Eric Clapton has released his first Christmas album this month, (October 12) titled Happy Xmas. It’s his 24th studio effort and his first since I Still Do, in 2016. It is a bluesy blend of well-known Xmas classics, some forgotten pieces brought back to life, and an original called For Love On Christmas Day. In his own words, “I had it in my head that these songs could be done with a slight blues tinge, and I started to figure out how to play the blues lines in between the vocals, I got it down and one of the most identifiable songs on the album, the one that became the foundational style, is ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’”.
The package contains 14 beautifully crafted tracks which will slide nicely under your Christmas tree this year and all of the following years to be sure. It was co-produced by veteran guru Simon Climie, who also won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album with Clapton, for the gem Riding With the King in 2001 with B.B. King. The album’s cover art was drawn by Slowhand himself, a ‘naive’ portrait of Santa Claus holding a gift, signed E.C. xxx, for the personal touch.
The album opens with White Christmas, bluesed up and delivered in a new vein that will have you all joining in, even without the eggnog, but it gets richer. Track 2 Away in the Manger (Once in Royal David’s City), has been rearranged, ‘coloured blue’, yet stays true to the basic structure of this classic. Other yuletide goldies are Silent Night, a lovely choral intro behind Clapton’s distinct soft voice, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas walks a blues line but is easily distinguishable as the holiday favourite. Clapton’s version of Jingle Bells is his tribute to the late DJ Avicii, which is noble and true to the techno style the kid used to play, but unrecognisable as the traditional Christmas favourite.
For Love On Christmas Day is a heartfelt lullaby to a lost loved one remembered on Christmas day, “Wrote myself a love song, believing every word/Saying that you love me in melodies unheard/That you’ll be coming back soon and forever you will stay/I’m living in a dream world and dying a little more each day.”, likely played on one of his acoustic Martins, (the 000-42, or ‘44 O-18). The rest of the lineup comprises lesser-known Christmas pieces like Everyday Will Be a Holiday, a straight-up blues number talking about the return of his love coming home, and Christmas Tears, along the same home-sick lines, squeezed out on one of his Fender Stratocasters.
Despite the title, the record’s theme throughout may be described as wistful, with a longing for happiness, feelings shared the world over at that time of year. Another fine example of this is Sentimental Moments, a sweet melody on piano beside Clapton on acoustic. Things break open on Lonesome Christmas, a traditional blues romp, sprinkled with some honky tonk piano and signature Slowhand driving solos. And finally, Merry Christmas Baby, an ‘after-hour’ blues number, originally recorded in 1952 by Johnny Moore’s 3 Blazers, “Santa came down the chimney/at half past three/left all his presents/yeah for you and me/Merry Christmas baby”. The guitar work here is crafty, a delicious dripping blues, made easy by one of the world’s finest guitarists.
This excellent collection doesn’t break into new blues territory, just the steady flow of high-quality music that is Eric Clapton. It is his first solo Christmas album, other than his appearance on A Very Special Christmas Live in 1999, a benefit concert for the Special Olympics.
Thanks for the early Christmas gift Sir Eric!
Note: Happy Xmas will be released on CD,DD, and vinyl 2LP. The vinyl 2LP will be mastered for 45 RPM and pressed on two 180g-weight discs. Additionally, the DD will be included with the purchase of the album. (Bushbranch/Surfdog)