Review: Sidewalk Prophets – Merry Christmas To You

Sidewalk ProphetsThe Christmas music genre is always a dicey one to review. And, lest you doubt that it is in fact a genre unto itself, consider the simple facts. For where else is it okay for artists, their religious ties notwithstanding, to, by and large, cover the same songs? How many artists have, and for that matter, will record “Silent Night?” Add to that the fact that many of these songs carry deep spiritual and nostalgic emotions and you understand why artists are both drawn to and leery of cutting a Christmas record.

Sidewalk Prophets is among the first to get their holiday cheer on this year, dropping the simply titled Christmas gift, Merry Christmas to You, into stores while retailers are still hanging up the autumn decorations. Yet, as the band reminds listeners on the title track, “Christmas just comes once a year.” That track is one that is pure holiday fun, playful lyrics, jingle bells, and a rousing, jangling chorus that truly captures the tone of the whole release.

The band is set upon delivering a solid selection of familiar tracks while adding their own stamp to the canon. “Give Me Christmas,” is a smooth, piano-driven original, strings and bold horns lending an extra depth to the track, lead singer doing his best Michael Buble imitation, while “Hey Moon” is a unique, spiritual look into the Christmas story, told from the perspective of the Christmas star fueled by more piano and strings. Opening with some “Charlie Brown” lines, “What a Glorious Night” is soundly in the band’s wheelhouse, big acoustic guitars and soaring vocals bolstered by handclaps and an all-around live feel that fits well as “Hope Was Born This Night” and “Because It’s Christmas” close the record out with bold, pop rock flavors.

While the originals stand on their own to varying degrees, the covers are a mixed bag. A duet with Francesca Battistelli on the Bing Crosby classic, “White Christmas” is a lot of fun, organ backing layered vocals and nostalgic elements and “Holly Jolly Christmas” delivers a similar measure of fun and frolic. They also deliver plenty of holiday cheer on the gospel-tinged and soulful “That Spirit of Christmas” while ably delivering a faithful rendition of “Silent Night,” Frey’s vocals clear and resonant on the Christmas staple. Yet, the band’s rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “What Child Is This” are just okay, feeling a little more paint by the numbers than the rest of the record.

Merry Christmas To You is an album that stands against a legion of Christmas releases old and new and, as such, will struggle to find its place with some while being equally embraced by others. The record offers some solid, if occasionally conventional takes on both the originals and classics and, to be fair, sound great doing so. And while Sidewalk Prophets don’t necessarily recreate the Christmas genre here, what they offer is solid and heartfelt, which seems to be what the Christmas season is all about anyway.

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