For lovers of a Christmas-themed album, nothing says humbug quite like the complementary partnership of former Arab Strap frontman Aidan Moffat and acoustic guitar virtuoso RM Hubbert, who turn their attention to the most wonderful time of the year with Ghost Stories for Christmas (Rock Action, ***) an album of slightly off-colour seasonal ditties delivered by Moffat in faintly creepy crooner mode with calming, sonorous backing from Hubbert on finger-picking duties. They break with their own tradition on Such Shall You Be, a spoken word meditation on the man in the mirror with a sting in the tale, soundtracked by delicate piano which Hubbert learned to play specially for the occasion.
Their sonic selection box also features a couple of choice covers – a snail-paced take on Mud’s Lonely This Christmas and their deadpan rendition of Yazoo’s Only You – plus some lyrical input from Hans Christian Anderson and Charles Dickens, a children’s choir (of sorts) and Moffat’s own Dickensian adage that “we can be kind all year – so let’s at least try”.
It is only appropriate that a band named after a traditional Christmas breakfast cocktail should release a festive album. Bucks Fizz, currently trading as The Fizz, have enlisted producer Mike Stock to record Christmas with the Fizz! (MPG Records **) a couple of straight standards, festive pop favourites from the 1970s, tinselly re-recordings of The Land of Make Believe and Home For My Heart and a couple of originals which probably won’t make it on to the Christmas shopping playlist.
Obeying his most conservative crooner instincts, in Warmest Christmas Wishes (OK! Good Records **) Engelbert Humperdinck delivers a thoroughly traditional holly jolly easy listening album of seasonal schmaltz with no curveballs for those who like turkey with all the trimmings. Gospel star CeCe Winans is likewise an old hand when it comes to Christmas albums. Something’s Happening (Thirty Tigers ***) invokes the spirit of the Andy Williams Christmas specials with an epic orchestral flourish to traditional carols such as O Come O Come Emmanuel. But it’s hard to root out the Christmas spirit under the layers of production wrapping and club mix medleys on LeAnn Rimes slick soundtrack to her TV movie It’s Christmas, Eve (Everle Records **).
On Christmas Everywhere (New West Records ***) her fellow country star Rodney Crowell offers ambivalent inter-generational compositions (“the season starts in August now, we’ll see you down the mall”) with guests Vince Gill and Lera Lynn dropping by to lament the commercialism of Christmas. Honky tonk highlights include Christmas Makes Me Sad, the tongue in cheek pastiche Merry Christmas From An Empty Bed and rollicking rockabilly hop of Very Merry Christmas.
The Mavericks also dip their toes in the seasonal waters for the first time with the blithe Hey! Merry Christmas (Mono Mundo Recordings ****) and make a highly creditable job of adding to the Christmas canon with a brace of future should-be classics from the strutting rock’n’roll of Santa Wants To Take You For A Ride to the tears-in-their-beer ballad Christmas (Without You).
Independent label wiaiwhy (Where It’s At Is Where You Are) wish you a very indie Christmas with their bittersweet, whimsical compilation Stars (wiaiwya ***), which features equal parts cosy comfort and moping melancholy from the likes of Darren Hayman and White Town, while on The Christmas Album (Anti- ***) New Jersey multi-instrumentalist Delicate Steve offers the oddest of sods with his digital-only fuzz guitar and pedal steel instrumental muzak versions of nine Christmas standards – though it is arguable whether anybody needs a sprawling 14-minute psych prog wigout version of Frosty the Snowman in their Christmas stocking, let alone their life.