Greg’s Grab Bag – Notable 2015 Holiday Music Releases
Although 2016 is already upon us, I wanted to highlight two holiday music albums released in 2015 that are worth adding to your collection.
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – It’s A Holiday Soul Party
There’s a decided lack of “cool” when it comes to modern holiday music collections, but the new 11-track set from Brooklyn-based soul singer Sharon Jones and her superb backing band, The Dap Kings, looks to rectify that problem.
The classic staccato soul-style song countdown that launches the album’s first track, “8 Days Of Hannukah,” sets the stage for the proceedings – a funky affair that isn’t limited to stylized covers of the usual Christmas canon material.
Of course, some of the old chestnuts are here like “White Christmas,” “Silent Night” and “Silver Bells,” but they are given new life thanks to arrangements that play to the considerable strengths of Jones and the band. For instance, “Silver Bells” starts simply with just Jones and a piano accompaniment before blooming into something a lot more interesting following the addition of the remaining band members and backing vocalists after the first verse – a change which livens up the entire affair.
Speaking of interesting, the original compositions on this set, including the aforementioned “8 Days Of Hannukah,” ultimately prove to be the most entertaining and memorable. “Ain’t No Chimneys In The Projects,” which was originally released as a single in 2009, joins the breezy “Just Another Christmas Song,” the hopeful and impassioned “World Of Love” and “Big Bulbs,” a showcase for the backing vocalists and The Dap Kings’ trumpet player, as standout tracks.
Another highlight is the instrumental “God Rest Ye Merry Gents” that brings the album to a close. This funky chunk of brass showcases the talent of the musicians and expertly blends tradition and soul.
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings deliver on the promise of the album’s title by creating a sweet soul party for the holidays and in doing so, they also produced the year’s most memorable seasonal release.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Rockin’ Rudolph
The other holiday album worth noting is the latest offering from The Brian Setzer Orchestra – the neo rockabilly/swing group’s third studio collection of Christmas songs since 2002.
With Rockin’ Rudolph, the band covers some familiar territory through arrangements that manage to be both old and new at the same time. Setzer, the former frontman of the rockabilly revival act Stray Cats, doesn’t break fresh musical ground here, but rather he combs further through the classic Christmas song catalog to find tunes that work well in a swing arrangement.
He is so successful in this effort, that upon first listen you swear you’ve heard the tune before. This is not a condemnation of the formula – rather it is a compliment to the level of consistency Setzer has achieved over the course of his three Christmas releases.
The rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” included here is lush and a nice jump-off point for Setzer to showcase his smooth jazz guitar phrases during a mid-song solo break. The guitarist’s skills are also highlighted more flashily in the instrumental version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” an arrangement that also displays the skills of the talented orchestra members.
Setzer returns to his rockabilly roots on two songs – the aptly-titled “Rockabilly Rudolph” and “Here Comes Santa Claus,” a tune propelled by the slap bass and clickety clack percussion that are both hallmarks of the classic rockabilly sound.
Two of the most surprising songs on the collection are “Carol Of The Bells” and “Yabba-Dabba Yuletide.” The former is a mysterious and brooding arrangement that is most notable for its use of the acoustic bass and the latter playfully adds Santa-themed lyrics to the familiar notes of The Flintstones cartoon theme song, thus creating a totally unique new holiday tune.
While not the most revolutionary holiday release in recent memory, it is a reminder that The Brian Setzer Orchestra has created an ideal vehicle to deliver consistently entertaining Christmas albums.
Until next time, happy new year and enjoy the music!