This Christmas there’ll be chestnuts roasting on open fires, and we will hear the holiday chestnuts as well, the Christmas songs and carols that have, throughout our lives, reminded us of Santa, mangers, angels, baby Jesus, and the presents under the tree. On our mp3 players, at the shopping malls, and streaming over Pandora we will hear everything from Bing Crosby’s classic “White Christmas” to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”
Just about every musician has recorded Christmas songs or put out a Christmas album. Neal Diamond has a Christmas album, Barbara Streisand, too. So with around 1.38 x 1011 Christmas albums out there, why should local singer/songwriter Chris Hassett give us December, his new CD of carols and Christmas songs?
For one, Hassett is a marvelous singer, possessing a rich baritone with a great deal of substance. Those Broadway musicals and show tunes that your grandparents play on their phonographs, Hassett was born to sing those songs. He has a somewhat casual delivery, sometimes holding back when you might expect him to really belt it out. Even on “Oh Holy Night,” a carol that tempts every singer to raise the rafters and fill the hall with the fullest bel canto, Hassett displays a refreshing restraint. And his straightforward interpretation gives us a new take on the other holiday mainstays on this new disk. He knows who he is as a singer and places a lot of himself in these songs. He is not trying to be another Elvis on “Blue Christmas” or another Nat King Cole when he sings “Let It Snow.”
With the miracle of multitracking recording, Drew Massicot aptly handles all the accompaniment on December. He wisely keeps many of the arrangements spare and simple, and his touch on the piano really works on this CD. With all of the instruments being electronic, a couple of the tunes have a bit of the preprogrammed sound, like what you get from the Garage Band program on your Macintosh, but the talents of these two men still shine through.
Hassett offers three songs of his own on this disk: “December,” “Take Time for a New God,” and “Little Yellow House,” all of which concentrate on home, friends, and family, and the spiritual aspects of these weeks in December. Hearing these additions to the holiday song list is a welcome respite from the Christmastime music of the past few decades that celebrates Rudolph, snow, Santa, and all the commercial excess that we’ve come to expect at this time of year. “Little Yellow House” is in particular quite moving, as the lyrics focus on the themes of acceptance and letting go.
The real keeper on the disk, the song that Hassett absolutely nails, is “Christmas Time Is Here,” the beautiful Vince Guaraldi composition from A Charlie Brown Christmas. The spare arrangement and Hassett’s contemplative delivery sweetly bring out the song’s qualities of reflection, tranquility, and quiet joy.
Available at www.chrishassett.com