It must be as obvious as the blindingly red nose on Rudolph that I am a huge lover of Christmas music.
It plays when I am decorating my tree, when I am wrapping presents, on my way to work in the weeks leading up to Christmas – the right album can actually make my commute seem somewhat pleasant; don’t get carried away … I said “somewhat” – and last night even while I was cooking tuna mornay for dinner.
I know it must become enormously tedious to listen to if you’re working in a store and it’s all you listen to all the live-long day (that would be true of anything that’s done to death and is certainly not restricted to festive songs), but I find it relaxing, soothing and yes even joy inducing.
And at a time of the year when everything is rushed, frantic and exhausting, it can make the difference between truly entering into the spirit of the season and simply going through the emotions (I doubt I would ever just “do” Christmas but ya never know).
So I’ve selected the following three artists because they have channeled the spirit of a chilled but joyful Christmas perfectly while remaining perfectly true to the musical personas that brought them to attention in the first place.
BEN RECTOR – “Jingle and Bells” EP (2009)
Ben Rector has come a long way in a relatively short time, channelling the laid back west coast guitar pop that has proved the making of artists like John Mayer and Jason Mraz.
Moving to Nashville in 2009, his songs have since been featured on TV shows like Pretty Little Liars, Drop Dead Diva and One Tree Hill, and his most recent album, Something LIke This, released just a few months ago, has sat happily near the top of the iTunes singer/songwriter chart for much of the time since its release.
So the guy is well liked and in demand.
But what really sets him apart, and makes his Christmas EP, Jingle and Bells, released shortly after his arrival in Nashville, such a thing of real musical beauty, is his voice.
It has rich, melodious timbre that perfectly matches the soft acoustic pop he plays and lends songs like “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”, “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger” an extra dose of snow-falling-all-around-you wistfulness and contentment.
It also breathes new life into “Jingle Bells” which bounces along with the sort of joie de vivre I always thought it could possess but which is rarely captured by artists.
And that old classic “Auld Lang Syne” is lifted from sounding like a well-meaning dirge by soft, haunting vocals and stripped back piano playing that captures the melancholic sweetness of remembering times past with much-loved friends and hoping they can continue into the future.
It is one of the most beautiful, deeply felt sets of Christmas music I have ever heard and a sign that it is possible, especially if you have the talent this remarkable young man possesses, to say something remarkable and new with the often-ubiquitous songs of the festive canon.
ALLIE MOSS – Christmas Tidings Holiday EP (2011)
I stumbled across the music of Allie Moss thanks to one of those musical down-the-rabbit-hole moments that iTunes is so adept at providing.
Looking up Ingrid Michaelson, whose music I adore, I came across New Jersey native Moss who it turns out is actually best buds with Ingrid so it’s actually fitting they sit cheek-by-jowl on Apple’s music service.
And what a delightful discovery it has been.
Released in 2011, Christmas Tidings, is a three song nod to the “most wonderful time of the year” and as fresh a take on oft-sung festive classics as you could hope for.
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” loses its sometimes twee overtones in favour of the most lush, rich vocal delivery I think anyone has ever applied to it.
It is actually hauntingly, thrillingly beautiful and the soft guitar strumming throughout gives it the sort of reassuring feel that a song about “tidings of comfort and joy” should possess.
“The First Noel” by contrast is jaunty, almost-Beach Boys-esque pop, jingling and bouncing along with a palpable sense of celebration and very much in harmony with the joy-filled lyrics.
And just like Ben Rector, she manages to take “Auld Lang Syne”, shake off the cobwebs, and make it wholly and gorgeously her own.
If you want Christmas music that doesn’t sound like the same old same old, and yet sounds quintessentially festive, then you’d be wise to give Allie Moss a spin.
FUTURE OF FORESTRY – Advent Christmas EP (2008)
Taking their name from a poem by C. S Lewis of Narnia fame, Future of Forestry, who hail from the sunny climes of Southern California (which shares with Australia a most untraditional Christmas climate), play what Wikipedia terms “melodic ambient rock”.
Whatever you choose to call it, combined with the measured vocals of lead singer Eric Owyoung, it makes for a very pleasing sound indeed and one perfectly suited to the seasonally-evocative music on the Advent Christmas EP (which has since been joined by Advent Christmas 2, released in 2010).
In common with Ben Rector and Allie Moss, they have taken songs that we have all heard a million times and gifted them a freshness and beauty that recalls the sounds we love while taking us to a whole new place.
A standout in that regard for me is “O Holy Night” which features on just about Christmas music album worth its seasonal salt.
It is heart stoppingly beautiful, a rare work of understated delicacy that transfixes you to the spot, contemplating the words as if you’re hearing them for the first time.
“What Child is This?” channels some sort of out in the wilds of Scandinavia at dusk mystical sound, the haunting tones of Owlyoung ushering the song into a piano-driven rendition of this much loved song.
It’s all indescribably beautiful – yep, there’s that word again but it’s so apt – and the perfect accompaniment to the sort of quiet reflection that inevitably follows the excesses of the day itself.
Trust me, this will be good for your soul.