I've been a fan of Rod Stewart's since the days of Jeff Beck Group,Steampacket and the Faces, he is without doubt one of the British Rock Greats. This Christmas release though has it's moments but for me somethinmg is missing. Most of it is the Great American Songbook Christmas Edition, which is fine but in this case the songs lack interest,there is no real life or joy of the season to the very well known songs chosen,the arrangements don't get the best out of Rod and at times seem to me to drag along somewhat. The duets are ok but but the one with Michael Buble is very nuch as you would expect,vey MB in style and content.Interesting duet with Ella Fitzgerald which must be an older track as she sadly is no longer with us, with the addition of the amazing Chris Botti on trumpet, it sounds like Rod's voice was added to an original recording,although I could be wrong. I really do like the one with Mary J Blige on 'We Three Kings', this is one track with a great gospel arrangemeny and gives this carol classic a nice fresh sound. The one track that really lifts the whole album is the title song he shares with Ce Lo Green, it's a cracking one full of life and rhythm that gets the toes tapping and it's such a shame more of the album wasn't given more of this type of treatment.
Too many of the songs have been done so many times and appear on pretty well every Christmas release, which also makes this release one that does not rate anywhere among Rod's best, he doesn't do poor albums ever,this one though just lacks that special something I was expecting, but we do get a new rock album next spring so we don't have long to wait.
So an OK album, but nothing more than that,sorry!
on 1 December 2012
Christmas albums are generally hit or miss affairs. So many different artists have turned in these Christmas projects, with generally mixed results. So how does Rod Stewart's first Christmas album hold up?
Fairly well, actually, as far as Christmas records go. As far as Rod Stewart albums, yet another cover record. For those looking for a rather inoffensive, by the numbers Christmas album, you would do well to purchase this record.
First off, I've never been a huge Stewart fan - I know the radio hits and have heard a few of his albums here and there. For those fans of "Maggie May", look elsewhere. You won't find that Stewart on this record. He's been MIA for years.
And for good reason. Since 2002, Rod Stewart has "reinvented" himself as a rather indistinguishable cocktail lounge singer, covering the "Great Song American Songbook", which as of 2012 there are five volumes and a live album. For a decade, Stewart has been coasting.
Although not officially part of the "American Songbook" series, "Merry Christmas, Baby" is very much an unofficial companion to that ongoing series. The music is mellow, never straying very far from the traditional arrangements we've all heard so many times over. There are the prerequisite duets - Mary J. Blidge joins Stewart on "We Three Kings" and C Low Green makes an appearance on "Merry Christmas, Baby". Even a Disney song shows up ("When You Wish Upon a Star"). Unfortunately, so does Michael Buble on the rather dismal "Winter Wonderland". Sorry, just not a Buble fan. However, all sins involving Buble are completely absolved with the stunning duet with Ella Fitzgerald on "What Are You Doing on New Year's Eve". This track alone is worth the price of admission and is easily the highlight of the entire record.
In context of Stewart's career, the "Merry Christmas, Baby" is rather troubling for those fans of his older work. Stewart is transforming himself more into someone who would appear on the Laurence Welk Show than the Ed Sullivan Show, and this trajectory apparently goes on unabated. With someone who has been around as long as Stewart, you do have to reinvent yourself and continually search.
Johnny Cash with Rick Rubin launched his "American Recordings" series in 1994, with the last installment appearing in 2011, nine years after Cash's death. The concept of these albums is similar to the "Great American Songbook" - Johnny Cash becomes an interpreter of a vast array of American standards. While there were hits and misses on these albums, overall, the American Recordings work wonderfully well - mostly because Cash was always a fantastic interpreter of other people's work. Likewise, Dylan issued two cover albums of old folk standards in the early 1990s; I believe he used those two albums to get back in touch with his own type of songwriting, and has since gone on to release a series of his most artistically viable music since the 1960s (the rather saccharine, yet wholly charming, "Christmas in the Heart" not withstanding).
[While] Dylan played the 2009 "Christmas in the Heart" with a straight a poker face as one can imagine, at least the vast, sweeping disconnect from the guttural, throat-wrenching voice Dylan now has with the material he was singing (complete with backup choirs and corny Christmas arrangements) made for some (perhaps unintentional) rather comedic, yet oddly effective, listening. However, with "Merry Christmas, Baby", Stewart simply sounds like the lounge singer you hear on cruise ships. What's troubling is this is same Stewart we've been hearing for the last ten years.
Unlike Cash and Dylan, Stewart shows no signs of really reconnecting to his past to really make something worthwhile. The closest we get to the old Stewart is the closing "Auld Lange Syne", with its acoustic guitar playing really coming alive.
Now, although this review has had a rather negative slant, that's only because I am discussing "Merry Christmas, Baby" in terms of Stewart's career. Stewart has always been a phenomenal singer. "Merry Christmas, Baby" is a good enough record for what it is - a slow, mellow Christmas record with a few upbeat tempo songs thrown in here and there.
Of course, Christmas albums are often not indicative of what the artists are doing normally in their careers anyway, so they can get away with a lot more than they may try on a regular release. Sure, Dylan did "Christmas in the Heart" in 2009, but that record is an anomaly. But for those waiting for Stewart to come out with a strong album of original material like he did in his heyday or at least a cover album that is marginally interesting, don't count on it.
It's Christmas - artists should have fun; just go in expecting these type of albums are more detours than anything. With Stewart though, this project is just another uninteresting, bland, predictable "American Songbook" album in all but name.
I'd be far more enthusiastic about "Merry Christmas, Baby" had Rod's last ten years been different, holding a similar view of this record like I do with "Christmas in the Heart" (a fun diversion from an interesting later day, long overdue renaissance, but a diversion nonetheless). For what it is (standard, mellow, Christmas music), Rod does well. Hence, I am rating this three stars.
But for those waiting for Stewart to ditch the lounge act and issue some great music on par with his heyday material, keep waiting.