As December crests and the mercury falls, everyone from your Uber driver to the music supervisor at the mall starts running timeless hits like "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night." But on Christmas Caravan, Toronto instrumental experts Sultans of String go deeper than the typical Judeo-Christian songbook, bringing us tunes for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and just general wintertime chilling.
As progressive as the sound is throughout, the Sultans have a gentle touch with history. For instance, their approach to "The Huron Carol" finds them taking the Franco-Indigenous-Canadian masterpiece all the way back to its frontier inception by recording a version using a translation of the lyrics penned by St. John Brebeuf in the 1600s.
The album is decked out with luminaries guesting on most songs, and replete with CanCon for your radio quotas. Ace chanteuse Rebecca Campbell adds a mischievous quality to "The Little Drummer Boy" that takes it from the realm of historical fiction and into salacious interpretations of drumming metaphors. On "Niel Gow's Lament / Rakes of Mallow / Rouge River Valley," Paddy Maloney's haunting whistle settles coolly into the ears, and is joined by a chorus of strings that settles over the soul like a blanket of freshly fallen snow. This is perfect music for a gathering of young and old, without the trite tales of magic snow people or outcast reindeer.
On "Celebrate the Holidays," the gifted Sweet Honey in the Rock come through to make all foggy breath-drawing humans want to boogie the holiday blues away. As with all excellent holiday-centric work, they find their way to the point that underlies all the competing dogmas: a message of love for humankind.
The Sultans of String come by their world renown honestly, by embracing the land they are from and weaving a sweet sonic blanket with all the sounds of the globe. (Independent)