Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published December 1st 2018
A Blues Christmas, not a blue Christmas
I am something of an Eric Clapton fan. I think his early work is amongst the best rock guitar work ever done and his recent blues offerings have been masterful. I even like his 1980s Phil Collins stuff, but do find some of his stuff a little too laid back for my palate. Still – awesome guitarist and great musician. Then I heard he had a new album and a mate decided to get it for me.
However, when I was given this album, I groaned. Very loudly. It's a Christmas album. That would have been okay – I don't mind a good rockin' Christmas tune – but a look at the track listing was what made me let out that small cry of anguish. See, most of these are songs that we nowadays consider traditional.
The cover, drawn by Mr Clapton himself.
To say I am not a fan of the Christmas carol is somewhat understating it quite a great deal.
Now, to avoid coming across like the Grinch here, as I said, I do like a lot of Christmas music. It is one of the few things I do enjoy about Christmas. The Pogues' Fairytale Of New York is one of my all-time favourite songs and my favourite 'Weird Al' Yankovic song (and I own every album he's put out in Australia) is The Night Santa Went Crazy. So, I entered this album with mixed feelings.
Well… the fact I am writing about it tells you that I like it. First, this is most definitely a Christmas album, not just by title. However, these tracks are treated not with complete traditional gravitas. They have been given the Clapton blues turn, or that AOR styling that Clapton is known for. He tries to claim them for his own, and, for the most part, he succeeds.
Here is the album, track by track.
White Christmas starts the ball rolling with what actually sounds like a joyful rendition. Buzztone, muted guitar sounds out, and his voice sounds smooth. A surprising opener, as I find most versions of this song grate. Okay, this version is not as good as Bing Crosby's, but no-one's is.
Away In A Manger surprised me as well. I was ready to hate this, but Clapton treats it in the laid-back style of his mid-70s output (think his Knockin' On Heaven's Door, I Shot The Sheriff period), and, damn it – it works.
For Love On Christmas Day is the sole original track on the album, a sad song about missing someone on Christmas Day, something I can relate to all too well. It is laid-back and yet quite emotional. It's a good track, but I can't see it replacing much in his live set track list.
Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday isn't bad, but it didn't stand out to me.
Christmas Tears started off like the previous track, then halfway through turned into a guitar solo that hit its straps and lifted it out of the so-so. Maybe not Clapton's best ever solo, but it still makes this into a fine piece.
Home For The Holidays is another track that was just there. Not bad, but nothing great.
Next comes Jingle Bells, which Clapton dedicated to Avicii, the young DJ who tragically passed away. Clapton was a fan of his work – as am I… honestly – and this song stands out from the rest of the album in its use of modern technology and electronic sounds, reminiscent of Clapton's work with TDF. It is quite the awesome rendering of the classic tune and is one of the highlights of the album, and well worth tracking down. My only complaint is that it does not fit in with the feel of the rest of the album. Maybe it could have been released as a bonus track / single or something. It does jar where it sits, in the middle of the record. Shame, as I feel it is quite awesome otherwise.
And from there we jump to the country blues of Christmas In My Hometown which does suffer a little in comparison to the previous track, but it is another song that is done differently. This album is not a one-note wonder, that's for sure!
It's Christmas ups the ante as a rocker, a lyric filled with optimism that is sung with gusto. Apart from the production, it could easily have come from a mid-80s Clapton album. That's not a bad thing, by the way; this is another song I really enjoyed on the album.
We enter more laid-back territory with Sentimental Moments; while the musicianship is good, I have never liked the mawkish lyrics of this song. It's not the singer, in this case, it's the song. Caveat: one of my few own songs that has been recorded could well be considered just as mawkish as this, so this could be pots and kettles…)
Back to the blues for Lonesome Christmas. And, yes, it is blues, and yes it is good. Another of the album's highlights for me.
And then we come to Silent Night, which has the slight underpinning of a reggae feel. Pretty straight-forward rendering of the track, but I like the call and response verse, and the whole thing has a nice, laid-back feel. Yet another great track.
(I would like to point out that this is one of the few Christmas carols I can play on guitar, so I might be biased in my praise.)
Merry Christmas Baby is another slow blues track with one of those slow guitar solos that sound so perfect. Fine song, and another highlight.
And we finish with Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, a very laid-back piece of AOR that feels like it sort of lets the album peter out. Not my favourite track, I'm afraid, but I never was a fan of the song to start with.
Eric Clapton in 2015
So, there you have it. An excellent album to put on at Christmas, after everyone's eaten their fill at lunch-time, to relax to and have a few drinks while listening to, either in front of a fire (northern hemisphere) or out by the pool (southern hemisphere).