TORONTO - This year, a typically star-studded slate of artists has released Christmas albums, with discs from Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Sugarland and David Archuleta. But who does the holiday season better than Canadians? Canadian Press music writer Nick Patch looks at this year's homegrown holiday music offerings.
Johnny Reid, "Christmas"
With Johnny Reid's gravelly croon, he seems a natural to belt out some gathered-round-the-fire Christmas tunes.
And indeed, "Christmas" showcases the Scotland-born, Toronto-raised country singer's slow-burn take on such well-worn holiday classics as "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Little Drummer Boy."
But while some holiday CDs are best-suited for that torpid period after the family has tucked into a tryptophan-filled turkey, Reid's disc is considerably more lively.
He injects a bit of glam into a shuffling version of "Jingle Bell Rock" and howls through Chuck Berry's "Run Run Rudolph," one of the disc's more inspired selections.
"Mary's Boy Child" - among the few overtly religious tunes on the disc - has a vaguely calypso feel and even "Silent Night" ambles along over a swift acoustic guitar rhythm (and it features a mandolin solo).
Two unmemorable original tunes are unlikely to evolve into holiday traditions, but the uptempo "Waiting for Christmas to Come" and "Christmas Time Again" do further Reid's goal of creating a Christmas disc that doesn't feel as though it's been weighed down by a few glasses of eggnog.
Justin Hines, "Season's Greetings"
It's nearly impossible for a Christmas CD to avoid both cheese and irony entirely, but that would seem to be the goal of Justin Hines' earthy "Season's Greetings."
The arrangements are spare but fresh, with an organic, folky vibe that highlights the Newmarket, Ont., native's expressive voice.
Opening tune "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" establishes the disc's formula: Hines is accompanied only by a finger-picked acoustic guitar. The listener waits for the sweeping strings to creep in, but they never come.
Restraint isn't an adjective typically associated with holiday records, but the elegant production on "Season's Greetings" serves to draw attention to Hines' vocal talent while boosting the impact of the few instrumental flourishes that are employed.
The first verse of "How I Love This Time" - by far the best of three original compositions - offers a quaint vision of a neighbourhood stroll through a snow-covered winter landscape.
Indeed, Hines seems to appreciate the simple pleasures of the holiday season.
Other Canadian Christmas releases out this year include:
-The Canadian Tenors' confidently titled "The Perfect Gift" mixes traditional tunes with originals, including songs written by Canadian superproducer David Foster and Sarah McLachlan, who contributes a winning vocal to the gorgeous "Wintersong." The jury is out on whether giving a Christmas CD for Christmas really qualifies as "the perfect gift," but you'd be hard-pressed to dig up a more sweeping suite of holiday music this year.
-The front cover of Aliqua's disc "All I Want" shows the eight members of the Vancouver choral group dressed in angelic white, posed as mannequins in a silvery storefront window. The actual music, while meticulous, has more life. "A La Nanita Nana" incorporates the soft clatter of electronic drums, while a lovely take on "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" carries a gently foreboding undercurrent. In fact, much of the disc has an engagingly delicate, melancholic vibe.
By contrast, the cover of the Good Lovelies' "Under the Mistletoe" shows the group - Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore - huddled around the Christmas tree, surrounded by all the holiday hallmarks: dangling mistletoe, freshly baked cookies and a mound of gifts. It's a fitting image for an occasionally kitschy, well-meaning collection of fun, flirty holiday tunes.
-In the spirit of the season, a few Canadian artists are putting out holiday tunes for charity. Toronto hardcore band F**ked Up is issuing a cover version of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" with guests including preppy indie favourites Vampire Weekend, snarky comedian David Cross, art-rock stalwarts Yo La Tengo and Wu-Tang Clan rapper GZA. So sure, there might be a bit of irony there, but it's for a good cause: the Polaris Music Prize winners will donate all proceeds from the single to Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
Meanwhile, reigning "Canadian Idol" champ Theo Tams has teamed with Toronto singer-songwriter Ali Slaight for a version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" with proceeds going to War Child Canada. And Tom Jackson also put out a charity song, called "The Gift." The actor, singer and activist is on the road through Dec. 18 on his "Singing for Supper" tour, which raises money for Canadian food banks.