It’s 70 and sunny, but it’s also November so Christmas is right around the corner. Of course, the holiday wouldn’t be complete without Christmas music. You know the classics, but you might not know these two underappreciated Christmas albums.
“The Christmas Album” — Delicate Steve
By Ryan Israel, Scene Editor
Most Christmas music is painfully boring. It’s the same 10 or so songs sung by any one of a hundred different artists, each putting their own little spin on it but not changing much at all. There are, of course, some indisputable classics; by and large, though, the vast majority of Christmas music doesn’t deserve to be played.
Viewed in this context of monotony, Delicate Steve’s “The Christmas Album” is refreshing. Under the aforementioned moniker, guitarist and songwriter Steve Marion has released a handful of projects and played with notable names like Tame Impala, Amen Dunes and Paul Simon, but his best work comes in his reinventions of timeless Christmas tunes on “The Christmas Album.”
The first seconds of album opener “Silent Night” introduce the thesis of Delicate Steve’s Christmas tunes: the electric guitar. Across all the nine songs on the project, Steve’s intricate and skillful guitar playing serves as the highlight, taking the place of a choir or singer’s vocals and allowing the instrumental album to go against the grain. On “Away in a Manger,” the guitar pierces the well-known percussion, and on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” it echoes across the snowy night. The album’s closing song is a 14-minute rendition of “Frosty the Snowman” that rivals the lengthy jams of Hendrix or the Dead.
The wonder of Delicate Steve’s “The Christmas Album” comes with its replay value. In the months leading up the big day, it can be thrown on for almost any occasion, filling the background but not overpowering the moment with crooning or cheers. For those looking to add a touch of variety to this year’s Christmas playlist, try “The Christmas Album” once, twice or as many times as you’d like.
“Barenaked for the Holidays” — Barenaked Ladies
By Claire Rafford, Assistant Managing Editor
Christmas music has always been my favorite part of the holiday season. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, while my family started decorating our house, I would rifle through the cardboard box where my parents kept their CDs, searching for the Christmas classics that had inevitably been lost at the bottom. Bypassing classics from Christmas giants like Bing Crosby or Jewel, I always went straight for my favorite Christmas album of all time: “Barenaked for the Holidays.”
As their band name might suggest, the Barenaked Ladies don’t take themselves too seriously, and “Barenaked for the Holidays” is no exception. The 20-track studio album contains some of the traditional holiday canon but with a twist — Sarah McLachlan joins for a jazzy medley of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “We Three Kings” that elevates both songs beyond their original versions. There are also some songs that are downright strange; for instance, original tune “Elf’s Lament” (featuring the king of Christmas himself, Michael Buble) is a musical manifesto from an elf lobbying for better working conditions. If that sounds wacky to you, it is — but it works, in the best way possible.
The album also contains plenty of twists on Christmas classics from “Deck the Stills,” which is just the words “Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young” repeated to the tune of “Deck the Halls,” to a version of “Jingle Bells” that includes the “Batman smells” verse. The album also contains several Hanukkah songs — “Hanukkah Blessings,” which contains the traditional blessings over the lights for the holiday, is a standout — and the closing track, “Auld Lang Syne,” could easily blend in the background at any fancy New Year’s party.
My family usually listens to music on Spotify these days, and I’m pretty sure our CD player is permanently broken, but I can guarantee we’ll be playing “Barenaked for the Holidays” from now until Christmas. It’s festive and funny, merry and melancholy — perfect for sitting around a Christmas tree or jamming out in the car. In a year when we could all use a few more laughs, cue up “Barenaked for the Holidays” and enjoy the vibes of a new holiday tradition.