Christmas is, by far, my favorite time of year. Down here in the South, I don’t get to experience much cold or snow, but I still get all of the best things about the most wonderful time of the year: Christmas lights, mistletoe, decorating the tree, special Christmas church services, Christmas movies, and – of course – Christmas music!
I usually have a rule that I won’t play Christmas music until Thanksgiving Day, but this year I had to break that rule. Why? So I could review four new 2017 Christmas album releases for you all, my readers! Enjoy!
Artist: Casting Crowns
Title: It’s Finally Christmas
Release Date: October 20, 2017
Length: 25 min.
Producer: Mark A. Miller
Personnel: Mark Hall (Lead Vocals), Josh Mix (Guitars, Backing Vocals), Juan DeVevo (Guitars, Backing Vocals), Chris Huffman (Bass, Backing Vocals), Megan Garrett (Piano, Backing Vocals), Melodee DeVevo (Violin, Backing Vocals), and Brian Scoggin (Drums)
Special Appearance: Matt Maher (Lead Vocals on “Make Room”)
I’m sorry to say it, but Casting Crowns’ newest Christmas project just sounds rushed. I’m thinking just maybe they scrambled to put this thing together last-minute for the Christmas tour they’re doing with For King & Country.
There are two legitimately good tracks here: The title track, which has a laid-back sound, Hall’s lead vocals accompanied minimally by a piano, drums, and violin. And “Somewhere in Your Silent Night,” a quiet, worshipful number that also benefits from Casting Crowns sticking to their stripped-down sound.
Two of the six tracks on this six track EP are more or less meh: “O Holy Night” is a closely played cover of a Christmas standard, which, though beautiful, comes across as unremarkable here. And then their team-up with Matt Maher, “Make Room,” is, slightly, a more typical CCM song, though it works. . . and after listening to the album a few times, I did like this one.
The other two tracks – “Gloria/Angels We Have Heard on High” and “What Child is This (Christ the King)” – are not that great. Those are two pretty unsuccessful remixes of typical Christian Christmas standards blended with too-typical CCM music and electronic touches that sound like Casting Crowns have been listening to Imagine Dragons too much, and that certainly doesn’t help Casting Crowns’ sound. Would it help anyone’s? (Except Imagine Dragons. C’mon, Imagine Dragons. Get your act together these days!)
The It’s Finally Christmas EP is not an essential. Instead, pick up their great Christmas album from 2008, Peace on Earth, and, to supplement, get on Spotify and check out the aforementioned “Somewhere in Your Silent Night” and “It’s Finally Christmas.” And, yeah, I’ll throw in “Make Room,” too. Unless you’ve already played Peace on Earth to death like I have, then you might spin this EP at least once.
Favorite Songs: “Somewhere In Your Silent Night,” “It’s Finally Christmas,” and “Make Room.”
Artist: Cheap Trick
Title: Christmas Christmas
Genre: Hard Rock/Power Pop
Release Date: October 20, 2017
Length: 39 min.
Label: Big Machine
Producer: Cheap Trick/Julian Raymond
Personnel: Robin Zander (Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar), Rick Nielsen (Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals), Tom Petersson (Bass, Backing Vocals), and Daxx Nielsen (Drums)
The first track is a short original, “Merry Christmas Darlings,” introducing us well to the album. “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday,” originally by glam rock act Wizzard, has an almost punk energy to it. “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” is a cover of a song from an SNL skit, written by Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz. It really works, weirdly enough. “Merry Xmas Everybody,” originally by hard rock/glam group Slade, sounds wild and very Cheap Trick. They perform “Please Come Home for Christmas” energetically but without bringing anything new to this bluesy Christmas staple from Charles Brown. The instrumentalists have some fun, though.
The band does surprisingly well with Harry Nilsson’s “Remember (Christmas),” doing it in a piano ballad style, though I don’t find the song itself particularly interesting. And I know why they wanted to cover Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run,” and the loud guitars and harmonica playing off each other injects some excitement, but it seems every rocker does this one, and none of them has ever come close to Berry’s original. Yet I don’t think that was Cheap Trick’s aim.
Next up is a straightforward cover of The Kinks’ underrated, relevant, punk “Father Christmas,” and the way Cheap Trick performs it sounds sort of like The Who. They play “Silent Night” in a grandiose (though out-of-breath) fashion. Their Ramones cover, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight),” is a good choice, with the vocal delivery doubling down on the punk but with the instrumentation sounding quite hard rock. “Our Father of Life” has a children’s choir and a lead vocal performance from Zander that sounds like Neil Young. Then, to finish the album off, Cheap Trick transitions into a savage yet joyful “Christmas Christmas.” These last two tracks are both Cheap Trick originals.
Favorite Songs: “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday,” “I Wish It Was Christmas Today,” “Merry Xmas Everybody,” “Father Christmas,” and “Christmas Christmas”
Artist: Lindsey Stirling
Title: Warmer in the Winter
Genre: Classical Crossover/Pop
Release Date: October 20, 2017
Length: 43 min.
Producers: Josh Abraham, Stephen Anderson, Jon Levine, Oligee, Brian Phillips, and Jordan Witzigreuter
Personnel: Lindsey Stirling (Violin), Autumn Rowe (Backing Vocals), Oligee (Synthesizer), and others
Special Appearances: Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews (Trombone on “Warmer in the Winter”), Sabrina Carpenter (Lead Vocals on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch), Becky G (Lead Vocals on “Christmas C’mon”), and Alex Gaskarth (Lead Vocals on “Time To Fall In Love”)
Ever since she first started posting choreographed music videos to her YouTube channel in 2007, Lindsey Stirling has been wowing music lovers with her prowess at violin, dancing, composing, and all-around performing. Her compositions and performances splendidly mix classical, pop, rock, and EDM. Her discography includes both original work and creative covers, and over the course of her last three albums and numerous videos, she’s worked with such artists as The Piano Guys, Lzzy Hale, Christina Perry, Rivers Cuomo, and Lecrae. Now, here we are with her fourth album, and it dips into an extremely fitting theme for Stirling’s music: the season of Winter and the holiday of Christmas.
The first track is “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” which Stirling performs deftly, bringing her dancing violin quality to the song to winsome effect. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is up next, and it works charmingly as an instrumental, even if Sabrina Carpenter’s vocal appearance lends little and is even a bit awkwardly placed. “Christmas C’mon” is bland as a generic pop Christmas tune original with Becky G on lead vocals, but that can’t hold Stirling down, as she soars and saves the track.
The following songs are eight more Christmas standards and two more originals. The standards Stirling performs gorgeously, respectfully, and – sometimes – from a unique angle. The two originals, one featuring the one and only Trombone Shorty, the other featuring Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low (at which, yes, you have the right to roll your eyes) are respectively (1) cute and worthy of being the title track, and (2) just as deserving of the eye rolls as you might think it would be.
Despite negatives, I love this album, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys Lindsey Stirling’s music, Christmas music, or instrumental music.
Favorite Songs: “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” “Carol of the Bells,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Warmer In the Winter,” “What Child Is This,” and “Jingle Bell Rock”
Title: Everyday Is Christmas
Release Date: November 17, 2017
Length: 33 min.
Label: Atlantic/Monkey Puzzle
Producer: Greg Kurstin
Personnel: Sia (Lead Vocals), Greg Kurstin (Bass, Drums, Keyboards, Piano, Guitars, Percussion, Organs, Vibraphone, Mellotron, Celeste, Glockenspiel), and David Ralicke (Trumpet, Trombone, Saxophones, Mellophone, Euphonium)
Australian pop star Sia can churn out quality pop tunes, her writing process flowing quickly. Does that approach work here? Maybe, maybe not. It’s kind of half and half. The songwriting is lazy and hurried some of the time, and the compositions are, unfortunately, mostly generic pop. It is commendable, however, that Sia chose here to write original holiday-themed songs rather than turn out a series of overdone covers like most artists do with these projects.
There are several other things to commend here as well, like the fact that Sia’s performances and the instrumental performances of those backing her sound great and have the same level of energy we’d expect Sia and company to bring. So how about the songs?
“Santa’s Coming for Us” is fun and danceable. “Candy Cane Lane” has a decent, childlike sense to it. There are two varyingly delightful and weird odes to winter love on “Snowman” and “Snowflake.” “Ho Ho Ho” is somewhat annoying but an OK song to throw on at a Christmas party. “Puppies are Forever” misses the mark some in trying to be childlike and charming, but “Sunshine,” “Underneath the Mistletoe,” and the title track bring it all back around with kind of throwaway but infectious tunes. “Sunshine” is my favorite of those three, and “Everyday Is Christmas” is certainly worthy of being the title track.
“Underneath the Christmas Lights” is an apt, quieter ending to the album, performed by Sia with feeling, accompanied primarily by a lone piano, making me think of the final song sung at a Christmas party before everyone filters out into the snow, tired but content. Everyday Is Christmas delivers, in some ways, on that feeling, and in some ways, it doesn’t. Still, as it is, I think it’s worth checking out. I applaud Sia’s effort here.
Favorite Songs: “Santa’s Coming for Us,” “Snowman,” “Sunshine,” and “Underneath the Christmas Lights”
So what do you all think of these albums? Christmas is upon us! Are you playing your Christmas music yet? What are some of your favorite Christmas albums and/or singles, new or old?