Blues icon Eric Clapton has just released his first full-length Christmas recording which he simply called “Happy Xmas”.
Soul/R&B artist John Legend has just bowed his first ever Christmas record, A Legendary Christmas.
Music plays an integral role in the celebration of Christmas at my house.
So much so that I often bump up the start of the Christmas season by a month or more to accommodate the music I’ve pulled off the shelves for one more go round.
Every year those of us who celebrate this season of joy and light brush the dust off Bing Crosby's “White Christmas” and a host of other seasonal offerings and play them repeatedly from late November to the New Year.
The emotional attachment we feel for this music explains why we’re always prepared to make room for one more version of “Jingle Bells” or “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer," despite the fact many of us already have more Christmas music than we would ever have time to listen to.
If you are always ready to make room at Christmas for something new, you might want to consider one or more of this year’s new offerings.
“Happy Xmas” - Eric Clapton
The legendary British bluesman’s first major foray into Christmas music is a mix of seasonal standards and holiday themed original material that just begs for an armchair, a crackling fire in the fireplace and a large mug of spiked eggnog.
Clapton augments standards like “White Christmas”, “Away In A Manger”, “Jingle Bells” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” with tracks like “For Love On Christmas Day”, a gorgeous ballad that speaks to the sadness of being without the one you love on what for many is the happiest day of the year. I’m also really partial to “Christmas In My Hometown”, which speaks to the desire to spend the holidays surrounded by the sights, sounds and familiar faces of Christmas past.
As you might expect the arrangements on this record are not traditional arrangements, but Clapton makes them work.
(Rating 3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
“A Legendary Christmas” - John Legend
This soul/R&B star has also thrown his hat into the ring this Christmas for the first time.
Legend went with a mix of Christmas standards and original material, but the mood on this set is much more upbeat, upbeat to the point of being a party record.
Legend’s voice is ideally suited to the kind of holiday fare that made artists like Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra staples of the season, so he aces material like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, “Christmas Time Is Here” and “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”. But where he really shines is when he serves up some of the more soulful originals penned for the record and on covers of material like “What Christmas Means to Me”.
I should note that like Clapton he’s opted to veer away from the more traditional arrangements for some numbers, so don’t expect to hear a Mel Torme take.
(Rating 3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
- Eric Clapton’s “Happy Xmas” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Holiday Chart when it was released in October.
- Clapton and his longtime music producer, Simon Climie, take you track-by-track through the making of “Happy Xmas” in an audio special currently airing on SiriusXM. It broadcasts until Dec. 25.
- Eperanza Spalding and Stevie Wonder guest on John Legend’s first Christmas record, “A Legendary Christmas”.
Legend is supporting the release of his Christmas album with a major tour.
Doug Gallant is a freelance writer and well-known connoisseur of a wide variety of music. His On Track column will appear in The Guardian every second Saturday. To comment on what he has to say or to offer suggestions for future reviews, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.