Seth MacFarlane is a delightful study in contrasts.
Most well-known for his raunchy, highly intelligent comedies like the animation series The Family Guy and the Ted movies – Ted 2 is due for release in June 2015 – he is also a consummate showman, with a particular love for crooning, which as Billboard notes, he takes “very seriously”.
That serious intent, which first came to the fore on 2011’s Grammy-nominated Music Is Better Than Words, is back on display, this time reflecting a more festive nature, on the “feels like Christmas” album, Holiday For Swing!
A rarity among holiday albums in that it was actually recorded at Christmas-time, Holiday For Swing! is a pleasure to listen to, MacFarlane’s love of the quintessential orchestral big band sound that these days equates to a traditional Christmas album sound evident on every single track:
“… I love orchestral jazz. I love that era of high orchestral musicality that bears a lot of similarities to holiday music in a lot of ways.” (Billboard)
Covering tracks that range from the well known such as “Let It Snow!”, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” to more obscure songs such as “Marshmallow World” – which is also being covered by Karen O this year for Target – “Christmas Dreaming” (Frank Sinatra) and “Snow” (Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney), MacFarlane’s sense of artistry and ability to capture the spirit of a bygone era without sounding slavishly derivative are woven into the musical DNA of every note he sings.
You feel yourself magically transported back to the era of Fats Domino and Glenn Miller almost from the first chords of opening song “Let It Snow!” which fairly dances with a joyful exuberance.
Frankly it sounds just like you wish every holiday song would sound – lighthearted, carefree and content – MacFarlane’s vocals suffused with the warmth and richness of the season and a clear love for what he does, backed by musical collaborator and veteran arranger/producer Joel McNeely and a 65 piece orchestra that plays with a robust playfulness that utterly entrances.
This is Christmas music to decorate to, wrap gifts to or simply have festive drinks to, bursting at the seams with all the bonhomie of the season.
It is well nigh impossible, in fact, to not smile like an eggnog-addled caroller when songs like “Christmas Dreaming”, “Snow” and “Little Jack Frost” come bouncing out of your speakers, stirring up your heart and giving your feet an almost irresistible urge to go skipping across the floor.
The joy of Holiday For Swing! is that even the slower songs like “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”, “Warm in December” and “Moonlight in Vermont” don’t sound like filler, inserted simply to slow the pace of all that freewheeling merrymaking.
Rather they are infused with the same festive glow that pour from their more upbeat album mates, just turned a little, the sort of songs that make a perfect accompaniment to watching the flames flicker on a cold and snowy winter’s night.
What makes Holiday For Swing! such a pleasure, and it is one of the more wonderful Christmas albums to come along in the last few years, is MarFarlane’s love for what he does, his willingness to choose songs that don’t sound like any other festive collection of songs you’ve heard recently, and the talent both he and McNeely have for distilling Christmas down into songs that sound like they were made for MacFarlane’s smooth, emotionally-emotive voice.
Want to feel like Christmas can be every bit as good as the idealised versions we see in almost every TV show and movie?
Throw on Holiday For Swing!, gather those you love close to you and lose yourself in the most festive music to come along in a while.