Home Features SPILL FEATURE: HE SEES YOU WHEN YOU’RE SLEEPING, HE KNOWS WHEN YOU ROCK! – A SPILL MAGAZINE BREAKDOWN OF SOME OF THE TOP 2019 CHRISTMAS RELEASES

SPILL FEATURE: HE SEES YOU WHEN YOU’RE SLEEPING, HE KNOWS WHEN YOU ROCK! – A SPILL MAGAZINE BREAKDOWN OF SOME OF THE TOP 2019 CHRISTMAS RELEASES

by Aaron Badgley

HE SEES YOU WHEN YOU’RE SLEEPING, HE KNOWS WHEN YOU ROCK!

A SPILL MAGAZINE BREAKDOWN OF SOME OF THE TOP 2019 CHRISTMAS RELEASES

Christmas music is very subjective as there is usually a great deal of emotion tied to the songs. I remember my grade six teacher, Mrs. Aldred, always played Leroy Anderson’s Christmas album to our class so we could get into the Christmas spirit while practicing our cursive writing. That album still holds a special place in my heart. My mother would play Burl Ives’ Holly Jolly Christmas every year when we decorated our tree. I still play that one for my kids. Here is my round-up of some of this year’s bumper crop of Christmas albums. Merry Christmas to you all! – Aaron Badgley


Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby With The London Symphony Orchestra
Bing At Christmas
Universal Music
November 22, 2019

Adding orchestral backing to old recordings sometimes works, and other times, it does not

On this album, it does. Bing Crosby is the Santa of Christmas recordings as he was the first to release a Christmas record in the early 1930s. Here the songs we know and love are flushed out with an orchestra but the original beauty is still there. The voice is still distinctly Bing Crosby and it sounds as good today as it did over 70 years ago. The producers also brought in some special guests to make the album even more contemporary, including Pentatonix on “White Christmas”, and The Tenors on “The Christmas Song”. These don’t add much, but they do not detract with either. Quite honestly, it is just nice to have a new Bing Crosby album.

~Aaron Badgley


Rob Halford

Rob Halford With Family And Friends
Celestial
Sony Music Canada
September 6, 2019

If you think it strange that Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford has released a Christmas album, you may be even more surprised to discover that Celestial is actually his second collection of Christmas songs. His first, Winter Songs, was released in 2009. This new album is everything that one might think a Rob Halford Christmas album would be: riff-heavy songs with driving guitars and well-crafted production, dramatic mysticism with a nod to traditional music, and that voice! Some traditional songs such as “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” are given the full metal treatment, and in a few cases, Halford and friends take liberties with the structure and phrasing of ancient carols, somehow giving them new significance. Of the handful of original tunes on this record, “Morning Star” is a standout, with its slide guitar and easy groove. Kudos to Halford and company for providing fresh sounds and an antidote to the usual holiday sugar rush.

~Bryan Williston


Prog Rock Christmas

Various Artists
Prog Rock Christmas
Cleopatra Records
November 1, 2019

It seems like a good idea, it really does. After all, Jethro Tull released a Christmas album and has two huge Christmas hits. Then there is Greg Lake’s “I Believe In Father Christmas”, and even Mike Oldfied had a hand in a Christmas song. So one would assume that Prog Rock Christmas cannot miss, right? Well, it is a bit complicated. The album is not that bad but it is not all that prog. It kicks off with two of the highlights of the album, Yes’ Jon Davison delivers with “Run With The Fox” and Utopia’s Kasim Sultan’s “Christmas Lights” is fantastic. From that point, the album starts to lose its focus and the majority of the remaining tracks are either not good fits with the artist, or they are direct copies. Compare Geoff Downes “Linus and Lucy (Charlie Brown Christmas Theme)” to the original. They are almost identical. Malcolm McDowell’s take on “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is amusing for about one minute and then it is just over the top. Thankfully, the album redeems itself with the last track, the late John Wetton’s cover of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)”.

~Aaron Badgley


I Don't Know How But They Found Me

I Don’t Know How But They Found Me
Christmas Drag
Fearless Records
November 15, 2019

If there is a complaint to be made about this seasonal offering from this Salt Lake City-based alt rock duo, it would have to be the fact that this collection is only EP-length. In the space of just three songs on Christmas Drag, Dallon Weekes and Ryan Seaman take the listener to some interesting musical places. From the radio-friendly power pop/glam rock of the hook-laden title track, to the personal stamp they put on their cover of Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody” (which both respects the original and covers new sonic ground), this recording is not your typical holiday fare. An admitted fan of all Christmas music, Weekes does not shy away from the darker, sadder side of the holidays in his songs. Witness the EP’s final song, “Oh Noel”, an incredibly melancholy parlour ballad which evokes Rufus Wainwright in its style and delivery. The way they broaden the emotional range of Christmas music, we can all hope that I Don’t Know How But They Found Me will release a full album of holiday songs next time around.

~Bryan Williston


Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird
Hark!
Loma Vista Recordings/Concord Records
November 8, 2019

Whether he is whistling, playing violin, or any other instrument, Andrew Bird is one talented individual. For Hark! Bird plays all the instruments and he does it very well. This six song E.P. is a wonderful addition to your Andrew Bird or Christmas collection. He has included a couple of new songs, “Alabaster” and the remarkably beautiful “Night’s Falling”, and he covers a few Vince Guardi songs, including “Skating” from A Charlie Brown’s Christmas. It is difficult to categorize this music: it is kind of folk, kind of jazz, but totally original. Hark! is simply an original and wonderful Christmas record, however, I wish it were a full album and available on vinyl. Otherwise, near perfect.

~Aaron Badgley


Robbie Williams

Robbie Williams
The Christmas Present
Sony/Columbia
November 22, 2019

This ambitious double album sees Robbie Williams (with his considerable pipes and songwriting/production skill) driving around in this big holiday vehicle, radio cranked, playing his tunes with their full orchestrations and flashy band sound. Stylistically jumping between Sinatra-style crooning (Disc 1), and more contemporary singer-songwriter pop sounds (Disc 2), Williams is hedging his bets that The Christmas Present will contain something for everyone. It works, to a certain degree, with lots of energy, guest vocalists, and plenty of humour, hooks and lyrical/musical surprises. There are a number of great moments, but it is a dense record, when taken in one gulp. Best to listen in small doses.

~Bryan Williston


Keb' Mo'

Keb’ Mo’
Moonlight, Mistletoe & You
Concord Records
October 18, 2019

Keb’ Mo’ has a career that reaches all the way back to 1980, when his debut album was released. He has finally gotten around to recording a Christmas album, and one wonders what took him so long. This is a great album, full of fantastic originals, such as the very funny “Christmas Is Annoying”, newer songs such as the beautiful “One More Year With You”, and amazing covers of classics such as the standout “Please Come Home For Christmas”. . Special guests, such as Melissa Manchester, who duets with Mo’ on “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” complete the celebration and create in the end one fantastic Christmas album. Moonlight, Mistletoe and You is a great album just for listening to, or for that Christmas party you are hosting.

~Aaron Badgley


Chicago

Chicago
Christmas
Rhino
October 11, 2019

Under the direction of three original band members, and with a crew of collaborators, Chicago released a new Christmas album this year (their third!). The recipe seems simple: use those signature horns over easy beats and emotive vocals, and you’re on the road to holiday album success. And it certainly works – this time with eight original songs, two traditional holiday songs, and a timeless pop classic. Sometimes the new Christmas songs miss the mark, and may be best suited as holiday party wallpaper. Still, all of the music is well-arranged and performed, and it fits well in Chicago’s oeuvre. The addition of Bacharach and David’s “What The World Needs Now Is Love” (lite funk version) is a good choice, with its universal message of love for a season of peace. Is this album essential listening? Maybe not, but that signature Chicago sound is pretty hard to resist.

~Bryan Williston


Chet Atkins

Chet Atkins
The Complete RCA And Columbia Christmas Recordings
Real Gone Music
November 18, 2019

Chet Atkins is quite rightly recognized as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. The Country Gentleman recorded two Christmas albums for the two labels to which he was signed, RCA and Columbia. This CD set does a nice job of collecting all of the songs and putting them together in one collection. This is the perfect background Christmas music, smooth country/folk guitar and some of the finest picking you will ever hear. “Silver Bells” is worth the price of admission alone, but there are so many great songs. This is simply a must have for any serious Christmas music fan, and good for Real Gone Music for making it available again.

~Aaron Badgley


Ana Gasteyer

Ana Gasteyer
Sugar & Booze
Henry’s Girl Records
October 25, 2019

Fun and nostalgia for the sounds and style of 1950s and ’60s pop music are key for this fresh offering from singer/songwriter/comedian/actor Ana Gasteyer. With an incredibly hot band playing an awesome mix of jazz, pop, soul, funk, and blues (and a vocal style reminiscent of Streisand), Gasteyer has created a funny and unique holiday album that is head and shoulders above most of what is out there. Grab your drink of choice, be it cocktail or mocktail, and enjoy this festive groove. Cheers!

~Bryan Williston


Jim Reeves

Jim Reeves
12 Songs Of Christmas
Real Gone Music
November 18, 2019

Chet Atkins was also one of Nashville’s top record producers, and one of the artists he produced was the brilliant Jim Reeves, who defines the polished country music of the early 1960s. A talented singer/songwriter, Reeves’ career was tragically cut short in 1964 when he died in a plane crash. But in 1962 he recorded this classic Christmas album, which has been sadly overlooked over the years. Thanks to the fine folks at Real Gone Music, it is back. This is a classic Christmas album. “C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S” was a sizeable hit at the time, and for many years was a staple on country radio, but there is so much more. Reeves takes on the classics and does them so beautifully it almost makes you forget the original, better- known versions. A Christmas must!

~Aaron Badgley


Letters To Cleo

Letters To Cleo
OK Christmas
Independent
November 15, 2019

An interesting but uneven four-song EP from these 1990s alt rockers. While the band’s intentions may be good, this recording does not deliver overall. Things start off well enough, with a punk-inflected cover of The Kinks’, “Father Christmas”. Two other songs – one originally recorded by Elvis Presley (“If I Get Home On Christmas Day”), and the other a cover of the Dogmatics’ “X’mas Time (Sure Don’t Feel Like It)” – are decent enough, but the whole thing doesn’t hang together very well, to these ears. The day is saved somewhat by the lone original in this set, “Miss You This Christmas”, the production and melody of which of harkens back to early ’60s American pop. Elements of girl-group songs and garage-y guitar help to drive this tune, but is it enough to redeem the rest of the project? Listen and decide.

~Bryan Williston


Merge Records

Various Artists
You Wish: A Merge Records Holiday Album
Merge Records
November 22, 2019

Merge Records has a very strong roster, full of brilliant folk, rock and Americana artists, so this album comes with a great deal of promise and lives up to expectations. The album holds together with many amazing artists delivering original Christmas songs and taking on some of the classics. One of the highlights is John Prine’s “Christmas In Prison” by Hiss Golden Messenger featuring Lucinda Williams. They sound just perfect together, especially on that song. Other notables include “Baby In The Hay” from Fruit Bats, William Tyler’s cover of “Jesus Christ”, and Coco Hames with “Keep Your Christmas”. But really, the whole album is wonderful.

~Aaron Badgley


Dionne Warwick

Dionne Warwick
The Voices of Christmas
S-Curve/BMG
October 18, 2019

What’s not to like about this lush and stylish holiday album from one of the queens of pop and soul music? This collection has  a lot to offer: classic Christmas songs beautifully arranged and presented, with plenty of help from musical friends — that’s what friends are for! There are too many duets and guest spots here to properly name, but performances by Johnny Mathis, Wayna Morris, and Dianne Reeves are notable. Magical musical moments are plentiful, but the country turn of “Jingle Bells” (featuring John Rich, The Oak Ridge Boys and Ricky Skaggs), and the bluesy “Frosty the Snowman” (with Eric Paslay) keep things light. Despite the genre shifts from song to song, this album is a cohesive package, starring Ms. Warwick’s distinctive voice as the common thread. Definitely worth serving up on your holiday platter.

~Bryan Williston


Cyndi Lauper
Merry Christmas…Have A Nice Life
Real Gone Records
November 1, 2019

When Cyndi Lauper released Merry Christmas…Have A Nice Life in 1998, it got lost in the Christmas shuffle of that year. Now it is being rereleased and this time on vinyl! This is a very good album, full of great songs. The opening “Home For Christmas Day” alone makes the album worth buying. It is a heartfelt, melancholy Christmas classic. Although there are other wonderful moments on the album, including her breathtaking rendition of “In The Bleak Midwinter”,  there are other songs that do not live up to the standard set at the very beginning, which means the album is very uneven. Still, fans of Lauper will want this album as part of their Christmas collection.

~Aaron Badgley


Home Alone Christmas

Various Artists/Original Soundtrack
Home Alone Christmas
Real Gone Records
November 1, 2019

Love, Actually

Various Artists/Original Soundtrack
Love, Actually
Real Gone Records
November 1, 2019

It is a bit surprising that these two classic Christmas movie soundtracks have been missing in action for the past few years, but they are now back , and they sound great.

Home Alone Christmas is actually a brand new compilation of the first two film soundtracks. There are some lovely moments, such as Tom Petty’s “Christmas All Over Again”, which sounds great as usual, and John Williams version of “Carol Of The Bells” is a beautiful arrangement. 

Love, Actually  features, as a bonus track, Bill Nighy as Bobby Mack with his ditty “Christmas Is All Around”. Otherwise the songs found on this double album are all found in the movie. The issue is that, other than the three new bonus tracks, none of the songs are even remotely Christmas songs. The tracks here by Dido, Joni Mitchell, and the Beach Boys, are all classic songs, but are not Christmas songs. Otis Redding’s “White Christmas” is a brilliant addition and makes owning this soundtrack even more worthwhile.

~Aaron Badgley


Great Songs Of Christmas

Various Artists
The Great Songs Of Christmas: Classic Carols And Pop Favorites
Real Gone Records
November 8, 2019

This is a fantastic release. A lot of it is instrumental, but it is the bonus tracks that pique one’s interest in the CD. Mahalia Jackson with the Percy Faith Orchestra is the standout track of the album, but the songs featuring Mark Lindsay and Gary Puckett certainly add a certain cool factor. This is the sort of album we would have bought when I was a kid, rock ‘n’ roll for us youngsters, and the more serious music for the adults. Great stuff!

~Aaron Badgley


Eugene Ormandy & The Philadelphia Orchestra

Eugene Ormandy & The Philadelphia Orchestra
The Complete Columbia Christmas Albums
Real Gone Records
November 8, 2019

Stanley Black And His Orchestra

Stanley Black And His Orchestra
Christmas Holiday For Romance
Real Gone Records
November 8, 2019

Leroy Anderson And His Orchestra

Leroy Anderson and His Orchestra
The Complete Christmas Collection
Real Gone Records
November 8, 2019

These three are grouped together for obvious reasons. These are classics, and they are all instrumental. For those of us of a certain age, Leroy Anderson and His Orchestra’s two albums were in everyone’s home, and at one time used to sell a million copies a year. Here, both of his albums are on one CD and it is like a nice warm welcome home to have these back. Eugene Ormandy & The Philadelphia Orchestra is another classic set of music, all captured on one CD.  Stanley Black and His Orchestra is the weakest of these artists. This is standard middle of the road, easy listening instrumental pop.

~Aaron Badgley

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