LET IT ROCK! LET IT ROCK! LET IT ROLL!
A SPILL MAGAZINE BREAKDOWN OF SOME OF THE TOP 2021 CHRISTMAS RELEASES – THE ALBUMS
Paul Kelly’s Christmas Train
November 19, 2021
I am a long-time fan of Paul Kelly. He is a brilliant artist who has written and recorded a massive amount of truly brilliant albums. Here he finally turns his attention to Christmas, and Paul Kelly’s Christmas Train lives up to expectations. He has a great deal of help here to creatively interpret classic Christmas music, which includes Hawaiian guitar and ukuleles of “Silent Night,” with a verse in the original German sung by Alice Keath, and “O Holy Night” being sung in the Maori language by Marlon Williams. But it is also a warm family affair with contributions from his nephew, siblings, and his own daughters. It is a fantastic album, complete with the underrated and wonderful “Arthur McBride”. A great addition to any Christmas collection.
New Found Glory
December 3, 2021
This offering from the punk-pop band New Found Glory includes seasonal sleigh bells and soaring choruses coupled with the band’s usual high energy. In the press notice for this recording, guitarist Chad Gilbert is quoted as saying, “A lot of holiday music is all the same and are just modern cover versions of old songs. We wanted to add some new music into the mix, give New Found Glory fans their own style holiday. We hope our fans make this a special record for their families.”
Singing about seasonal activities and holiday tropes, the album kicks off with the Beach Boys-inflected title track, “December’s Here”. The mid-tempo rocker “Holiday Records” moves along nicely, and name-checks a number of frequently-played artists at Christmastime.
“Nothing For Christmas” is definitely a standout track. Its sentiment lies in the “all I want for Christmas is you” vein, but with a touch more melancholy. It is the kind of song that reminds the listener of the flipside to holiday joy, but includes hope for the future. Listen for the Dickensian bridge: “I hope there are no ghosts when I dream, telling me to change everything they see”.
There are a some hits and a few misses on December’s Here. Not all of the songs “work”, and the holiday spirit lags a bit at times. Still, completing a collection of all original Christmas songs is no mean feat. All respect to New Found Glory, for releasing this music. It’s sure to please the punk rocker on your Christmas list.
November 5, 2021
Billy Idol has recently signed to George Harrison’s Dark Horse Records, which his son, Dhani, has brought back to life. So far, Idol has released one EP and this reissue of his 2006 Happy Holidays. The cover may be different, but the songs remain the same. Perhaps this album would have best been forgotten. Although Idol plays it straight for the Christmas songs, his voice is not suited for warm, fireside carols. The novelty of Idol singing these Christmas classics wears off rather quickly, and then there is very little unique or interesting. The best songs are the ones which he wrote, “Happy Holiday” and “Christmas Love”, so a single would have been a wiser move, rather than an entire album, and having to hear Idol sing “Frosty The Snowman”. I am confident that Idol fans will enjoy this, but it will hold very little interest for others.
Lesser Known Records/Thirty Tigers
November 5, 2021
In a bold move, Brian Fallon (singer/guitarist from The Gaslight Anthem) has released a Christmas album, or rather, a Christian album. Although it is a Christmas release, six out of the 10 of the songs on Night Divine have nothing to do with Christmas. Rather, they are simply old hymns and spiritual songs.
Fallon has never hidden his Christian faith and, while he did not push that agenda in his work with The Gaslight Anthem, he has taken the opportunity to do so here. The result is a simply presented record of some well-known songs of praise. Recorded at Fallon’s home, Night Divine sees the artist performing vocals, guitars and piano, to great effect.
The album begins with a dramatic take on “Virgin Mary Had One Son”, a song famously performed by the likes of Odetta and Joan Baez during the 1960s folk music revival. The guitar rolls like the era from which it sprang, and Fallon does an admirable job. The other Christmas-themed songs on the album are also presented well. A noticeable standout is “Angels We Have Heard on High”, with its warm sounds, which feature Travis-style acoustic guitar picking and slide guitar.
Of the non-Christmas fare, “Amazing Grace” and “The Blessing” are standouts – the former for its sparse tastefulness and atmospheric distorted guitar ending, and the latter for its paraphrased text of benediction, and hypnotic musical tag. The fragility of Fallon’s honest baritone works better on moodier pieces, and less so on the more straightforward songs. His voice, in this context, is a bit of an acquired taste.
Night Divine works to the extent that it keeps the listener’s focus on the sacred side of Christmas. If you are one who holds the story of Christmas dear, this album is worth a listen.
November 26, 2021
Once again, this is an older release, being reissued with one bonus track, “Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas” and “Almost Christmas”. Worth the price of admission is her cover of The Pet Shop Boy’s “It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas”. But overall, the Heavy Metal Queen delivers what she promises. She focuses on classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes such as “Run, Run, Rudolph”, and “Merry Christmas Everybody”. However, she throws in a couple of curve balls with tunes such as “Zat You, Santa Claus” and “Peace On Earth”. Fans of Aaron will love this, others may want to approach with a little caution.
From The Great White North…
November 4, 2021
Details provided by the label regarding this recording are scant, save for artist names and song titles. That is a shame, really. While some of the artists on this 26-song (!) album are well known, a little promotion would go a long way toward introducing new artists with new sounds to the holiday music-consuming public.
Familiar names like Carly Rae Jepsen, The Zolas, Theory Of A Dead Man, and members of Mariana’s Trench turn in some great radio-friendly performances, but so do the likes of Madysin Gifford and Molly Annelle. Gifford’s “We Always Had Christmas” is a folk-pop gem that bears repeated spins. Similarly, Pekoe Cat’s “Christmas Fever” brings a funky techno-pop sheen to the holiday song genre. We will not rate this collection high, as it is simply a collection of singles. Still, the quality is good, and the listener will enjoy discovering some future classics. Get digging!
Songs Of December (Anniversary Edition)
November 6, 2021
This is the ‘Anniversary Edition’ of an album Paul Anka released in 2011. Songs Of December is a very Vegas Christmas. One can imagine your own lounge act in your living room as Anka croons Christmas classic such as “White Christmas”, “The Christmas Song”, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” — which is turned into a dirge — and “Blue Christmas”, to name a few. He has also added two new songs: “Winter Wonderland” which features Emmanuel, a star in his native Mexico, and “You And I Together (No Gift Could Be Better)” which features Nasri from Magic! and is the highlight here. Anka sounds great as does the production. However, it is too middle of the road, and perhaps a little too slick.
It’s A Snow Globe World
October 29, 2021
This release from the Juno Award-winning Molly Johnson, It’s A Snow Globe World, is a welcome addition to the Christmas music canon. The sentiments are traditional, but the music is cool and modern, with jazz and rhythm & blues styles throughout. This album is a bit of a re-package, as it includes previously released songs from Johnson’s 2020 release This Holiday Season. Six new songs were added, to round out this collection into a full-album release.
The key descriptor for this album is that it is joyful. The songs are great, as are the performances, and Johnson’s inimitable style holds the whole thing together. Standout tracks include the album’s single, “Don’t You Know It’s Christmas” and “This Holiday Season”, but even oldies like “Winter Wonderland” and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” are given new life. This is an album that can be enjoyed whether you are at a holiday party, bustling about doing pre-Christmas errands, or enjoying a quiet evening by the fire. Supported by her incredible band (drummer Davide DiRenzo, bassist Mike Downes and pianist Robi Boto, and guest guitarist Donna Grantis), Johnson has given us an excellent album that will be a classic for years to come.
Holiday Swingin’! A Kat Edmonson Christmas Vol. 1
December 3, 2021
Kat Edmonson has released a number of albums, combining Texas Swing, Swing, and Jazz into her own distinct style. She has a terrific, expressive voice, and for the most part she sticks to tradition here. The arrangements are jazzier, but she makes them all work. There really aren’t any surprises here although her take on “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late”) is a little unexpected. “White Christmas”, “Jingle Bell Rock”, and my favourite, “The Christmas Blues” all sound great.
November 5, 2021
This is a collection of Christmas standards from the former Journey frontman, that plays it fairly safe. The production on The Season is clean and the arrangements are lush, but probably no one would call this a great album. Still, Perry and his raspy tenor pull it off, to some degree. The light jazz of “The Christmas Song” is decent enough, and the singer gets a little adventurous in his renditions of “Winter Wonderland” and “Silver Bells”. Overall though, Christmas will not be ruined if you give this one a swerve.
A Sentimental Christmas with Nat “King” Cole and Friends: Cole Classics Reimagined
October 29, 2021
In 1960, Nat ‘King’ Cole released The Magic Of Christmas, which has been reissued several times in the past 60 years. Here it is again, with a new title (A Sentimental Christmas with Nat “King” Cole and Friends: Cole Classics Reimagined) and a few differences. Co-producers Jay Landers and Jorge Calandrelli have gathered some well-meaning artists to duet with Cole on his classic Christmas songs. A few work such as “Deck The Hall/Joy To The World” with Johnny Mathis as the highlight, and “The Very Thought Of You” with Kristin Chenowith is pretty good, but most do not work at all. When it comes to “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)” with John Legend, the less said the better and one is better off sticking with the original. Of course, the songs themselves have been rearranged with orchestration and such, which add very little to the originals. I prefer listening to the original, which still sounds wonderful to me.
Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album
Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings
October 1, 2021
First released in 1968, Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album has certainly stood the test of time. While it was re-mixed and sonically enhanced for this release, it essentially contains nothing new. There are no bonus songs or alternate takes provided on this reissue. Still, Columbia/Legacy is celebrating this album by releasing a mixed-media video for Bennett’s recording of “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music. The video features animation, and makes use of Tony Bennett’s original visual artwork and photographic still photos from his career.
This album was Bennett’s first Christmas release, and it has held up generally well. The title track “Snowfall” kicks off the collection nicely, and the tight jazz arrangement of “My Favourite Things” (with its hot horns and cool vibes) has become mandatory holiday listening, despite not actually being a Christmas song.
The holiday song medley is a nice throwback, but in an unusual production choice, the song “Where Is Love?” (another show tune, this time from Oliver!) is included here. It is bizarre to think that someone in the Columbia Records A&R department decided that a sad song about an orphan looking for his mother would be just the ticket for Bennett’s Christmas album.
But I digress. If you like your Christmas music bold, brassy and in a crooning style, Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album just might be your thing.
Goo Goo Dolls
It’s Christmas All Over (Deluxe)
November 5, 2021
This is a straight rerelease of last year’s It’s Christmas All Over but with one bonus track, “One Last Song About Christmas”. The song itself is fine, but is it worth rebuying the album? You decide. The Goo Goo Dolls throw in one traditional carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, cover some classics with “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, and add a few new tracks, including “Better Days” and the funny “You Ain’t Getting Nothing”. I like what The Goo Goo Dolls tried to do, but overall, it just doesn’t hit the mark.
I Dream Of Christmas
Blue Note Records
October 15, 2021
There are no surprises here, musically, lyrically or in song selection. This is smooth, middle of the road pop. You also have Norah Jones’s incredible vocals. There is nothing wrong with this release, and the few originals are quite welcomed, but overall it is exactly as advertised. Jazz mixes with pop and one is left with a warm glow. Jones’s cover of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” is fun, but it is the originals that stand out for me. Opener “Christmas Calling (Jolly Jones)” is simply sublime, while “It’s Only Christmas Once A Year” is simply heartbreaking. “Run, Rudolph, Run” must be heard to be appreciated and in the end it is a rather fine Christmas release.
Art Of Time Ensemble
Christmas In Prison
Art Of Time Recordings
November 26, 2021
Andrew Burashko and his Art Of Time Ensemble have come together for their first Christmas album, and it is a good one. Artists Jessica Mitchell, Jackie Richardson, Liam Russell-Titcomb, David Wall, Tom Wilson, and the Canadian Children’s Opera Company join the ensemble and cover some very unique choices. There is even a fun Hanukkah song (“(I’m Spending) Hanukkah In Santa Monica”. Burashko has chosen songs that are not typically covered on Christmas albums. There is a great medley of “Silent Night/Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis”. It was pure genius combining the traditional carol with Tom Waits. Their cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is distinctly their own, yet they maintain the melody of the original, and the title track, their cover of John Prine’s “Christmas In Prison” is nice to hear as well. A nice addition to any Christmas collection.