I always think that Christmas music has to be more utilitarian than other records. There's so much of it, and so much of it is terrible, that there should be solid justification for why it exists — be it emotional, or liturgical or even as camp. It should push past the forced good cheer or rank sentimentality in favour of more complex emotions like grief, melancholy or even a profound understanding of the religious nature of the holiday.
The venerable Chicago alt country label Bloodshot has always had a non-traditional lens on the world that would suggest a more interesting Christmas album. But while Bloodshot Records' 13 Days of Xmas doesn't come across as a cash grab, it too often lacks the imagination or commitment to really resonate.
Murder by Death doing a cover of "O Holy Night" fails to fully commit to the potential ecstasy of its re-incarnation, while John Langford's "Christmas Carol, Christmas Ray" plays with isolation, but is too pretty to be fully lonely. Devil in a Woodpile sing "The Pagans Had it Right," but they don't quite tell us what that correctness might be. Speaking of consequences, All Our Exes Live in Texas have a song about Christmas in prison, but it makes you want to go cue up John Prine's thoughts on similar themes instead.
The songs aren't all bad. Kelly Hogan's torch song/piano ballad "Blue Snowfall" makes the argument that the season might need another song about longing, desire and the failure of relationships; it's magnificent. Less magnificent but equally gorgeous is Ron Gallo's cover of "White Christmas," in which his rich voice carries the uninspired production.
Of the 13 songs on Bloodshot Records' 13 Days of Xmas, two or three would make a solid addition to any "Blue Christmas" playlist. Unfortunately, that isn't quite enough. (Bloodshot)