Oh, the power of Christmas Music!
A little Johnny Mathis and we are all pre-war, or post-war again, whatever was best. Put on a 45 and let us remember that cozy world where Bowie dropped by his neighbor Bing’s house to share a moment around the piano in the den.
Oh Christmas Music! Return us to those shared places of comfort, those places that never really existed.
Yes, there was snow on the ground, but there were no fine-ass thoroughbreds pulling a wagon through your suburban neighborhood. And yeah, that was a good looking ham on the dining room table, but the guy about to cut into it had been methodically putting back cans of Olde Style since 10 that morning. Remember? No, you don’t. We create the memories we want, so every December we can return to the most wonderful time of the year. Shared memories of times and places that never exactly were.
The nine standards on Delicate Steve’s The Christmas Album (Anti- 2018) are faithful, intentional or not, to the essence of what makes great Christmas music timeless. These songs are grounded in something deeply familiar, but channeled through the celestial perspective that has been a hallmark of the acclaimed guitarist, songwriter, and producer’s music thus far. They come without regard to genre, geography, or calendar, or reality, really -- from a place we know, but that never exactly was.
Understood it may be atypical to use the term ‘murderer’s row’ on a holiday record, but that’s who showed up to help Steve bring The Christmas Album to life. Joe Russo (Cass McCombs, Trey Anastasio, drums), Dave Dreiwitz (Ween, bass), Marco Benevento (keys), Kelly Pratt (St. Vincent, Arcade Fire, horns), and Dan Lead (Cass McCombs, pedal steel) naturally guide arrangements that catch glimpses of the Shangri La’s pomp (“Away in a Manager”), the Swampers swamp (“O Little Town of Bethlehem”), a martini-soaked department store visit (“White Christmas”), and the slack-key-vibed “Silver Bells.” They also have to take partial credit for inspiring the first time use of the phrase ‘absolutely epic one-two punch of “Little Drummer Boy ----> “Frosty the Snowman,”’ which closes out the record.
The Christmas Music magic is here on The Christmas Album, but Delicate Steve’s addition to the canon brings with it its own gift. It imagines for us new memories, returns us to different places. It is our past untethered from reality. On offer is a new nostalgia; turns out, it is a welcome respite.