73-year-old British music legend Eric Clapton has managed the unthinkable with his 22nd studio album in a solo career now in its 48th year. The much loved guitar god has, unintentionally perhaps, gone and made the perfect Christmas album for those who hate Christmas music. Much of what Clapton conjures up for his third album in five years cleverly belies the records Christmas theme despite the inclusion of many holiday standards. In fact, nowhere on the record does the word “Christmas” actually appear, a cheeky Clapton substitutes the informal Xmas abbreviation throughout for all song titles as well as the name of the album itself.
Nearly an hour in length Happy Xmas is a diverse eclectic mix of 14 tracks featuring everything from familiar Christmas fare (White Christmas) to a newly penned Clapton Christmas original (For Love On Xmas Day), traditional Christmas hymns (Away In A Manger, Silent Night) ‘60s Stax Records R&B soul (William Bell’s Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday) contemporary pop ballads (Home For The Holidays, Sentimental Moments) , acoustic country western swing (Sonny James’ Christmas In My Hometown) lots of blues (Sonny Thompson’s Christmas Tears, Lowell Fulson’s Lonesome Christmas, Charles Brown’s Merry Christmas Baby) and a surprise appearance of electropop Christmas dance in the form of Clapton’s re-working of Jingle Bells dedicated to late EDM music star Avicii. Throughout Clapton’s customary guitar licks feature prominently second only to the surprising strength of the septuagenarian’s well preserved singing voice. From beginning to end Happy Xmas will both please and appease haters and lovers of Christmas music alike.
Star Rating 3.5/5
2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 37/52
At the very heart of The Mavericks joy inducing latin fused country swing is none other than singer, songwriter and showman extraordinaire Raul Malo. One of the most accomplished tunesmiths of his generation, Malo handles big catchy hook laden swinging beats in ways not heard since the glory days of the Brill Building. Nowhere is this more evident than on The Mavericks’ latest, the seasonally themed Hey! Merry Christmas! All but two of the LPs 10 tracks of hip shaking head bopping holiday Yule are a result of Malo’s masterful handiwork. Hands down Hey! Merry Christmas! is one of the most satisfying additions to the Christmas canon since Nick Lowe’s seasonal masterpiece Quality Street from 2013. Purveyors of seasonal pop will no doubt be mining this record’s silver and gold for generations to come, it’s just that good!
Star Rating 4.5/5
2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 36/52
All four original Monkees are back (posthumously in Davey Jones’ case) in the shortest time between albums since 1970 (The Monkees Present 1969 and Changes 1970) for the band’s first ever full length Christmas record. Hot on the heels of the critically acclaimed Good Times! album from 2016 Christmas Party embraces the same winning formula which helped make the previous LP such a resounding success. Adam Schlesinger once again produces, providing bass, keyboards and guitar to a stellar backing band featuring REM’s Peter Buck, Nashville based singer/songwriter David Mead and all but one member of Schlesinger’s own Fountains Of Wayne. XTC’s Andy Partridge gets things started with “Unwrap You At Christmas” followed by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo with “What Would Santa Do”. Schlesinger himself provides a slice of seasonal power pop with “The House Of Broken Gingerbread” as does Peter Buck who penned the album’s title track. Anchored by these four fab originals, Christmas Party’s 9 remaining tracks feature The Monkees reimagining contemporary Christmas tracks from Big Star, Paul McCartney and Roy Wood (The Move, ELO, Wizzard) reinvigorating a few standards along the way. A wonderfully fresh take on Christmas past, present and future. An instant power pop Christmas classic!
Star Rating 4/5
2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 35/52
When faced with the impossibly difficult task of having to follow up one of the finest albums of the decade, Ray LaMontagne soldiered on through the release of Part Of The Light by shamelessly embracing the cosmic stardust of its predecessor, his criminally overlooked 2016 Ouroboros album. Stereotypically doomed to the clichéd fate of an album which will most likely be discovered in 20-30 years time by music geeks and hipsters alike when it will be far too late to be of any practical use to anyone with a stake in its success, Ouroboros set the bar high. Much of what works throughout 46 minutes of Part Of The Light is a result of sounding like a seamless continuation of its predecessor. Had Ouroboros originally been conceived as a double album it could easily have absorbed all 9 of Part Of The Light’s tracks.
Like Ouroboros LaMontagne’s latest combines late 60s electric spatial groove with an early 70s acoustic pastoral vibe reminiscent of the early records by Bruce Cockburn, Nick Drake and Donovan during his decade shifting transitional period (Open Road, HMS Donovan, Cosmic Wheels and the transcendental Essence To Essence album).
Throughout Part Of The Light LaMontagne openly embraces big dynamic full band production values. Assembling a stellar cast of 7 players to realize the grand scope of his vision, LaMontagne’s septet features no less than three guitar players (himself, Seth Kauffman, Carl Broemel) drums (Dave Givan) bass (John Stirratt) various keyboards, pianos, organs and synthesizer (Bo Koster and Kevin Rattermann). Think Gene Clark’s No Other without the cocaine and excess, however difficult that may be, mixed with a dash of Father John Misty without the acidic bitterness and complaining.
Melodically reminiscent of the softer sides from Harry Nilsson as well as George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity”, “Something” and Paul Simon’s “The Only Living Boy In New York” certain aspects of LaMontagne’s latest hint at some of the prettiest and most vulnerable moments of the John Lennon songbook with shades of “Across The Universe”, “Julia”, “Love”, “Look At Me” and “How” interwoven throughout.
While mostly mining strains of mellow melodic gold, Part Of The Light periodically explodes with thunderbolts of delightfully jarring psychedelic rage, trippy 60s flashbacks to a Fillmore dream bill mashing interstellar Pink Floyd freak outs with Big Brother And The Holding Company acid guitar riffs. Fittingly, LaMontagne’s opus ends with a flourish of “Goodbye Blue Sky”, intended perhaps as a not so subtle nod to just one of the many muses and mentors who continue to inform LaMontagne on his quest to capture the perfect dream.
Star Rating 4/5
2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 34/52
Ben Howard is a 31-year-old British folk singer/songwriter from the Devonshire/Cornwall area of south western England. For a decade now he has been releasing EPs and long players channelling his own post millennial take on the acoustic British folk music renaissance of the late 60s and early 70s. Signed to Island Records in 2011 (home to both the Nick Drake and John Martyn music catalogues) Howard was the 2013 recipient of two BRIT Awards, one for British Breakthrough Act and another for British Solo Male Artist.
Howard’s 3rd album Noonday Dream, released in North America June 1st 2018 on Republic Records, is as exhaustive as it is exhausting with its 50 plus minutes of quiet meditative vibes spread out over 10 long tracks. Throughout Howard dishes up expansive waves of reverb drenched multi layered chill.
Overall the album succeeds best when Howard is focusing on atmospherics, ambient pockets of instrumental bliss sprinkled throughout the record which are more often than not interrupted by Howard’s mostly illegible vocal musings (A Boat To An Island Part II/ Agatha’s Song). Perhaps an all out instrumental record, soundtrack, score or something akin to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports would be a more fitting effort to match Howard’s talents next time around?
Star Rating 3/5
2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 33/52
Once an integral part of New Zealand’s award winning noise rock/art punk quartet The Mint Chicks, lead singer Kody Nielson has come a long way from the chainsaw wielding corporate logo destroying stage antics of his past. Legendary for his death defying feats of precarious P.A. climbing, hanging upside down suspended high above the crowd from lighting rigs, guitar smashing and drum kit crashing, Nielson & Co. once reportedly played so loudly parts of the performance hall fell down around them during their set.
After three powerhouse full length Mint Chicks albums in four years and six New Zealand Music Awards including “Best Group”, “Album Of The Year” and “Best Rock Album” Nielson turned his back on the crowd, storming off stage during the band’s final gig in March of 2010 destroying two drum kits and imploring members of the audience to, “start your own fucking band.” Contrary to the unsolicited advice Nielson imparted on the crowd that evening he himself has opted to go solo for his latest release.
Written, performed and produced entirely by himself Birthday Suite is an unlikely collection of 12 exquisite instrumental drum and keyboard based tracks all riffing on classical music’s modern possibilities reimagined through a genre splitting filter of futuristic ‘70s disco, afrobeat, Muzak, baroque and beyond. Inspired perhaps by his predecessors, pioneers in the field of modern electronic music, most notably Wendy Carlos, Tomita and early Kraftwerk, Nielson has taken a wonderfully refreshing career turn with Birthday Suite managing to risk, surprise and succeed all at once.
Star Rating 3.5/5
2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 32/52
What immediately becomes most apparent when listening to The Voidz for the first time is the unmistakably familiar voice one hears from the outset, the voice that catapulted an unlikely mix of Manhattan prep school boys from their Swiss boarding school beginnings to the apex of rock n roll glory at the turn of the century. Strokes lead singer Julian Casablancas was just 22 years old back in 2001 when the hip youthful New York quintet released their first album. Since then Rolling Stone Magazine has ranked Is This It number 8 on their list of 100 Best Debut Albums Of All Time.
Now 40 years old the middle-aged Casablancas continues to be part of the phenomena that is the Strokes in spite of the fact that the band has been on a six year long and counting recording hiatus. In the interim Casablancas switched day jobs to front The Voidz, a band which first began taking shape almost a decade ago as touring support for Casablancas’ first and only solo album Phrazes For The Young from 2009. Credited as Julian Casablancas + The Voidz on their 2014 debut album Tyranny the sextet, whose members include Jeff Kite (keyboards) Alex Carapetis (drums) Jake Bercovici (bass) Jeramy Gritter (guitar) and Amir Yaghmai (guitar) rebranded themselves simply The Voidz in late 2017 in order to reflect the emerging collaborative nature of the ever evolving project.
All but one of the 15 tracks featured on their latest album Virtue, released March 30, 2018 on Casablancas’ own Cult Records, are credited to The Voidz, conversely Casablancas himself took sole writing credit for much of its predecessor four years earlier. Not only is the songwriting shared this time around, four of the six bandmates aptly display their passion for modern electronic music throughout with Kite, Bercovici, Gritter and Yaghmai taking turns at the keyboards helping further differentiate The Voidz pleasing EDM infused pop rock from The Strokes millennial revivalism of New York underground garage rock.
In many ways Virtue suffers from an overabundance of riches and could use some trimming down, its sprawling 58 minutes help contribute to the records overall lack of center and focus. In this instance less would certainly have been more. In spite of itself much of the record succeeds on the strength of Casablancas’ far reaching abilities as a perennially engaging and charismatic frontman, his unique phrasing and vocal prowess at the forefront of much of what works best on the album. Virtue has all the joy and abandon of a Strokes record without the baggage.
Star Rating 3.5/5
2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 31/52