In the US, Christmas music is big business. You can find a festive album to suit pretty much every one of your holiday moods. There are countless Christmas albums from country artists; you can play it traditionally with the easy listening approach with She & Him’s retro pop or Lowen & Navarro’s world of log fires and woolly jumpers. You can opt for retro rock ‘n’ roll and a swingin’ yuletide with the brilliant Brian Setzer, or even funky festivities with James Brown. In a world where even Bad Religion – a punk band fronted by one of the world’s most outspoken athiest academics – have a Christmas album, the gloves are off. We live in a post-irony world.
In December 2019, L.A. Guns’ ‘Another Xmas In Hell’ appeared on streaming services with little to no fanfare. A five track release, it finds the US hard rockers putting their own slant on a couple of very familiar festive favourites and a couple of lesser known gems.
On The Fall’s debut album ‘Live At The Witch Trials’, Mark E. Smith famously claimed there’d be No Xmas For John Quays. For Fall fans, xmas has come early this week, since Cherry Red have knocked 20% off their complete Fall archive.
State Cows have been making excellent westcoast/yacht rock music since 2010. Always unashamed in their retro-ness, the band have delighted fans across the world with various self-penned homages to Toto, Steely Dan and late 70s Doobie Brothers. There’s nothing obviously original about the Cows’ choice of style, but there’s no denying they do it better than most…and even after so many years, the fact that this most American of sounds was perfected somewhere in Sweden is a fact that still amazes.
In October 2019, US dream pop duo Cathedral Bells gave fans a taste of their upcoming album when they released a new single ‘Ephemeral’. The track gave everyone everything they’d hoped for with a hazy throwback to 90s dreampop and shoegaze, all the while still showcasing the band’s gift for a vaguely gothy melody.
Best known as being one of the creative forces behind Nashville’s The Great Affairs, Denny Smith is a prolific songwriter. At any given time, he’s stockpiling ideas for new songs and recording demos. He even seems to instinctively know whether the song idea is destined for his main band, a solo album, or even a side project where oddities ultimately end up.
Various stripped back ideas formed his first solo album ‘An Overnight Low’ in 2016. It was a record that appeared to reach an audience of twelve people. His second solo record, ‘From The Dark’ gathers more introspective material that wouldn’t all fit with the Great Affairs mould of straight up roots rock, but fans of that band will surely find an easily recognisable voice within the album’s ten songs. As its title suggests, ‘From The Dark’ is an album that often seems concerned with a future unknown and of life’s unexpected wobbles. The songs are often presented in a way that its messages come from up close and, in Smith’s own words, are “stripped of artifice”. Although he says the album isn’t about story-telling in the strictest sense, more a case of “getting things off [his] chest as unself-conciously as possible”, From The Dark’ is personal, but rarely feels like a voyage into abject misery. Even at its most heart-wrenching, it appears thoughtful and reflective; you won’t find anything here that’s as laid barely as, say, Mike Viola’s heartbreaking ‘Painkillers’ or Joni Mitchell’s ‘Little Green’.