Wednesday, December 8, 2010



Okay, I gotta admit, I'm getting to the point where I almost loathe to see that an artist is releasing a Christmas album. If there's a horse, or donkey in this case, that's been beaten to death, it's the Christmas album. Every year, there's another and another and another, and it's been that way since the 40's. Blame White Christmas I guess, one of the biggest selling hits of all time, from good old Bing Crosby. In fact, there's some pretty serious information that it may be the biggest selling single of all time, with estimates of over 50 million copies sold. Since then, everybody has been trying to latch onto that sleigh ride, no matter what the genre of music.

I can't even tell you how many bad Christmas albums I've heard in my job as a music reviewer, but it's dwarfed only by the number of mediocre ones. The number of decent ones ain't bad, I know there are several hundred in my "I could play that again" part of the office. Good or great ones? There's a hundred. Okay, get my point here? The world has enough Christmas music already.

So, it was with a big amount of skepticism that I took the news that one of my local homies, Matt Andersen, was doing one. Here's Matt at a crucial point in his career. The New Brunswick native has been been wowing crowds around North America, with high profile gigs opening for Old Crowe Medicine show, and doing his second Vinyl Cafe tour with Stuart McLean. But here he is treading water with that old standby, the Christmas disc. I guess it can't hurt, everybody does one at some point. But it's not about to light more fires for him.

And then...I cracked it open. You know what? I feel like a kid at Christmas who's been fooled into thinking his present is going to be dull. It's like I've unwrapped a box that says socks, but inside is the brand new hot video game I wanted. I can't begin to tell you what a relief and joy it was to hear this music. Relief first, because it was clearly obvious this was indeed one of those rare, stand-out discs you have to have this season. Joy, because it has opened my ears to a whole new way to hear Matt. He's thought of as this great blues guitar player, energetic and exciting on stage. And sure, folks have also noted what a fine singer he is. But on the Spirit of Christmas disc, we hear him almost completely as a singer. Yes, there's blues, and country blues and folk blues here, but there's carols and covers and traditional numbers too. And what makes Christmas music shine for me is excellent singing. Matt not only lets loose, he gives some of the best vocal performances I've heard on some of these well-known and not-so well known songs. If you have any doubts at all, check out his version of O Holy Night. Just sayin'. It stopped me in my tracks.

Matt's brought in a smart choice of producer, songwriter Dave Gunning, who knows his way around the friendly folk sound which dominates the disc. For material, Matt's come up some high quality songs of his own, from the sentimental blues number My LIttle Country Church At Christmas Time, which of course is something he truly knows about, coming from rural NB, to the fun and rockin' Ol' Nick and Rudy, which sounds like a great Elvis song. He's also come up with some rarely heard numbers by modern bluesmen, including Chris Whitely's the Lonely Shephard to Rick Fines' Country Christmas Blues. I'm giving applause for that, too, because it keeps the disc interesting, hearing songs you're not familiar with, instead of the usual cliche numbers.

So for a music reviewer, I've already had the best present I can get at Christmas time: a new Christmas album I can love, and look forward too every year. Heck, I could play this one in June.

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