There are basically two types of Christmas albums. The first, and most common, is an artist putting their own spin on the standards, whether they are fun jingle bell numbers or beloved carols and hymns. Sometimes they put one or two of their own on there but the emphasis is on the familiar.
The other, quite challenging set is when someone writes a whole new collection of songs, treating it like a true, brand new album. Challenging, because you aren't just coming up with a few new songs, you're immediately in competition with all those classics that people love and (mostly) never tire of hearing. So basically you have to write something as good as say, "O Holy Night." And then do it 10 more times, in order to stand out.
Gallant has chosen the latter path, and put all his talents to work. There's no light-hearted throwaways in these new songs. Each one features his great storytelling skills, whether they are about the Christmas story of the Holy birth, the universal theme of being kind to each other, the longing we feel at the holidays, family ties, tradition, and even a little one-on-one affection. Of course you have his heart-tugging voice, with that melancholy edge that adds the needed gravitas, and his usual excellent melodies.
Among the standouts are "The Innkeeper," a retelling of the Christmas story from the vantage point of an innkeeper with no rooms left, and a late-night knock from a couple, the woman about to give birth. Gallant doesn't have to fill in all the holes, you get the picture. The Innkeeper gets a weight lifted from his soul. "The Gift" is a modern Christmas miracle, subtitled A Nurse Story. Their Christmas Eve is spent on a 12-hour shift, bringing a little bit of love to patients who need it the most. Gallant doesn't forget the festivities though; the cheeky "All I Want For Christmas" is a fun, slightly risque duet with Patricia Richard ("All I want for Christmas is to be a little naughty/That'd be nice!").
Another clever idea on the album features different music settings for several of the songs, to go along with the theme of Christmas Day on Planet Earth. There's a Parisienne feel to one song, a Middle East setting of course, an obvious East Coast kitchen vibe, and on the title cut, the voices of Black Umfolosi from Zimbabwe. Along with Patricia Richard's excellent singing across the collection, and great acoustic tones plus a couple of rockers, it's a well-rounded set musically as well. I always make a point of listening to as many new Christmas albums each year, and this is one of the best I've heard in years, and certainly one of the premiere sets of new tunes in a long time.
Gallant's taking his Christmas show on the road in a few days, covering most of the Maritimes. I hope he's learning every one of these songs for the show.
Nov. 25 - Georgetown, PEI - Kings Playhouse
Nov. 26 - Chester, NS - Chester Playhouse
Nov. 27 - Arichat, NS - The Island Nest
Nov. 28 - Parrsboro, NS - The Hall
Dec. 2 - Saint John, NB - Kent Theatre
Dec. 3 - Fredericton, NB - The Playhouse
Dec. 4 - Moncton, NB - Capitol Theatre
Dec. 5 - Summerside, PEI - Harbourfront Theatre
Dec. 8 - Liverpool, NS - Astor Theatre
Dec. 9 - Wolfville, NS - Acadia University
Dec. 10 - Lunenburg, NS - Opera House
Dec. 11 - Halifax, NS - Spatz Theatre
Dec. 12 - Truro, NS - Marigold Theatre
Dec. 14 - Pictou, NS - deCoste Theatre
Dec. 15 - Sydney, NS - Highland Arts Theatre
Dec. 16 - Port Hawkesbury, NS - Civic Centre
Dec. 17 - Antigonish, NS - PJ Baccardax Hall
Dec. 18 - Charlottetown, PEI - Confederation Centre