CBC: David Myles makes a magical Christmas album

November 14, 2014

East Coast Music with Bob Mersereau

David Myles was full of the joy of Christmas when he and I first talked about this record. The trouble was, it was April. But that’s how much Myles likes Christmas, and how excited he was that it was going to be his next album. Myles actually planned and recorded this a full year ago, and smartly, he did it right after he finished up his annual Singing For Supper tour of New Brunswick, when he does shows in area malls, collecting thousands of dollars in each place that goes directly to local food banks. So he was already geared up for Christmas, he and the band were well-rehearsed and in the spirit, and they went straight into the studio.

It’s Christmas comes directly out of Myles’ experience raising money for food banks in that annual tour. It has become very important to him, especially since he’s started his own family. The fundraiser shows go so well in N.B., he was looking for a way to expand that concept to more cities. Now, he’s doing a big Christmas tour, with shows in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario, in addition to the usual ones in New Brunswick. And he’ll be raising money for food banks in the other locations as well. So it’s win-win, and we get this great record.

I hear a lot of Christmas records each year, from choirs and orchestras in the most traditional arrangements, to new ones from the latest pop stars, with all the tricks and gizmos. Most of them are, sadly, very forgettable. They feature all the same songs we’ve heard a thousand times, and add nothing to the original. Myles obviously wanted to avoid that, and has truly succeeded in making a gem. Not only has he done a lot of hard work finding obscure and good songs, he’s made an album that sounds very different. It doesn’t even sound like the usual Myles album. Along with his loyal touring-mates, Kyle Cunjak on stand-up bass and Alan Jeffries on acoustic guitar, producer Joshua Van Tassel joined on drums, and there are plenty of add-on instruments such as clarinet, fiddle and organ, and a choir and bells when needed. But it’s the actual sound that’s different, warm and intimate, and I hate to say it, because it sounds so sappy, but …magical. I’m not being dramatic, and I don’t think I’m being sentimental, I’m a bit of a Grinch usually, but this album has the touch.

Bluegrass plays a big role on the album, with several songs arranged in that genre, which lets this crack group of players get in some great licks. It’s jazzy too, and a little bit country when needed. The classic Sleigh Ride is given a whole new twist with guitar and fiddle weaving around each other in a kind of gypsy jazz arrangement, unlike any that’s been made before. Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo is a funny original, one of three here, which sounds like it could have been a Roger Miller song from the 60’s. Speaking of such, Blue Christmas Lights is an obscure Buck Owens number, that Myles discovered during one of his vinyl-hunting trips in used record stores, a great country weeper. Mix in the dramatic re-inventions of better-known songs such as Let It Snow and White Christmas, and this is one of the freshest, most enjoyable Christmas albums I’ve heard in years, a real feat in this very crowded field.

By Bob Mersereau, CBC