Sunday, 5 November 2017

Christmas 2017

Yes, we know it's only November but let's take a look at some of the upcoming festive-themed releases coming up.

Ashton Lane - Winter Star (EP)

Delivering three tracks and a fourth live number, the title track is beautiful, the story-telling lyrics forming a vivid and seasonally delightful image in your head that is boosted by the delicious harmonies of the two leads, forming an understated but great festive song with a romantic centre. 'Frozen' is another strong love ballad with the vocals taking centre stage, quite rightly, the touching lyrics about relationships at Christmas really nailing the emotion, the chorus close to heartbreaking. 'Who Comes This Night' has a more religious theme, their cover a touching take on the old but not that familiar track, the consistent production style working well. This theme continues with the live version of 'The Little Road to Bethlehem' which is a delightful and gentle closure to a great EP. A must hear. (8/10)

Bento - It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

This urban-styled version of the classic song takes the overly-familiar song and adds a really fresh flavour to its recognisable flow, from a great beat, a jazzy tempo and some vocal shifts. It won't be to everyone's tastes but it's original and cool. (7.5/10)

Big Big Train - Merry Christmas

Featuring Mark Benton in the video, fresh from burgling with Paddington Bear, for M&S, this is a stripped back darkly produced song for the season that goes down the real meaning of Christmas route. Boasting a choir-led section it's an interesting switch between its Elbow-like darker moments and more hopeful sections. A neat little number that lifts the spirits, ending on a high, positive note. B-Side 'Snowfalls' also boasts a nicely imagined imagery too, woven through its lyrics and gentle sound. (7/10)

Callaghan - Christmas Lights

One of my favourite singers from the last couple of years, this piano-based stripped back song has plenty of heart all the way through the song, the cut back style allowing the emotional lyrics to breathe. Beautiful. (7/10)

Charlie Hole - River

A version of a classic Christmas song, Hole's soulful voice delivers the song with joy. It's not a revolutionary take on the classic number but it does it justice, and is beautifully sung. (7/10)

Ellie Goulding - O Holy Night

Though a potentially difficult track for a "pop artist" to tackle Goulding does a great job on this record, her soaring vocals making a strong take on the classic number, with the stripped back choral backing adding to the emotional delivery. (7/10)

Emma Stevens - Christmas (EP)

Coming soon, one of the country's best singer-songwriters releases a special EP of four festive-themed songs. In a weird coincidence the EP sits nicely next to Keane lead singer's Tom Chaplin album with one of their songs appearing here, alongside a shared cover of East 17's 'Stay Another Day', which opens this EP. Delightfully built around a simple piano riff with Stevens' gentle vocals really suiting the song, this is a smooth and touching opening to the record and creates a softer take on the 90s classic, and the gradual fade in of the seasonal church bells at the end works really well. Track two is the carol 'Silent Night' and though its a very faithful interpretation suits the vocal style of Stevens and the multi-layering of the vocals lifts it up. 

Keane track 'Somewhere Only We Know' with its humming open is beautifully done, adding more sweetness to it even than the original, creating a warming and delightful version of the de-facto Christmas track. Closer 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' is just as lovely, the stripped back, breathy take, really suiting the track, wrapping up a gentle and warming 15-minute festive offering. (7.5/10)

Eric McGrath - Back Home

Ticking all the expected production effects for a Christmas song, this is a gentle, airy and light, anthem for the time of year with a subdued production effect and vocals high in the mix, balancing some story-telling lyrics and a sweet atmosphere. A grower. (6/10)

Fiona Kennedy - Christ Child Lullaby

Going for the more traditional sound of Christmas songs this is a delightfully gentle song that gives Kennedy's strong voice and the building choral backing the chance to shine. Something different, and just as delightful. (6.5/10)

Frank Sinatra and Seal - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

These duets with artists who are no longer with us are becoming more and more common and though this is a nice version it feels like Sinatra is doing most of the hard work, Seal's new vocals not being distinctive or different enough to stand out. Fun but relatively pointless. (6.5/10)

Gary Shail - Modding Up My Christmas List 

With its funny tongue-in-cheek lyrics this ska-influenced song boasts a great catchy chorus that feels more summer than Christmas, which offers something a little different amongst all the rest of the more cliched production effects! (7.5/10)

Graham J. - O Holy Night

Continuing on the theme of traditional sounding songs this is a warm, beautifully sung classical-sounding number that eschews the, quite literal sometimes, bells and whistles of modern songs for something more old-fashioned. But what a voice! (7/10)

Gregory Porter - The Christmas Song

The world and his wife have covered this song and Porter's version isn't hugely revolutionary and very faithful / similar to the Nat King Cole version he's channeling, but his silky voice mixed with the orchestral backing make this a delightful enough take. (7/10)

Hanson - Finally It's Christmas

Continuing their low-key comeback, 90s wonder-kids Hanson are back with this bouncy pop number with hints of retro rock and roll. Like many songs it's more seasonal than substance but it's rhythm and joy will win over your Grinch-like heart. (6.5/10)

Gwen Stefani feat. Blake Shelton - You Make It Feel Like Christmas

Gwen Stefani proves to be the latest artist to jump on the Christmas album bandwagon and this funky, soulful number with a fair chunk of Blake Shelton on vocals is a great cut from it. It's not hugely revolutionary but hits the spot. (7/10)

Jess and the Bandits feat. Gary Quinn - Always Christmas Eve

One of my favourite country acts of the last few years has released a new Christmas EP including this song, which is a cool and stripped back, warm song that might not be revolutionary but will fit in well to your snug Christmas playlist, the contrast of the two vocals building to something special. (7/10)

Katie Garibaldi - Home Sweet Christmas (LP)

The first full album of the year, this clutch of original songs (albeit one closing cover) captures the season well, with country-hints tied in with the usual tropes of festive songs. Starting with 'Happy Married Christmas', a neat twist, on the usual greeting, has, in a rather strange comparison, hints of the theme of Scooby Doo in its rhythm and delivery (!), but is a great uptempo entry into the perky album that has a strong religious-slant as befits the season.

'Star in the East' is a slower affair, capturing the imagery of the seasonal story in its country rhymes, whilst the rawer sounding 'Jesus Touched My Heart' has shades of the White Stripes in their 'Get Behind Me Satan' era, if you pardon the religious contrasts. With a perky, soulful feel there's plenty of rhythm here to get behind, and the gospel ending will get you clapping along.

'Unhappy Holiday' returns to a more secular style with a mid-tempo country style that balances a relatively bouncy tune with more downbeat lyrics about missing your loved one. 'The Times I Love the Most (California Christmas)' is a great original pop song that eschews snow for tales of beaches whilst 'Wonderful Mother Mary' is a slower, more traditional-sounding number.

'Love on Christmas Day' goes much more country in its musical style with its twangy guitars lifting the spirit, but its the tempo that lifts for 'Holy Spirit in my Heart' with its quirky and catchy rhythm. 'Safe and Warm (Lullaby For Jesus)' kicks the pace back for a sweet, hymn-like number with a great choral-effect chorus.

'Tomorrow is Christmas Morning' is an atmospheric number that paints a delightfully season picture complete with the evocative sleigh bells, whilst 'Our Home Awaits you' will bring a smile to your face as you look ahead to the season.

The album finishes on its one traditional song, a strong folky-tinged version of the classic hymn 'Silent Night' which goes down the road of something with a little more energy than the usual slower version which offers something fresher. 

Balancing a mixture of religious-themed numbers with more secular pieces, this country and folk take of the season is a delightful listen and will set the mood for the season if you so wish to think this far ahead. (7/10)

Keith 'n' Julie - Mr. Mince Pie

Sounding a bit like a modern, Christmas-themed version of 'Come Outside', this quirky Cockney-fulled festive offering is a tongue-in-cheek hit with a fun centre to the knowing song. (7/10)

The Lancashire Hotpots - Oh Come All Ye Faithful (Singalonga Version)

If you've always wanted to hear a comedy folk band tackle, semi-seriously, a classic carol then we have the perfect thing for you here. With a bouncy upbeat rhythm this a great, nicely paced and tongue-in-cheek take on the favourite. (7/10)

LA Wise Man - All I Want For Xmas Is Rock & Roll

This year's Christmas song to eschew the usual production effects for something more rocky, this is a foot-tapping entry with a quickly catchy fast-paced chorus. Rock on! (7/10)

Lord Buckethead - A Bucketful of Happiness

Having taken the political world by storm Lord Buckethead goes all Meat Loaf on us with this witty festive offering. The vocoder vocals and production effects may be a little poor and muddy but the heart and style is there, plus the lyrics are very funny - in particular the John Lewis line and its punchline. (7/10)

Lucy Spraggan - Drink 'Til We Go Home

The perky pop-songstress Lucy Spraggan joins the roster of Christmas singers this year with this song influenced by the Pogues both in style, slur and subject matter. Fun and with some vivid, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, the sing-a-long string led chorus with its stein-swinging rhythm work really well. Fun and jaunty! (7.5/10)

Mariah Carey - Lil Snowman

Not at all the sound you'd expect from Carey, this 'Roll Over Beethoven'-influenced rock number does not sound like her at all, adding much more bite to her usual wailey-sound, though it's sound-a-like vibe does knock it a few points off. (6/10)

(For something more expected why not try the sweet, if not a little saccharine, 'The Star' from the recent movie about the nativity. It's gentle but building with plenty of heart. (6.5/10))

MiC LOWRY - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Taking a stripped-back, almost A Capella, take on the song, this is a surprising direction for the group, but a welcome take on the song. With some big harmonies, and a grandiose end this is a strong take on a classic. Smooth. (7/10)

Mister Sledge - What Do You Want For Christmas?

Given a 2017 re-release this is a fun, mid-tempo Christmas song with the familiar production values you expect from this time of year but a heart-warming feel and old-fashioned feeling style that warms the cockles of the heart. (7/10)

Panic! At The Disco - Feels Like Christmas

P!ATD join the throng of artists releasing Christmas songs with this frantic, over-produced number that throws plenty of eccentric licks at the wall. Unashamedly ticking all the boxes of their sound this is perhaps a little too generic but will bulk out your playlist well. (6.5/10)

Red Sky July feat. Graham Gouldman - Him and Christmas

With a Cardigans-feel washing around its country-lite styling this is a low-key Christmas song with its production but has a strong slick feel that makes it more distinctive than a lot of this season's fare. (6.5/10)

Rosie Ninmo - Being A Child Again (In the Snow)

With a classic Nina Simone sound both in vocals and brush-drum rhythm, this is a free-form and calming seasonal number that is the music version of chestnuts roasting on a hot fire. Smooth. (6.5/10)

Sia - Santa's Coming For Us

The title might sound more threatening than festive but it's a fun and perky, quirky, number from Sia with a simple yet very catchy chorus and all the Christmas trappings you'd expect from the song genre, though if you can translate the first four lines you're better than us. 'Ho Ho Ho' is another track from the album worth to hear. (7/10)

Sleigh Bells - And Saints

Though it feels like it's building to a crescendo that never comes and it doesn't feel particularly festive in its lyrics, it's got a warming feel to its production that suits the season. Not even sure, aside from the band title, whether it's even a Christmas song! (6/10)

Tom Chaplin - Midnight Mass

The voice of Keane returns with this sweet and gentle track from his loosely-themed Christmas album. It might like the huge hooks he's known for but it's a pleasant, warming seasonal offering. (6/10)

UNITY - Merry Merry Christmas (Each and All)

A delightfully gentle and friendly indie number with plenty of heart and warm lyrics, the two young singers winning you over with their touching delivery and catchy chorus. (7/10)

William Alvey Christmas - The Christmas Club

Your enjoyment of this song will depend on your tolerance for young children singing but if you can cope with that this is a nice, sweet middle-of-the-road Christmas song, but it's probably more for those involved with it. (6/10)

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