I suppose there’s a time in life when you realize you have a favorite tea, a favorite Scotch, a favorite grocery store, and a favorite Christmas album. My favorite Christmas album is Michael Bublé’s, “Christmas.”
While I start off every year reaching for She & Him’s version of “A Christmas Waltz,” for the bulk of the classics, there’s no topping Bublé.
I like Bublé because:
- Great voice
- Great arrangements that swing
- Appropriate respect for the song
- Communication of joy
He does three songs in particular that make me feel the season and which I’d like to commend.
- A New Orleans-inspired bluesy, boozy, “Blue Christmas”
- A traditional-sensitive version of “White Christmas” (in duet with Shania Twain!)
- A flapper-ready swing of “Jingle Bells” (with the Puppini Sisters!)
Below I’ll write about what I love so much about each of the songs, but the one thing that unites all of them are arrangements that are evocative and, frankly, damn funny. In each of these songs, the arrangements give us:
- A set of rules, the “straight” version of the song
- And then it gets wild: fun phrasings, a fat swing break where the rules are broken, delighting the ear
- And then now that the wheels are loose on the bus, let’s see if we can shake ‘em off (we do) in a way that shows the staggering talent of the musicians
Also, I find these songs to be incredibly rich pictorially. Every time I hear these songs I imagine a music video (directed by me) that accompanies the breaks and beats in the songs. I’ll share them here too.
The iconic Elvis standby.
The bold braying strumpet clarinet tells us that we’re somewhere south of Canal street, north of the water for this particular Christmas. Wherever we were supposed to be having that Bublé-approved “White Christmas” (see below) is not in the cards anymore and we’re going to red-light and blues this yuletide.
Now if we weren’t thinking pasties and twirling tassels already, by the time the trombone appears we’re very clearly swimmingly swinging toward last call. We’re going to finish this last Sazerac, leave these nice girls alone, and head back to the hotel justgimmeasecond.
As we stumble back into the cobblestone night, Bublé will be our drum major guiding us on a laughing, joyfully sad voyage back to wherever we’re going to sleep off Christmas Eve. Only in Nawlins do joy and sorrow so blissfully meet at the intersection of popped corks.
But when the vocal comes in he’s definitely doing homage to The King, but taking Elvis’ meaning, but not his mass. He’s having so much fun in this arrangement I want to pull out a marching parasol. We’re walking with Bublé as he lays out a small, intimate “straight” first verse. But by the second verse….
The phrasing starts getting funky around minute one when the backing vocals come in. True to Elvis we have some decided gospel vocal backing as we hit a big fat brass break at 1:42. The wheels have come loose, but they fall off utterly during the brass solo.
He sets the shiny brass slinger “J-Man” loose at 2:00 and we are approaching the zenith of an absinthe, second-line, cheap cigar parade through the Kwartuh.
And as we boozily brassily, floozily parade back to our hotel around minute 3 we turn around, bid good night to the second line, mount the steps to the hotel, do a series of pelvis swivels at 3:20 before an errant cop shoots us a “best get inside” look and we scurry inside, “Merry Christmas, Ossifer *hic*.”
If “Blue Christmas” is where we wound up, what we shoulda been dreaming for is a “White Christmas”…with Shania Twain! Accordingly I imagine this song as a romantic winter promenade to a neighbor’s Christmas party. He’s getting ready to head out for a Christmas Eve sashay up the street to a party and she’s doing the same.
We open with a clearly “as if it were playing off phonograph” sample of “White Christmas” by The Drifters. Bublé is teasing that he’s going to play it straight, but we know he isn’t (and we love that rapscallion Canuck for it). The phrasing definitely teases and hints that he’s not doing a straight copy of the Drifters style, but the sample of their background vocals confirms that it’s an updated homage.
In the video, we catch HIM getting ready to head up to the party in the opening verse. He’s lacing up his boots in the mud room (they’re both Canadian, y’know) and preparing to head down the sidewalk.
Around 0:39 he lets his vocals open up in a lovely show of his wonderful talents. But as verse 1 winds down we get a nice trumpet break before Shania Falls into place like an angel on a snowflake. In my mind SHE follows him out the front door and delivers her verse on the porch before he extends a gloved hand and they proceed up the way in their duet (in the third verse).
Shania plays by the same rules of the first verse: the legacy backgrounds, the angelic voice, the open-throat fullness before another nice break for the duet. The gloved hand takes hers and they sashay up the road carrying a bottle and a dish up the street.
The voices balance and mix in the duet as our couple sing together, still playing by the rules of a nice, sweet Christmas song. But that fat swing break comes in and my god, they’re int he middle of the street “La La Land” style pulling a brave swing-out on that treacherous icy walks. They’ve got a few measures of swing to do before they come back together with strings at 2:25 and resume their promenade. Her sweet head, his strong shoulder, Christmas bliss. Perhaps a looming swoop by the camera for a Christmas kiss when, in the inevitable spin toward lip-lock her eyes pop back open to the camera on the staccato downbeat at 2:40 of “I’m. Dreaming. Of. A. White. Christmas.”
The walk resumes. Love. Tenderness. A knock on the neighbour’s door. A reprise of the swing dance as they wait and the door opens into a warmly lit home like a snowball splat at 3:33.
As a final song cementing the jokey Bublé, we start off with a bit of banter between Bublé and the Puppini Sisters. Their reply of “Yes…” in gorgeous harmony at 0:28 lets us know that we’re in a for a treat of a jeu des voix.
This song’s mental video is definitely a night at the club with our maestro Bublé about to get played by our mischievous Puppini Sisters.
Again, Bublé lays out the rules in the first verse: a loose interpretation of “Jingle Bells.” Then, at the chorus the Puppinis come in like someone twisted the knob on an old transistor radio from 1948. Warm and crackling they come in with their sweet, smooth voices at 0:41. The first verse and chorus done, we can expect the play to come soon. It does. At 0:55 the sisters start bending the rules and breaking out of the box afforded them. The tripartite descent down the scale hints that they’re about to start shaking things up.
The next loop of the verse, they start jazzing it up and slotting some breaks. They’re now daring the maestro on his return to up his style game. “Keep up, Buddy.”
He gamely comes back in with lovely swinging punctuation from the Puppinis. He’s laughing and happy that they’ve pushed the thing to the break at 1:42. Huddling their microphones they converge in style. Set loose, he gets freer while they get more unified. We know this can only go one place. A huge brass break that arrives right on time at 2:00 with the sisters simply tearing it up.
If you’re anywhere near the dance floor you are swinging out “all the way” from 2:14 to the end of the song which Bublé punches the lights out of on the final note.
There are many other fine songs on the record e.g. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and a few songs that I absolutely abhor e.g. “Santa Buddy” (not Bublé’s fault, just hate the song). All that said, it’s my fave!