Mitchell: Some Christmas gems this year
Leona Lewis: Christmas With Love (SYCO)
I mentioned in my last column that the No.1 selling seasonal album from Kelly Clarkson had a couple of nods of influence to Phil Spector’s early ’60s A Christmas Gift For You and its wall-of-sound production style.
Brit diva Leona Lewis has taken this a step further with her total homage to Spector on Christmas With Love, complete with retro CD liner photo. Oddly, Darlene Love was a favourite singer of Spector yet there is no Love duet here, which would have been interesting and brought the recording full circle.
However, Lewis covers four songs on Spector’s hallowed album including Winter Wonderland, White Christmas, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) and Silent Night all recorded with thick production layers.
Lewis also offers a few well written originals that may become future Yuletide staples with the exhilarating One More Sleep and Mr Right—the latter offering a sly nod to Beyonce’s busy recording style.
Between these Spector homages and originals, Lewis offers a couple of fine covers of the traditional O Holy Night that is loaded with strings and a superb take of Roy Wood’s (ex ELO and The Move) I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day that is a seasonal favourite in the U.K. and could become one here now too.
This album is getting solid notices in critics circles but one seasonal album outstrips it (read on).
Nick Lowe: Quality
Street, A Seasonal
Street, A SeasonalSelection For All The Family (Yep Roc)
I have read a few collections of reviews of this year’s bumper crop of Christmas albums and Leona Lewis and Nick Lowe are getting the highest praises with the later just maybe edging out Lewis.
Lowe is best known for his lone North American hits Cruel To Be Kind and I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock And Roll as well as his oft-covered What’s So Funny About Peace Love And Understanding while he has become something of a highly likable roots crooner in his dotage.
Lowe has always been a critics’ darling in spite of his low hits per album ratio (now at least 30 if you include Brinsley Schwarz, Rockpile and many solo albums) and I too am a rabid fan owning his entire catalog. There are no less than three Lowe tribute albums on the market from adoring musician/fans.
Anyway, on A Seasonal Selection For All The Family, Lowe comes across as the avuncular singer/songwriter in the family with a bit of a mysterious past but with his usual slanted British wit and wisdom. Things start out here magnificently with the acoustic rockabilly leanings of the traditional Children Go Where I Send Thee as well as a swinging hipster take of Ron Sexsmith’s Hooves On The Roof.
As a famed producer (Elvis Costello, The Pretenders, The Damned and too many more to mention) Lowe became known as “The Basher” as in “bash it out in the studio and tart it up later” and that tarting up can be heard splendidly on the sweet country-politan strains of Just To Be With You This Christmas while he gives a slow, pensive reading to Roger Miller’s Little Toy Trains.
Lowe magically turns Silent Night into a rock n roll-lite reverence and, like Lewis, he too covers Roy Woods’ perennial Brit classic I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day while turning it into an up-tempo ’50s-styled country pop.
While Nick Lowe may not be as well known as Susan Boyle, Kelly Clarkson and Leona Lewis fans of Christmas music could do a lot worse than check out Lowe’s Quality Street.
Susan Boyle: Home For Christmas (SYCO/Sony)
There have only really been two surprises regarding Susan Boyle’s career. The very first time the unlikely looking star singer opened her mouth on the stages of Britain’s Got Talent; and last week when she revealed she has Asperger’s syndrome—a milder type of autism that affects how she relates to other people yet impairs absolutely no intelligence.
So, what you get from Boyle singing more than not, comes as no surprise. She sings straight up letting her voice do all the work as she performs in a very conventional manner that her fans have come to recognize.
Also this is Boyle’s second seasonal album as The Gift (2010) has several Yuletide songs on it as well as covers of ‘spiritual’ songs from the likes of Lou Reed, Crowded House and Leonard Cohen (yes his overexposed Hallelujah).
I guess the biggest selling point of Home For Christmas is the posthumous ‘duet’ with Elvis on O Come All Ye Faithful and the real-life duet with Johnny Mathis (Boyle’s hero) on When A Child Is Born.
The rest of this disc is loaded with very well known songs sung in a very familiar style with The Lord’s Prayer, a hit for both Jesus and The Beach Boys, as well as Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and The Christmas Song (the one with chestnuts roasting on an open fire—sending shivers up the spines of firefighters around the world).
Note that Boyle has released this album around the same time that she is appearing in the newly made feature film A Christmas Candle and that ought to really boost the marketing of this disc.