[pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”center”]Unique Christmas compilation challenges uninteresting renditions of Christmas albums past[/pullquote1]
With the holiday season arriving, various artists will inevitably churn out Christmas albums, most of which will end up in the five-dollar bin at Wal-Mart the following year. As a result, it’s a rarity for anything fresh or worthwhile to arise, whether it’s an original song or an adaption of a standard.
Few artists have been able to capture the ecstasy associated with Christmas time, invoking memories of sledding with friends, cancelled school, and opening presents. However, producers Sara Matarazzo and Chris Funk tried to right this wrong, releasing Holidays Rule, a compilation album featuring artists ranging from Fun. to Paul McCartney. Whether this endeavor was driven by a love of the season or moneymaking greed, Holidays Rule offers fresh takes on the standards of the season.
Fun. introduces the album with a collection of legato strings, using traditional motifs to construct the atmosphere expected of a Christmas album, before it degenerates into an energetic pop version of “Sleigh Ride,” using the strings to maintain the traditional aspect of this song, while using synthesizers and electronic beats to modernize it. Despite the occasional modulations, Nate Ruess’s voice perfectly fits into the song, while amplifying the energy to embody the joy and adrenaline involved with sledding.
Following the vigor of “Sleigh Ride” is a take on the classic duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” with Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten exchanging the now-infamous conversation over the simple chords of a jazz piano. This song sees a complete reversal in both tone and topic, as the energy and innocence fun. provided matures into a suggestive conversation and a sultry piano background. Wainwright’s vocal timbre lends a subtle quality of mystery and edginess to the song, while keeping the traditional feel and sensuality necessary to be respectful of the traditional versions of the duet.
This slow jazz feel is continued and built upon with Paul McCartney’s version of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire),” featuring piano and acoustic guitar played overtop of a somber drum set, swinging slowly, primarily brushing snares and cymbals to create a sense of cohesion. While McCartney built his legendary status off of rock & roll, he shows off his vocal capabilities with a smoky jazz quality that occasionally slips into a vulnerable falsetto. When all of these factors blend together, it creates a brilliant adaption of a Christmas classic, embodying a genuine message of appreciation for the holiday season.
Contrasting with the jazz songs riddling this album, Heartless Bastards bring a country feel to “Blue Christmas” and Eleanor Friedberger sings “Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)” over a background that blends qualities of Latin music and swing, while still singing with a pop feel, allowing for one of the more dynamic and complex songs on the album. Following this is “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas,” covered by folk-pop artists Fruit Bats, with a complex collection of acoustic and slide guitars swirling over the country-style vocals of lead singer Eric D. Johnson, which is delicately backed by a mandolin and xylophone occasionally coming through to add another layer of depth to the song.
The album concludes with “Auld Lang Syne,” a personification of the togetherness expected of Christmas time. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird covers this song, featuring guitar and violin to create a folk interpretation of this classic. While it’s not quite a traditional cover, it shows the universality of Christmas songs and how they can be bent to fit into any genre, while still being a perfect fit for the season.
[three_fourth]With this track coming to a close, the listener is left with the sentiment that should accompany any truly good Christmas album. With fresh interpretations of Christmas standards, Holidays Rule serves as more than just the annual Christmas compilation album; it provides a genuinely good, new Christmas album for this year, as well as for years to come.[/three_fourth]
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