December 7, 2009

CANADA: Music to make you merry

. CALGARY, Alberta / Calgary Herald Entertainment / December 7, 2009 By Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald Bob Dylan Photograph by: Frank Micelotta/AFP/Getty Images The fact that Bob Dylan has released a Christmas record as warm as those legendary chestnuts on the open fire probably shouldn’t feel as oddball as it does. After all, these days pretty much all major artists (and plenty of not-so-majors too) get around to recording Christmas music at some point in their careers. When the worlds of heavy metal and hip hop got on board, it pretty much became open season for the festive stuff. And yet, there is something decidedly weird about the sneering, cynical, ever acid tongued bard of rock ‘n roll serenading us with such happy holiday favourites as Here Comes Santa Claus and Winter Wonderland. Dylan’s video for the brisk, roots rocker Must Be Santa underscores the wackiness of the project with the crusty old icon sporting a bizarre blond wig and frolicking merrily at a Christmas party as he croaks out the jolly chorus: “Ho Ho Ho! Big red nose!” You can’t help but wonder if the whole thing is a big lark. But if is, it’s a charming one, with Dylan and his fantastic roots-rich band playing it fairly straight with classy renditions of these traditional tunes. Dylan’s nasally rasp isn’t the perfect fit for some of these songs, but for the most part he delivers tastefully. Bob Dylan’s Christmas In The Heart is a holiday keeper. Of course, that’s only one of the notable Christmas discs in the market this season. Here’s a Santa sack full of the new (and repackaged) musical offerings for the yuletide: Sugarland, Gold and Green – Sugarland is the ideal name for his contemporary country duo who typically overdo it on the sweet stuff, too peppy when they’re upbeat and unbearably cloying and sappy when they try to go deep. With five originals and five covers, Sugarland’s considerable fan base will eat it up like a Christmas bonbon but the perkiness might get to be a bit much for the casual listener. Sting, If On A Winter’s Night... – If you’re the sort of Sting devotee convinced that everything the man does is brilliant, well, here’s another helping of brilliance to chew on. If, however, you think that he’s become an ever more boring and pretentious git for at least the last decade, then steer clear of this disc at all costs. Inspired by traditional English folk music, this album of sombre lullabies and carols (including two original songs) also incorporates elements of classical, jazz and new age music. Sure, it’s ambitious, but it’s also a snooze with Sting at his most earnest and academic. Andrea Bocelli, My Christmas – Classical music snobs are usually pretty tough on Andrea Bocelli, the Italian tenor who’s been so embraced by the pop world, and My Christmas definitely won’t change that. Featuring slick arrangements by pop producer David Foster and unlikely duets with the likes of Mary J. Blige, Reba McEntire and The Muppets, this is closer to pop opera than traditionalists can bear. But for legions of Bocelli fans, My Christmas demonstrates all the charm and passion that Bocelli is loved for. Neil Diamond, A Cherry Cherry Christmas – Diamond’s third Christmas disc is a compilation pulling in songs from the previous two records and adding a handful of new tunes to the mix. For the most part Diamond is just having fun on A Cherry Cherry Christmas, the title track a hokey but good natured tune that name checks his past hits shamelessly. There’s also a sufficiently goofy version of Adam Sandler’s The Chanukah Song produced by hard rocker DJ Ashba, a frequent Motley Crue collaborator. Strange pairing. But considering all of that, A Cherry Cherry Christmas isn’t as offbeat as it wants to be. Mostly it’s a pretty strait-laced affair making for a decent Christmas album, but certainly not one that’s essential. The Canadian Tenors, The Perfect Gift – Is The Canadian Tenors Christmas CD really “the perfect gift?” Well, peace on earth or the keys to a new car would probably preferable, to be honest, but if you’re a fan of the “popera” thing, these Armani wearing Canucks do a pretty fine job of it on The Perfect Gift. Sarah McLachlan lovers will want to sit up and take notice as well. Wintersong, which she contributes and sings on, makes for a lovely bit of seasonal finery. There’s also a number of great Christmas music compilations and reissues this year. Here’s two of the best: A Christmas Gift For You: From Phil Spector – As unsavory as the gun toting convicted murderer turned out to be, there’s no question that record producer Phil Spector earned his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his dynamic Wall of Sound production technique. That’s heard in all its splendour on this 1963 Christmas album, featuring The Ronettes and the other girl groups of the era that Spector so effectively guided to greatness. Released on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, A Christmas Gift For You was considered a commercial disappointment when it was released (it’s thought that the national mood was too bleak to appreciate the holiday cheer) but over 40 years later, many of these tracks are considered holiday classics. One listen and you’ll know why that is. The Ultimate Motown Christmas Collection – When it comes to pop era Christmas classics of the ‘60s and ‘70s, it’s awfully hard to beat the singles that were then coming out of Motown. No one conveyed the wonder and excitement of the season quite like the Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder captured the spiritual essence of Christmas beautifully. Marvin Gaye? Somehow he makes the yuletide sexy and ditto for The Supremes. Diana Ross send shivers straight up your chimney. Not everything on this double disc is essential, but you’ll return to good stuff year after year, guaranteed. [rc] hmccoy@theherald.canwest.com © Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald