As someone who has been known to leave stores abruptly when “All I Want For Christmas Is You” comes on for the billionth time, I was desperate for an alternative this year. So many retail stores lose my business this time of year, and they don’t even know it! At any rate, I’ve always wanted to find a Christmas album that I can actually tolerate and might even love. (Hog forbid!)
Thankfully, as usual, Raymond Watts has taken my money (actually, this time he hasn’t – more on that later) and answered my prayers, while simultaneously warming and winning my cold little heart. Like everything else he touches, he manages to be charming and witty yet also sincere, without falling into the trap of being kitschy or trying too hard to be funny.
His soulful croon on “Blue Christmas” is guaranteed to melt the chocolate chips on all Christmas cookies instantly (seriously, Elvis is cancelled) and his version of “Last Christmas” has PIG all over it…a sort of tongue-in-cheek grandiosity, rock n’ roll guitars courtesy of Eden Martin, and even a delightful animated video. The slower tempo creates a sweetness and a sense of sincerity that the Wham! cover misses out on. As for “Happy Xmas (The War Is Over)”, Eden Martin provides a beautiful, bluesy piano and the acclaimed Susannah Doyle and Michelle Martinez sing the backing vocals on the chorus. There’s also an appearance by a brass section who calls themselves The Crack Horns, so you KNOW it’s good!
I especially like that this lovely little EP sounds like it was recorded all in one session. It has a certain retro charm to it, as if it was recorded Motown-style around one microphone, in a dimly lit studio (Surprisingly enough, inside sources confirm otherwise…). And as the icing on the gingerbread house, I mean cake, all proceeds from the album benefit the International Rescue Committee, who provides worldwide aid to refugees and other disadvantaged groups.
To say the least, I’m looking forward to coming home for Christmas this year and introducing Raymond Watts to my parents (with all due respect to the Nutcracker Suite and the Bowie/Crosby rendition of “Little Drummer Boy,” of course). Whether you’re a Grinch or a Mariah Carey fan (or somehow both…?), you just might love this album.