THE ROCK AND COAL BREAKDOWN
SPILL MAGAZINE DISSECTS SOME OF THE BEST/WORST 2022 CHRISTMAS RELEASES (PART TWO)
Christmastime is here again, ain’t been around since you know when….that means new Christmas music. This year, there seems to be a lot of old Christmas albums repackaged and resold. But that is OK, because Christmas is a time to look back and remember the Christmases past. Here are some new albums and singles….Merry Christmas!
2022 CHRISTMAS ALBUMS
Baby It’s Cold Outside/Christmas Blues
Universal Music Canada
October 21, 2022
Thank goodness for Holly Cole, bringing style and fun to the holidays. In this reissue of Cole’s Baby It’s Cold Outside album (2001) and the EP Christmas Blues (1989), Universal Music brings these recordings together and puts a neat bow on this Christmas gift.
Whether the presentation is with a jazz trio or a full orchestra, there is plenty to love about this collection. From the drama of “Wildwood Carol”, to the smooth, fun bop of “I’d Like To Hitch A Ride With Santa Claus”, and the sweet moody sadness of “If We Make It To December” (written by Merle Haggard), there is definitely something here to suit every taste. Additionally, Cole’s treatment of Chrissie Hynde’s “2000 Miles” – stark and fragile with only voice and piano – is also a highlight. This album deserves multiple spins this holiday.
A Nelson Family Christmas
Universal Music Enterprises
October 14, 2022
Gone is the hard rock and faux metal of years past. Matthew and Gunnar Nelson have created something akin to country rock/pop on A Nelson Family Christmas. The performances are stellar, the production is slick, and the harmonies are tight. While mostly comprised of songs by the Nelson twins, the album also features tracks by their father, Ricky Nelson, and their grandparents, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. Hearing “Jingle Bells”, credited to Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra and with vocals by Harriet Nelson, we are reminded that the senior Nelsons were pop musicians before they were pioneering television stars. The Nelson brothers’ father Ricky Nelson is also featured in this set, singing “The Christmas Song”, and a decidedly Elvis-like take on “Jingle Bells”, from his teen idol days.
As for Matthew and Gunnar’s songs, their voices blend very well, and the mostly acoustic instrumentation fits well. Their original song “This Christmas” was previously released as a single, and proceeds from the song have been donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This album was a pleasant surprise, and is definitely worth checking out.
Love & Christmas
November 4, 2022
Though the track list includes only two Christmas songs, José Feliciano’s Love & Christmas still works, and it is great to hear the artist’s familiar voice on some fresh tracks.
Kicking off with the previously released “Rozándome”, we know that this is definitely a José Feliciano album. The mood on this track is high, with bombastic Latin horns and wailing electric guitar. The track listing takes a turn after that, featuring a string of pop covers, including the Michael Jackson hit “Human Nature” in Spanish, and a serviceable duet with Haley Reinhart, on the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody”. Feliciano even takes a traditional Latin-folk-inspired stab at Hendrix’ “Purple Haze”!
The real cause for celebration, is the new song “Viva La Navidad”, an upbeat Latin rocker, which is the first Christmas song that Feliciano has written and recorded since his holiday classic, “Feliz Navidad”. While they might not fit a traditional holiday music playlist, these are songs of value from an iconic artist.
Merry Christmas, Love
S-Curve/Universal Music Canada
September 30, 2022
Joss Stone brings many delights with her seasonal album, Merry Christmas, Love. The collection includes songs both sacred and secular, and the artist presents both genres with care and style. This project was produced by Joss Stone herself, and contains energetic performances and tasteful arrangements. Stone shows off her considerable pipes on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, and she is able to take a holiday soul standard like “That’s What Christmas Means to Me”, and truly make it her own. With 16 songs in the track list, there is a lot of variety and value in this release.
There are a couple of songs which Stone wrote specifically for this project. “If You Believe” is a somber piece which builds in intensity, driven by a little drummer boy-style snare drum. “Bring On Christmas Day”, another Joss Stone original, evokes Irish folk music, in its use of fiddle and pipes. Delivered in Stone’s inimitable style, this song has “future classic” written all over it. This album has so much going for it. Go listen now!
I Surrender Sleighs
I Surrender Records
December 2, 2022
There’s always room for punk music at Christmas, and the folks at I Surrender Records have come out with a compilation that is fun and poignant, and that also totally rocks. I Surrender Sleighs exposes us to bands that we might not otherwise hear. Serving the true purpose of a compilation record, this album presents us with a new batch of songs, like so many Christmas cookies.
Although the bands on this album use the traditional guitar, bass, drums and vocals configuration, there are plenty of musical and thematic surprises in these songs, themes that matter to the average person. Issues like the cost of living, being able to afford to buy Christmas gifts, consumerism, and seasonal depression are covered here. Despite the serious tone of some songs, the music is uplifting, and the performances are impassioned and heartfelt. The song “Rico Christmas” by The High Court presents an anti-fascist, anarchist, anti-consumerist point of view. In the chorus, they sing, “Black Friday, Black Monday, I wish I could care about the holidays in all those old-school fashioned ways.” Another song, “Yr Always Alone (On Christmas)” by We Are The Union explores themes of inclusiveness and isolation against musical motifs of bouncy ska and punk power chords. Perhaps this is not mainstream music, but the themes are universal. Give it a listen.
Bing Crosby – Christmas in Lofi
November 18, 2022
There are some things that one simply cannot un-hear, and Bing Crosby – Christmas In Lofi is one of them. On this album, familiar songs by a well-known artist are given the “chilled out lofi” treatment, and are re-introduced to a new generation of listeners. On this album, songs such as “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “White Christmas” are arranged and manipulated to give them an other-worldly feel. The chill grooves are interesting in isolation, but they take on a jarring mood in the presence of Crosby’s original vocal. In terms of meter, the rhythm of the vocals do not always fit with the beats created by producer LOUALLDAY. Crosby’s vocals are so warm and human, and have been tattooed on our brains, over time. When placed against the trippy, programmed beats and effects, it makes for a strange experience, leaving this listener with an uneasy feeling.
If creating something unusual was the goal here, then, mission accomplished. This is not a complaint about the mashing and manipulating of sounds. There are plenty of examples in the past 50 years of new and old content being combined to make something interesting. Bing Crosby – Christmas In Lofi is definitely interesting, but it’s just not my cup of eggnog.
2022 CHRISTMAS SINGLES
Travels With Brindle
November 4, 2022
“Rudolph’s Ranch” is the holiday offering from indie artist Chelsea Spear, also known as Travels With Brindle. This is a charming song with a simple ukulele/voice/bass/drums presentation. In many ways it sounds like a song for children. In this benefit single for the charity Bread Of Life Kitchen, in Malden, Massachusetts, Spear sings in a clear, folkie, naïve style, which is endearing. Less endearing is the repetitive nature of the melody, which relies on the same four or five notes throughout, and the fact that it runs for over four minutes, with very few musical or lyrical surprises, to keep the listener’s interest. Certainly, it is a stylistic departure from most holiday music, and would not be out of place as cocktail party background sound.
“One Beautiful Thing”
November 25, 2022
On the surface, “One Beautiful Thing” by Canadian multi-disciplinary artist Kinnie Starr is a straightforward soul/pop groove. But as always for this artist, there is a greater purpose to the work. Behind Starr’s sweet, wistful vocal, layered chorus and horn section, there is a strong environmental and anti-consumerism message. This message is particularly related to the unnecessary use of plastic packaging in most Christmas gifts. Starr cleverly draws us in with this awesome recording, then hits us oh-so-gently with the issue at hand. Come for the music, stay for the message. This is one beautiful song.
“Single All The Way”
November 16, 2022
The Toronto rock band Goodnight Sunrise has been making music, and growing their career and audience since 2011. This Christmas, core members Vanessa Vakharia and David Kochberg have delivered a fun pop-punk, anti-romcom holiday romp about being happily single at Christmas. The track is refreshing, as it goes against type from usual holiday fare. No one’s heart has been broken, and no one has been separated from a loved one. It is a declaration of independence, and of being content with oneself. Goodnight Sunrise will surely gain new fans with this infectious track.
“When The Snow Falls”
November 15, 2022
“When The Snow Falls” is a great new seasonal track from Eugene, Oregon’s Bluphoria. Mostly known for their psychedelic and blues-based music, this single is a straight-ahead rocker, in the classic sense. With a sweet lead vocal from singer-guitarist Reign LaFreniere, a chime-y guitar part and a gang-vocal chorus, this song has the power to uplift. This is a young band with talent, self-awareness and humour. What’s not to like?
“Marshmallow March” b/w “All I Want For Christmas Is You”
November 18, 2022
Somebody (probably Charles Dickens) once said, “You can’t get too much instrumental surf rock music at Christmas.” He must surely have been referring to “Marshmallow March” by Toronto’s The Surfrajettes. The women in this band have truly made strides in the past few years, and have met with popular and critical acclaim. Set to a march rhythm, the main theme of “Marshmallow March” has a lot in common with classic western movie themes, as well as displaying some more free sounding, trippy bits. The rhythm section is tight, and the guitar interplay is inventive and fun. By way of a B-Side, The Surfrajettes have also released their version of “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. This is great music, really, and it deserves to be enjoyed.
Warner Music Canada
November 9, 2022
However well intentioned, the anti-holiday anthem that is “Cry Christmas” by Vancouver alt-rockers Mother Mother, is a bit hard to take. Painting a bleak and gritty picture of a dysfunctional family Christmas, this song hits particularly hard. With the intent of letting their fans know that “they always have a seat at the table with us,” the content is still quite sad. Is it humour? Is it satire? Yes. It is also well written, creatively executed and stunningly produced. We are all a work in progress, and perhaps my views will change with time and additional listening. In the meantime, it is my hope that this song hits the mark, and reaches its intended audience, achieving the band’s desired effect.
RCA Records UK
November 4, 2022
Bishop Briggs is an artist whose work is described as defying genre. That being said, it is safe to say that “Cheer” is basically a pop song. In terms of content, this song’s music is stronger than the lyric, which is actually quite simplistic. Listeners may search for deeper meaning, but that seems to be evasive, apart from the imagery described in the main tag line, “If Christmas time is once a year, then all I want to do is spread some cheer.” It is a nice enough sentiment, and the music around it builds beautifully, like an anthem, to the song’s end. Is the music strong enough to save this song? My answer to that question is “no”, though I have been wrong before.
“Xmas (Merry Christmas”)
Known Accomplice Records
November 17, 2022
The Trews’ “Xmas (Merry Christmas)” is a good addition to the Christmastime rock/pop canon. With a vocal-forward mix that features driving guitars and piano, this song stands out from the pack. Dynamics are used to good effect on this track, ranging from simple piano and voice, to full-blown band production. The anthemic sing-along chorus builds in intensity, and the counter-melodic ‘oh-ohs’ in the gang vocal outro add to the overall feel. Thanks for the Christmas gift, Trews!
“I’m Ready For Christmas”
Dine Alone Records
December 2, 2022
“I’m Ready For Christmas” by The Sheepdogs is a fun song that hits all the right notes for a rock and roll holiday single. With a main verse shuffle groove and a vocal that evokes Van Morrison, the tightness of the band and the production draw the listener in. The power kicks in on the chorus, complete with double-tracked lead vocal, and harmonies reminiscent of The Beach Boys. This song is total rocking fun. The Sheepdogs have created a winner here, one that we will be enjoying for years to come.
“Christmas Without You” b/w ”Father Christmas”
November 18, 2022
This year, Toronto country/folk/roots rocker Jerry Leger released an original holiday single “Christmas Without You”. This track is a slow waltz, with lyrics best described under the “lost love at Christmas” category. Leger’s vocal on this introspective tune is plaintive, and one can hear the emotive pleading in his voice. Drawing on other art forms for inspiration, Leger makes an oblique reference to Dickens (“ghost of the past”), and he ties the traditional carol “O Holy Night” to his lovelorn situation. Leger and band are in fine form here, with a rhythm groove and organ part that fit the song perfectly. Included with this single release is a “B-Side” – a spirited version of The Kinks’ “Father Christmas”, by Ray Davies. Both tracks deserve a place on your rootsy Christmas playlist.