Original Release: 2002 (Vinyl 2009)
Christmas is officially on the horizon, though some still think it’s too early to turn on the carols and classic covers. Released at the start of November 2013 to the commercial market is Bright Eyes’ stripped down twelve-track offering, simply titled A Christmas Album, which floats the idea of the holiday season carefully and melodically into your ears. Originally released in 2002, the proceeds went to support Nebraska Aids Project.
The album as a whole doesn’t have the bell jingling fast pace that a lot of Christmas tunes seem to, but it’s Bright Eyes and their melancholy indie vibes reinvent well known songs as though they were the soundtrack to a thought provoking winter movie. Most of the songs are short but sweet, with only a few breaching the three-minute mark. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in uniqueness and heart. From the opening track, Away In A Manger, the seasonal scene is set with a whispering voice as the chatter and sounds of a nativity scene contrast in the background.
With the art piece over quickly it moves into Blue Christmas, a classic with a cool, frosty edge. It’s a perfect song for Bright Eyes any time of the year; soft groany voices with a twist of Maria Taylor to add range and depth. Blue Christmas conjures the idea of celebration after a hard year, with some neat whiskey, surrounded by family and friends. It relaxes you into the serene tone of the album.
Oh Little Town of Bethlehem manages to sound more upbeat than usual. The soft singing makes it feel like a story being told next to a warm fire, as the heavy wind blows outside – a simpler time before all this gadgetry. An interlude in the form of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is a tavern sing-along but nothing particularly of note.
The First Noel is a lullaby and the whole album, notably this track, benefits from the restraint in the use of instruments so as not to mask the beautiful voices. It’s soothing without being sickly. The choices made in the production of Little Drummer Boy initially have an old timey quality but the muffled voices and metallic crinkling make it sound like it’s being played on a radio with really bad signal. Thankfully it’s the only one that’s so skip-able.
White Christmas and Silent Night are magical renditions that will make you smile with Christmas joy, even if you don’t celebrate this particular holiday. The slow pace and long instrumental sections of Silent Night suggest a silent home. It’s a song to be played when no one else is listening.
The blend of cheery voices on Silver Bells has flourishes of excitement, with a little more of the classic bauble and drum sound. It plays happily into the romantic duet Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, the longest track at just over four minutes before we get to the finale, The Night Before Christmas, which is a poem set to music that could tuck you in and send you off to sleep. The words rise and fall over the piano keys making it a mesmerizing, quite different, experience.
This is far from a typical Christmas album, retaining tradition songs with Bright Eyes’ own style. It’s a stripped down, back-to-basics selection of songs that encompasses what many feel Christmas ought to be. Listening to this on a short walk, wrapped up warm and just watching the world go by. Perfection.