Christmastime is here! Happiness and cheer!
I love the season of Christmas, and I love Christmas music. That’s why every year I check out what’s new in the world of Christmas albums. The releases are usually generic and average. Last year, I found four interesting ones to review, three of which were actually good enough to appear on my list of thirty favorite Christmas albums. This year, we’re pretty much back to the generic and average.
Of all the Christmas releases this year, and there actually are several, I checked out six:
- Eric Clapton’s Happy Xmas
- Dailey & Vincent’s The Sounds of Christmas
- John Legend’s A Legendary Christmas
- The Mavericks’ Hey! Merry Christmas!
- The Monkees’ Christmas Party
- Tenth Avenue North’s Decade the Halls, Volume 1
I’ll give you a quick rundown on my opinions of these records. Each entry will be of wildly varying word lengths. This will be indicative of my thoughts. Then that’ll be that.
Eric Clapton’s Happy Xmas
If you are an Eric Clapton fan, and I am, I am sure you will, at least on some level, enjoy this new Christmas album from him, and it is a bit more interesting than I thought it would be. It’s kind of remarkable how good Clapton still sounds after all these years, both his vocals and his guitar playing skills. Happy Xmas is, on the blues rock side, a little too safe and vanilla and inoffensive. It’s just as safe and inoffensive as the album’s title and artwork: kind of cute, won’t offend a soul. At least he still includes Christian songs. All the songs, for the most part, are like that too, Eric Clapton at his most friendly. There is one song that is an electronica-influenced departure from this. It’s bizarre but doesn’t help.
Eric Clapton has been like this for many years now. He certainly deserves respect as one of the best blues and rock guitarists of all time and one of the most influential guitarists of all time. Plus, he’s one of the biggest reasons modern rock fans still even think about blues. He has kept the blues alive through his music, associations, and events, like his Crossroads Guitar Festivals. Yet on the musical output front, he just hasn’t been intriguing for a long while.
If that’s OK with you, then you’ll definitely enjoy this album. Christmas is a time we enjoy a lot of music thrown on in the background. For blues rock fans, this album is perfect for that. As a piece of art, it’s very pedestrian.
For good, instrumental, guitar rock, Christmas music, I instead recommend Gary Hoey’s Christmas albums, or just the best-of compilation, The Best of Ho! Ho! Hoey!.
Dailey & Vincent’s The Sounds of Christmas
I love the instrumentation on the new Dailey & Vincent Christmas album. It successfully melds several genres: Bluegrass, Country, Southern Gospel, ‘50s Rock, Jazz, and Classical. It’s also all performed excellently and produced slickly. However, you may notice that I said I love the instrumentation on this thing, but I didn’t say I love the album. That is because the song selections do not come together effectively as a coherent whole, and where the album is strong in instrumentation, it is at best inconsistent in vocals.
Dailey and Vincent’s guests all perform well, including Dolly Parton being very Dolly Parton, and band member Aaron McCune, formerly of the Southern Gospel quartet Gold City, does greatly throughout with his bass vocals duties. The other backing vocal performances are good too. Even Dailey and Vincent themselves, when harmonizing, do so excellently, with each other and with their guests. And when the guys are singing lead in the more bluegrass-leaning moments, they do a fine job, doing as good a job as they ever have. However, it is in the times where the band wanders outside their bluegrass/country comfort zone that the lead vocals suffer. When the songs require range and power, such as on “Mary Did You Know,” the lead vocals almost sound like they aren’t even being taken seriously, in front of the mic or behind the booth. The vocals also could have been improved with better production and, perhaps, more takes. I first realized there might be production issues when I heard Dolly Parton’s vocal contributions, which sound as if they were recorded into a literal tin can.
The instrumentation is enough to make this album a pleasant experience, and the album is, as the title implies, a survey of Christmas songs and styles, but the negatives overpower the positives a bit.
If you are a bluegrass fan, which I would say most of Dailey & Vincent’s fans are, looking for a good, newer, Christmas album, I recommend Balsam Range’s It’s Christmas Time, a six song Christmas EP from last year.
John Legend’s A Legendary Christmas
If you know who John Legend is, you know what to expect here, but at the lower end of creative quality, if you ask me.
If you are looking for some more recent, soul pop, Christmas music, I more highly recommend Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ It’s a Holiday Soul Party.
The Mavericks’ Hey! Merry Chrsitmas!
If you know who The Mavericks are, this is them, not at their best, not at their worst. I commend them for doing a lot more original material than most bands do on Christmas records. Other than that, Hey! Merry Christmas! is, unfortunately, kind of unremarkable. I’ll bet it would be fun to see them perform this material live though!
For Country Christmas music, I recommend, instead, A Skaggs Family Christmas, either volume, though I like the first volume better.
The Monkees’ Christmas Party
If The Monkees had, back in their heyday, made a Christmas album that had at least as good a selection of songs as this album does, it would probably be something of a classic, and it would definitely be in my permanent Christmas music rotation. As it is, it’s very neat that The Monkees got back together, and it’s cool to see them just having fun again. They know who they are, they know people know who they are, and they’re just enjoying that. Nothing wrong with that.
If you think about what a Monkees album would sound like, from the guys at the age they are currently, then you have mostly imagined Christmas Party already. That’s not a bad thing. They meet expectations and, in a few moments, surpass expectations.
If all that sounds like something you want to hear, you will enjoy Christmas Party. If not, I highly doubt Christmas Party will change your mind.
This is fine, but I more highly recommend The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album.
Tenth Avenue North’s Decade the Halls, Volume 1
With a title like Decade the Halls, I excepted this album to be sort of a survey of Christmas music styles across the decades. It’s not that at all. What it is: CCM Christmas music that is only slightly above average but also has a lyrical moment in a chorus that made me cringe to my very soul.
I much more highly recommend Casting Crowns’ Peace on Earth.