Since 1998, Tooth & Nail Records has delivered four volumes of Christmas compilations with a focus on the more edgy, alternative style of music than what is expected for this time of the year. The track listings have always brought listeners artists who you would almost never expect a holiday song from, and these compilations have often delivered some truly wonderful tracks that are worthy of replaying each Christmas season. With Happy Christmas Vol. 5, the series breaks a five year hiatus with a brand new edition featuring fourteen holiday cuts - twelve of which, I believe, are new to this compilation.
Hawk Nelson are no strangers to holiday music. They released a Christmas EP in 2006, with one of those tracks appearing on X Christmas in 2008. Here, they bring a pop punk rendition of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" (sans the chipmunk vocal effect), flavoring the track with even a little bit of ska-friendly guitar work. It's a fun rendition and a good opening for the long awaited fifth installment of this series. Demon Hunter is a surprise addition to the list of contributors, with a gothic rock driven original titled "The Wind." Sounding more like The Becoming and less like a Christmas song (of any kind, really), it's great to see these guys join in on the holiday spirit, but this song could have easily fit on any regular Demon Hunter release. Ivoryline then give a rendition of "O Holy Night" in their own styling. It's a solid update and they even added in some extra verses for a personal touch.
Two years ago, when BEC released X Christmas as part of their popular X rock compilations, Thousand Foot Krutch's take on "Jingle Bell Rock" lead off the record to a pretty underwhelming result. Their take on the classic was certainly not one of the better versions and on Happy Christmas Vol. 5, TFK takes a stab at the holidays again, but this time with "Heat Miser," one of two songs from the classic TV special, The Year Without Santa Claus. Musically, it rocks about as infectious and hard as anything on their most recent record, Welcome To The Masquerade, but like Demon Hunter's track, it barely feels like a holiday vibe. The track listing for Happy Christmas 5, which is a series that has always mixed traditional with originals, does a good job of mixing up a healthy selection of both. August Burns Red offers their excellent instrumental of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" before Emery delivers what is undoubtedly their most openly spiritual song of their career in "Jesus Gave Us Christmas," a memorable original holiday song that leans heavily on the side of worship and utilizes some sleigh bells and xylophone to give it a Christmas feel. Oddly enough, the one ballad from Family Force 5's 2009 Christmas Pageant release is next, "It's Christmas Day." Not only is it odd to have such a blatant pop ballad on a Happy Christmas release, but there are far more upbeat and fitting tracks from that album that could have appeared here (heck, it would have been nice to finally have a formal release of their "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" track from about five years ago... but I digress). "It's Christmas Day" is still a touching and sentimental Christmas original, but again, it really doesn't seem like the best fit for this collection of songs.
Bon Voyage (AKA "Mrs. Starflyer 59") presents "The Little Christmas Tree," a dreamy almost-doo-wop cover of Mickey Rooney's original (which was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1960) as an album highlight. Tooth & Nail newcomers Sent By Ravens and Queens Club, who both had unremarkable debuts this year, fair only slightly better here with two recognizable covers - John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" and "You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch," respectively. Queens Club give the Dr. Seuss cartoon anthem a modern dance rock update, which isn't impressive but gives the track a fresh spin. Neon Horse follows the pair up with the bizarre, paranoia-laced "Zat U Santa Claus," featuring a sound right in line with all of the band's previous work. TFK's Trevor McNevan makes a second appearance on the album with his pop punk side project, FM Static. And quite appropriately, the song serves as a companion to the TFK track, "Heat Miser," with its related "Snow Miser," also from The Year Without Santa Claus. Like its predecessor, it's not very festive, in fact, it's more gloomy than anything. Still, it's an interesting concept for McNevan to use both of his projects - which are also, in a lot of ways, polar opposites - to cover these animated classic contributions. Happy Christmas Vol. 5 draws to a close with Tooth & Nail's indie act Surrogate giving a retro classic feel to the traditional offering, and the late Copeland concludes with the piano-driven "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." While Copeland had appeared on the series five years ago, that rendition of "Do You Hear What I Hear" was much more over-produced and anti-characteristic of the band. This time, Copeland plays the track closer to the chest and stays truer to their sound. And with it, Happy Christmas Vol. 5 wraps up in a lovely little bow.
The fifth - and hopefully not final - installment in Tooth & Nail's Happy Christmas series may not be the very best of the series, but it offers enough holiday cheer for fans of modern Christmas music to have something new to spin this year and in years to come. There's a little something for every music fan to cling to, and that's just one of the many endearing qualities of these releases. Fans of previous volumes, as well as any of the artists included here, shouldn't be disappointed.- Review date: 9/25/10, written by John DiBiase of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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