Album reviews: The best of this year's festive recordings
Alexander Armstrong: In A Winter Light (East West) ***
Tom Chaplin: Twelve Tales of Christmas (Island) ***
Elvis Presley: Christmas with Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RCA) ***
Sarah Darling: Winter Wonderland (Be Darling) ***
Gwen Stefani: You Make It Feel Like Christmas (Interscope) ***
Simon Callow and the Brighouse and Rastrick Band: A Christmas Carol (Island) ****
The Beatles: The Christmas Records (Apple Corps Ltd) ****
Hark, glad tidings: Kim Wilde has teamed up (again) with thrash metal band Lawnmower Deth to produce this year’s most heartwarming festive single, FU Kristmas! On the down side, there is as yet no album collaboration so fans of a Christmassy musical offering will need to look elsewhere.
A warning, however: once you have heard Alexander Armstrong sing Fleet Foxes’ White Winter Hymnal you cannot unhear it. Bradley Walsh has missed a trick in not recording a Yuletide album, so the comedian/game show host/crooner Crimbo market is Armstrong’s for the taking. In A Winter Light is a selection box effort, ranging from Bing-style ballads to Carols at Kings territory.
Keane frontman Tom Chaplin skips the medieval obscurities and makes straight for the modern classics with earnest covers of Joni Mitchell’s The River, East 17’s Stay Another Day and Walking in the Air, which starts out as the David Lynch version before blanding out into John Lewis ad territory. His wistful originals follow suit, some with a comforting touch of 70s easy listening pop.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has been busy of late, recording newly arranged backing tracks for Aretha Franklin and Roy Orbison compilations. Elvis Presley is the next legend on the list. Christmas with Elvis is safe, inviting festive fun, from the curled lip of Merry Christmas Baby to the croon of I’ll Be Home For Christmas and bubblegum handjive of Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me) plus a healthy number of hymns.
There’s a similarly retro glow to a couple of Christmas debutantes. Nashville singer/songwriter Sarah Darling celebrates a totally trad Yule with standards all the way in a jazzy cocktail lounge style, including a honeyed take on the Christmas Song, while Gwen Stefani just wants to be the girl with the most Christmas cake on You Make It Feel Like Christmas. She stops short of delivering herself in a parcel but it was only a matter of time before she recorded her version of Santa Baby. She checks off the rest of that cutesy Christmas audio list and wraps up with some catchy originals, such as the country-flavoured title track, performed as a duet with her partner Blake Shelton.
Simon Callow’s recitation of Charles Dickens’ evergreen A Christmas Carol is replete with festive spirit, and enhanced by a backdrop of wonderful Victorian carols as rendered by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band – plus there’s a chance to hear them all again without Callow on a bonus disc.
Top of the festive pops though is The Beatles’ Christmas Records which compiles for the first time the festive flexi discs they recorded for fan club members as a limited edition set of 7-inch singles on coloured vinyl, and captures the band goofing about, Lennon’s love of English surrealism, a pub singalong Yesterday (1965), a magical mystery nonsensical panto (1966) and the increasingly fractured later years when their seasonal greetings were recorded separately. Even the man/woman/dog who has everything probably doesn’t have a quavery mock operatic rendition of Nowhere Man on ukulele.