ARTISTS AND managers recognize a Christmas album as a great marketing tool. It only makes sense. Consumers purchase albums during the Christmas season at a higher-than-normal rate, and the combination of name recognition and musical hunger makes such albums instant sellers. Better still from a marketing perspective, these are albums that will keep selling once a year for many years if they fill a niche.
Last year saw an album by a Canadian record company with lots of Canadian content move quickly to the upper tier of Christmas albums by virtue its variety, demographic appeal, and overall musical strength. Nettwerk Records is best known as Sarah McLachlan’s label, and the CD Christmas Songs does highlight the Lilith Fair founder and genre carrier, both with cameos and a solo version of Gordon Lightfoot’s Song For A Winter’s Night which is done in her trademark style. However, it has lots of other treats.
[pullquote] Some are fairly predictable in style and content. Likeminded artists Tara MacLean and Dido impress with a straight read of the well-known secular chestnut Winter Wonderland and a spellbinding version of the lesser-known Christmas Day. Another 20th century secular Christmas standard, The Christmas Song, is done by Maren Ord with no surprises.
However, much of the fun of this album is its ingenuity, along with a variety that we have not come to expect from Nettwerk compilations.
One would expect the Medieval Baebes’ Gaudette to be quirky, and it is. The same can be said for Delerium’s Terra Firma. Other secular originals like Dayna Manning’s It’s In Every One Of Us and Lily Frost’s Skating On The River are relatively mainstream.
Listeners, though, will also get unexpected surprises. These tend to be fresh breaths of air given to well-known pieces which speak of the historic birth of the Christ Child and its implications for humanity, but just may do so in a way that will speak to younger generations of music fans.
Matthew Ryan’s Little Drummer Boy and Kendall Payne’s version of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel are both inventive and effective. The same can be said of Jennifer McLaren’s treatment of Ave Maria. As well, the Barenaked Ladies open the album with a rousing romp through God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen which segues into We Three Kings.
People unaccustomed to CBC Radio Christmas specials will find in this collection two other new treats. Stuart McLean’s lengthy monologue Polly Anderson’s Christmas Party closes the album with a knowing chuckle, while Toronto artist Meryn Cadell offers a recorded version of her brilliant original The Cat Carol. The latter is, arguably, the diamond among this album’s gems. It is a poignant offering which combines familiar seasonal imagery with a tale of self-sacrifice and eternal life that is at the heart of the Christmas story itself. Wilfred Langmaid is Anglican chaplain of the University of New Brunswick and music critic for the Fredericton Gleaner.