Album review: Chilly Gonzales – A Very Chilly Christmas
PUBLISHED: 09:32 16 November 2020 | UPDATED: 09:32 16 November 2020
Chilly triumphs in bid to unite and refresh disparate elements of the Christmas canon. Rejoice!
If anyone can invigorate the tired tropes of the Christmas music canon, it is surely Canadian composer Chilly Gonzales, a man eager to bring the joy of the piano to the masses, often whilst swaddled in bathrobe and slippers.
For his first Christmas album, he’s nothing if not ambitious; from carols to crooning pop, A Very Chilly Christmas cast its net wide – taking in austere, feudal oldies to more recent festive faves from the likes of Wham! and, yes, even Mariah Carey.
To top it off, there are collaborations with Feist and Jarvis Cocker too.
The former contributes a gossamer, faerie-like vocal to The Banister Bough; the record’s only original song, it’s a warm and whimsical ballad about decorating the home for you-know-what.
Cocker lends a fireside storyteller style to In The Bleak Midwinter, which makes sparing, evocative use of a choir and cello, but his star turn comes in Snow Is Falling In Manhattan, his half-sung delivery of David Berman’s original lyrics evincing the biting East-Coast chill as he peers through a window at a cockle-warming scene from the frozen street.
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These songs sit snugly amongst familiar tunes retooled in sparing yet evocative, piano-led arrangements. The originals would surely make for a car crash of a playlist, but Gonzales’ gift as a composer is evident, making this a refreshing contrast to many Christmas albums.
All the extraneous tat and tinsel is excised – from sleigh bells and schmaltz to solemn choirs and hi-energy histrionics – and the melodic and vocal essentials are distilled in his signature minor-key style.
Piano illuminates the vocal and instrumental melodies as appropriate, aided and abetted with considered contributions of string, bells or a choir.
Songs of yore like God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, We Three Kings and album closer Auld Lang Mynor are majestic, gentle and very pretty reinterpretations.
Elsewhere, Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You becomes a dainty, poised and twinkling ditty you half expect one of the Rat Pack to weigh in on, Jingle Bells retains its playfulness despite being pared back to the essentials, O Tannenbaum gets a fitting jazz club makeover, and a spindly harpsichord sprinkles O Come All Ye Faithful with a Renaissance-Baroque elegance.
The set oozes charm and grace and sits together so well it’ll be a festive season shoo-in for years to come. Gonzales now joins the select artists (Sufjan Stevens, Low) who have managed to pull off a cool Christmas record.
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