Saturday, November 24, 2012

RECORD REVIEW: Rod Stewart - "Merry Christmas, Baby"

Rod Stewart
Merry Christmas, Baby
(The Verve Music Group)

Just when I thought that I
couldn't stomach another
mundane pop Christmas
record, Rod Stewart steps
up and delivers a true gem
a holiday winner so
festive and fun that you 
almost can smell the
chestnuts roastin' on
that open fire. In fact,
there's hardly a lame track
in the bunch, and I
guarantee it'll warm the
cockles of your cockles.

Under the direction of renown producer David Foster, Merry Christmas, Baby offers much of the same smoky, jazz-flavored lounge vibe that has re-ignited Rod Stewart's career in the 2000s. And there is no shortage of highlights.

Combining a lush string arrangement and a single piano with Stewart's signature raspy vocal, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"  is a powerful opener and one of the best versions I've ever heard of this timeless treasure — serving as one of the brightest moments of the 13-song set.

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is slinky and playful. The group sing-along is a nice fit — adding an extra fun touch.

Stewart's take on "White Christmas" breathes a certain fresh factor into the holiday classic as well as "Winter Wonderland" — a spirited duet with Michael BublĂ©. And while his remake of "When You Wish Upon a Star" is a sweet treat, I personally still prefer Gene Simmons' 1978 version — just sayin'.

"Merry Christmas, Baby" is a funky, soulful duet with Cee-Lo Green — guaranteed to put some extra glide in your holiday stride.

Then there's "Blue Christmas" — one of the all-time worst Christmas songs. It was a freaking downer when Elvis recorded it in 1957 and not even Stewart's well-intended, well-produced, blues-based, slide guitar effort can save it. Pass the cranberry sauce and the revolver, please.

However, "We Three Kings," the duet with R&B diva Mary J. Blige makes for an incredible highlight. Ah, "worshiping God most high." This gospel-flavored number is an inspirational delight. 

And "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" with trumpet virtuoso Chris Botti and the late songstress Ella Fitzgerald is simply brilliant.

"Silent Night" is beautiful. The kids' choir brings the song to life and it's SO refreshing to actually hear the name of Christ in a Christmas song — especially coming from the heart of a rock icon such as Rod Stewart. This is my new all-time favorite version.

But the really good news is, Rod Stewart (finally) has a new rock / pop record slated for release next spring — his first in many years. And Merry Christmas, Baby includes a free download coupon for one of his new tracks. Perhaps Stewart now is ready to move on from his sleepy, yet lucrative "songbook" phase and get back to the business of rocking. Rod the mod indeed!

-Christopher Long
(November 2012)

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