Holidays Rule, a varied new seasonal music CD, is out now through Hear Music/Concord Music Group.
The set boasts 17 fresh recordings, including fun., Paul McCartney, The Shins, The Civil Wars, Rufus Wainwright (with Sharon Van Etten), Fruit Bats, Punch Brothers, Irma Thomas (with The Preservation Hall Jazz Band), Calexico, Andrew Bird, Holly Golightly, Fiery Furnaces alumna Eleanor Friedberger, The Head and the Heart and others.
Producers Sara Matarazzo, Chris Funk and executive producer Randall Poster of bi-coastal music-supervision company Search Party – along with executive producer Nancy Jeffries of MPL – strove to give the project the feel of a cohesive album, rather than a holiday hodgepodge.
"We've had great success working with Nancy and the MPL team on a number of projects," explained Poster. " We thought it would be a lot of fun to record some holiday songs together!"
“I love holiday music,” Matarazzo volunteers. “But every year I find myself going back to the standards. I wondered, where’s the holiday record for this generation? This was a chance to create something that gave today’s artists a chance to put their mark on the tradition.”
Matarazzo particularly credits Funk, avid multi-instrumentalist, house producer at Search Party and guitarist for The Decemberists, for the cohesion and community vibe of the project.
Funk oversaw several of the Holidays Rule sessions, notably the very first: “We brought in Y La Bamba to do ‘Señor Santa,’ which was one of the more challenging songs, and we were really excited by the result,” Funk recalls, adding that the band’s dreamy, accordion-accented spin on the whimsical tune (a yuletide variation on “Mr. Sandman”) helped set the tone for the entire set.
Some of the numerous highlights include fun. whipping up a distinctly postmodern take on the rollicking “Sleigh Ride,” adding a frosty techno swirl to the winter perennial.
Paul McCartney continues in the velvety mode of his recent pop standard outing, effortlessly conjuring the warmth of the fireside with “The Christmas Song.” “Having him on this record is unbelievable,” enthused Matarazzo. “As far as I’m concerned, I could walk on the moon and it wouldn’t surpass this.” Adds Funk, “Paul nailed it, of course. And the track is so masterfully recorded that you feel like you’re in the room with him.”
The Shins, meanwhile, take McCartney’s own “Wonderful Christmastime” in a cheekily retro direction, turning the track into a musical homage to the Beach Boys. Wainwright and Van Etten deliver a fittingly seductive “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
Funk journeyed to New Orleans to co-produce the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s gorgeous collaboration with Irma Thomas. Grammy-winning duo The Civil Wars, work their intimate magic on “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” with only acoustic guitar and their spellbinding vocal blend. Calexico’s “Green Grows the Holly” works similarly spooky-rural terrain (with their trademark border-town brass for expressive contrast).
Punch Brothers’ mandolin-spiced rendition of the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is the most overtly religious track but offers, as Funk notes, “some unexpected twists and turns.” On the disc’s final track, Andrew Bird harkens back to his Bowl of Fire days with the violin charge of “Auld Lang Syne.”
“Either you love the holiday season or you don’t,” Matarazzo reflects. “But if you do, you’re going to sing passionately about it. That was the one constant in all these different recordings – that warmth, intimacy and conviviality – those qualities that bring us all a little closer.”
1. fun. – Sleigh Ride (3:38)
2. The Shins – Wonderful Christmas Time (2:25)
3. Rufus Wainwright with Sharon Van Etten - Baby It's Cold Outside (4:15)
4. Paul McCartney – The Christmas Song Ages (3:55)
5. Black Prairie feat. Sallie Ford – Man With the Bag (3:34)
6. Civil Wars - I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day (2:35)
7. Calexico - Green Grows the Holly (4:07)
8. AgesandAges – We Need A Little Christmas (3:16)
9. Holly Golightly - That's What I Want for Christmas (2:28)
10. Irma Thomas with Preservation Hall Jazz Band– May Everyday Be Christmas (2:32)
11. Heartless Bastards - Blue Christmas (2:10)
12. Eleanor Friedberger - Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me (5:29)
13. Fruit Bats - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (3:02)
14. Y La Bamba – Senor Santa (3:10)
15. The Punch Bros. - O Come O Come, Emmanuel (4:06)
16. The Head & The Heart - What Are You Doing New Year's Eve (4:30)
17. Andrew Bird - Auld Lang Syne (4:31)