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BBC – Music – Review of Various Artists

Written by on October 25, 2020

For some people, Christmas isn’t complete without Noddy Holder yelling, “It’s CHRISTMAS!” at the top of his voice.

For other people, even just a glimpse of the Slade frontman’s massive top hat and bushy sideburns is enough to trigger a thick depression.

If you fall into the second camp, and yearn for some fresh, sophisticated festive music, this Christmas compilation may be for you.

Boasting some big names – The Shins, Rufus Wainwright, Paul McCartney – Christmas Rules is an impressive collection of yuletide classics, reworked by artists from a variety of backgrounds. The result blends together indie, country, blues, folk and gospel, and is as warm and comforting as a goblet of mulled wine.  

The tone is pleasingly laid back and, unlike so many Christmas albums, not at all cheesy or twee – well, apart from fun.’s synth version of Sleigh Ride, but that’s over in a flash. McCartney’s rendition of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), on which he teams up with Diana Krall, is reined in and reverent.

Likewise, Calexico’s Green Grows the Holly and Punch Brothers’ O Come, O Come, Emmanuel are delicately observed and almost worshipful in mood, channelling the true spirit of Christmas.

Elsewhere, Irma Thomas and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band bring a glorious blast of brass into the mix on May Ev’ry Day Be Christmas; Holly Golightly gets all sultry on That’s What I Want for Christmas, as Wurlitzers and organs drone around her; and Y La Bamba’s Spanish take on Mister Santa – yes, it’s called Señor Santa – is a whimsical little fiesta of acoustic guitars, woodwind and xylophone.

There are also turns from The Civil Wars, Eleanor Friedberger and Andrew Bird, and Wainwright is joined by indie-songstress-of-the-moment Sharon Van Etten on a woozy version of Baby, It’s Cold Outside.

The four producers behind this project – Sara Matarazzo, Chris Funk, Randall Poster and Nancy Jeffries – deserve a pat on the back for making a cohesive Christmas album that slots together neatly and is a genuine joy to listen to. Well, for a couple of weeks at least.

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