Bush Branch/Surf Dog Records 2018
Review by David Bowling
Somewhere between the blues and the holiday season is Eric Clapton’s 24th studio album.
Happy Xmas is not your usual holiday season fare. Consisting of 13 Christmas tunes and one original composition; it is an album of music on which Clapton brings his own style of blues to the Christmas season. It all adds up to one of the more unique Christmas albums of the season. It may not be your album of choice for sitting around the tree on Christmas Eve but is fine for ear phones and your favorite beverage at the end of a long day.
It is both a mellow blues and Christmas album. Veterans Jim Keltner and bassist Nathan East set the foundation and Clapton builds on top of each track with stings, choirs, backing vocals, guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, keyboards by Simon Climie, and assorted other instruments.
Clapton combine well known songs, “Silent Night,” “White Christmas,” and “Away In A Manger” with lesser known material such as “Lonesome Christmas,” “Sentimental Moments,” and “Christmas Tears.” The original “For Love On Christmas Day” is a fine addition to the holiday lexicon.
His fiery guitar playing of the past may not be so prevalent but there are times when he steps forward. The sound he creates is still distinctive and immediately recognizable.
The only oddity is a techno version of “Jingle Bells,” which is far from the original intent of the song. Different from most of what Clapton has produced during his career; it is, for better or worse, a re-imaging of the holiday classic. It has producer Climie’s imprint all over it and is dedicated to deceased Swedish artist Avici.
Eric Clapton may seem like an unusual artist to produce a Christmas album, yet it feels authentic because of his blues imprint. While not a traditional release; is does capture the spirit of the season from a different and creative direction.