve, there was no way to predict what the listener was going to experience. Sia has been releasing her music since 1997, and no one was expecting this from her. For the most part it works. These are no traditional Christmas carols or songs; these are all new songs written by Sia and longtime collaborator, producer/writer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Foo Fighters). The end result is a slightly offbeat Christmas album, not always full of good cheer (the brilliant but heartbreaking “Snowflake” is an example), but full of great songs. The songs do not sound like traditional Christmas music, but then would you expect that from Sia? The album, for the most part, works well and is a pleasure to listen to while getting ready for the festivities.
Holidays Rule Vol. 2
October 13, 2017
Holiday Rules Vol. 2 is the follow up to the 2012 release Holiday Rules, which is an indie-like Christmas album. This time it falls a bit flat, to be honest. The songs are not that interesting, and the album simply plays, without demanding too much attention. However, there are some highlights and some excellent performances. The Decemberists version of “Jesus Christ” is quite stunning, U.S. Girls do a cool cover of “Blue Christmas”, and Paul McCartney, Jimmy Fallon, and The Roots do an interesting version of “Wonderful Christmastime”. But overall, this album is not that interesting or essential. It’s a shame, as the first one was so good. Interesting footnote, both Holiday Rules albums are known as Christmas Rules everywhere in the world, except in North America, just in case you get into a conversation about the album with a friend from the U.K.
A New Christmas
November 17, 2017
Over the last 12 years, Florence K has made a name for herself as a singer and songwriter. Known mainly in Quebec, she has branched out across Canada, earned a Juno, and produced some great music over the past decade. With A New Christmas, she tries her hand at a Christmas EP, comprised of songs she has written or co-written. It is a charming album, full of strong melodies, and wonderful vocals. The EP features songs in French and English. Also, Montreal DJ/Producer Stefie Shock duets with Florence K on two tracks, and he adds a great deal to the festivities. A New Christmas is an EP that is full of new songs, which capture the spirit of Christmas and classic Christmas music.
A Capitol Christmas Vol. 2
November 17, 2017
Now we are talking Christmas music. This is the second collection of Capitol artists performing Christmas music. The first volume, A Capitol Christmas was issued last year and was well received commercially and critically, so here we have a second volume every bit as good as the first. It features Johnny Mercer, Glen Campbell, The Beach Boys, Dinah Shore and my favourite, The Louvin Brothers (doing a stunning and definitive version of “Away in a Manger”), and more. These old songs may not be for everyone, but for me, this is classic Christmas music, and I welcome all of these songs into my collection. Guy Lombardo closes the programme with his classic version of “Auld Lang Syne”. It does not get any better than that. The music has been remastered, but to my ears not really tampered with. The sound is awesome, especially on vinyl, and well worth your time, if this type of music is something you enjoy. I am going back to listen to Lena Horne (“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”).
I Wanna Be Santa Claus
September 22, 2017
Originally released in 1999, this album has been treated to a remastered upgrade, and is back in print, and for the first time on vinyl. It is also available for streaming. When released on CD in 1999, one could only wonder why a vinyl version did not appear at the time, but that has been rectified. The truth is, many people missed this album the first time it was released, and now is as good as time as any to become acquainted with it. The Beatles used to issue an exclusive Christmas Record to their fan club members from 1963 until 1969 (these are being issued for the first time to the general public in December), and John, Paul and George all issued Christmas singles in their career. Well, Ringo bettered them and issued an entire Christmas album. He does some classic Christmas songs (“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”) and carols (“The Little Drummer Boy”), but this album’s highlights are the songs he co-wrote, especially the title track, and “Come on Christmas”. Beatle fans will enjoy his cover of “Christmastime is Here Again”, from the old Beatle Fan Club discs. It is a fun, rocking album, and on vinyl it sounds better than ever. This is a welcome addition to any Christmas record collection.
Sha Na Na
Rockin’ Christmas – The Classic Christmas Collection
Gold Label Artists
November 17, 2017
Over the years the members have changed, but the sound has not. Sha Na Na has been consistent with their sound and music over the past 50 years, and continue to play in that arena. In fact, there is only one original member left in the band, John ‘Jocko’ Marcellino. Sha Na Na made a name for themselves by faithfully replicating doo-wop and classic 50s sound in their performances and recordings. They were a hit at Woodstock. I am surprised it has taken them this long to get around to a Christmas album. This album is fun, with some great 50s style rock and roll, and some good natured humour. “Ugly Christmas Sweater” is a great song which should bring a smile to the listener. Rockin Christmas is just as fun.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
October 6, 2017
An odd trend has been occurring in the last few years — take old tracks by an artist and have the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra dub strings onto the song. This is the third Elvis release with The Philharmonic Orchestra. To be honest, these albums are huge successes, especially in the U.K. and Europe. For this one, they have dipped into the Elvis Christmas albums, and worked on his Christmas carols, songs, and a few hymns. Fans of the original recordings may wonder what it is all about. And if one is very familiar with those recordings, the new versions are a little jarring. “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus is Back in Town” lose some of their energy, and I prefer the original versions. However, with songs like “Silent Night” the orchestra adds a little something extra, and it works well. I am not sure how diehard fans will feel about Elvis’s music being tampered with after so many years, but truly, the Elvis archives have run dry and RCA and Sony need something to issue to keep Elvis out in the marketplace. I am a huge fan of the original Christmas albums, so I would prefer to stick with them, but this album is not that bad, and at times enjoyable.