Ho, ho, ho. It’s that time of year again and you can’t go to the shops without your ears being hammered by the usual festive suspects – we won’t name them but you know who they are. Over the past couple of years however there’s been a groundswell of Christmas songs that one can actually listen to and enjoy and this compilation from Hemifran Records is the best we’ve heard in a while.
Label owner, Peter Holmstedt, decided it was time to put out a decent collection Christmas songs, “I’m a big fan of compilation albums, and I had the idea of reaching out to singer songwriters I know and admire, and asking them to write a song with a Christmas hook…I was interested to hear what interpretations they would come up with and I was delighted at the response.” What he ended up with was 18 songs which hover around the season, some more so than others, for the most part devoid of sleigh bells (Keith Miles, Citizen K and The Refugees are the guilty parties but we forgive them) and certainly with none of the enforced jollity or fake sentiment that seems de rigour for a listen under the mistletoe.
Opening with a song about a bi-polar cousin visiting and threatening to kill you bodes well for the album and Elliott Murphy’s Five Days Of Christmas is darkly humorous but the remainder of the album consists of that spirit of Christmas that seems to affect so many folk these days – loneliness and past memories. So, aside from the rockabilly swagger of Fayssoux’s Christmas Ain’t Christmas and the jiving This Christmas from The Refugees, we’re well into Joni Mitchell River territory here. As such, Annie Gallup offers up her tale of a long and lonesome journey enlightened when the passengers began to Carol on Christmas On The Train, a song that reminds one of The McGarrigles, while Jude Johnstone’s piano ballad, I Guess It’s Gonna Be That Way, hits all the Mitchell buttons as does Janni Littlepage’s chilly Now That Winter’s Come. The guys here can also hit those buttons with Kenny White’s Christmas Day another lonely travelogue and Paul Kamm’s Where Are You Going Tonight a nice folky evocation of chilly winter nights. And while Keith Miles and Jack Tempchin go down the smoochy ballad route (successfully one must say) there’s some grit on the road when Bob Cheevers unveils his growling and bluesy The Spirit Of Christmas which roams around homeless folk hunkered down just trying to survive the season.
Finally, Citizen K conjures up a Brian Wilson like production on his I Won’t Be Home For Christmas while My Darling Clementine deliver probably our favourite here, Miracle Mabel. It’s their own update on their own nativity tale and it’s wonderfully done. Slyly resisting the bible (that book with Cain and Abel), they celebrate their own child in a perfect facsimile of a Christmas song. It deserves to stand up alongside Christmas staples such as watching It’s A Wonderful Life.
So, if you’re looking for an “alternative” musical accompaniment to your Turkey dinner, seek no more. It’s here and it’s a bit of a Christmas Cracker with a hidden song at the end.