Album: Barenaked for the Holidays
Performer: Barenaked Ladies
Writer: Ed Robertson
You might remember the “most celebrated Canadian alt-rock band of the mid 90s” Christmas history with their song “Green Christmas” which was used in Ron Howard’s 2000 live-action Grinch movie. I don’t want to talk about that song… or about the fact that that was one of my favorite movie for a couple years. I want to talk about this pretty Christmas song from BNL’s 2004 Christmas album. It’s always nice to hear an original Christmas song but I think it’s often difficult to pull them off without being completely corny or derivative. I think that “Footprints” is a success. It’s an interesting concept, telling the story of a relationship which has ups and downs but ultimately has a happy ending. That whole story is told through the couple taking a stroll in the snow.
Song: Christmas Waltz
Album: The Magic of Christmas
Performer: Natalie Cole
Writer: Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne
The Christmas Waltz is probably my favorite Christmas tune. I just really love the melody. The song is pretty simple, it basically describes a bunch of Christmas-y things and then wishes everyone a merry Christmas! This recording is a little bit over-orchestrated for my taste BUT isn’t over-orchestration kinda what Christmas is all about? The fact that it’s played by the London Symphony Orchestra and sung by the incomparable Natalie Cole makes up for the schmaltz. There’s a really nice jazz trio that comes in near the middle which breaks up the orchestration nicely.
Song: Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Album: David Grisman’s Acoustic Christmas
Performer: David Grisman
Writer: J. Fred Coots & Haven Gillespie
This was my favorite new (to me) Christmas album of the year. I’m a sucker for acoustic bands playing jazz and that’s pretty much what you get with David Grisman. This rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town is SWINGING. I’m a really big fan of the harmonized melody with mandolin and fiddle and a moment with mandolin and banjo. And the bass gets a little break which is very nice.
Song: The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
Album: Louis Armstrong & Friends, What a Wonderful Christmas (compilation album)
Performer: Mel Tormé
Writer: Mel Tormé & Robert Wells
I’ve never described anyone’s voice being “smooth as silk” but I just can’t find a better way to describe Mel Tormé’s voice. With key changes and a lot of chromaticism, the melody to The Christmas Song isn’t exactly easy to sing. Tormé captures it beautifully in this stripped down live version. There’s some tasteful jazz trio with clarinet to back him up but that silky voice is really the star.
Song: Jingle Bells
Album: Brad Paisley Christmas
Performer: Brad Paisley
Jingle Bells is an essential christmas classic. Brad Paisley takes it to new levels in this countrified instrumental rendition of the tune. He repeats through the form multiple times and treats it as an extended guitar solo. Some really fun stuff happens. On each repeat there’s an added beat before the traditional “hey!” which rhymes with the line “oh, what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh.” I’m also in love with the chromatic baseline at the top of the 5th time through the form which ends out with the comical “five golden rings” melody. This is a super fun rendition of a song you’ll hear a thousand times over the holidays.