Gary Flockhart: No Slade, just give me Bright Eyes

Conor Oberst. Pic: Comp
Conor Oberst. Pic: Comp
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HEARD this week that Slade frontman Noddy Holder is expected to earn £1 million from Merry Christmas Everybody, a festive hit he wrote 40 years ago. Heard that and thought, hmm... no bloody wonder Noddy’s always got a massive grin on his puss.

Normally, I can’t stomach Christmas songs any more than I can mince pies – bah, humbug, I know – but this week I’ve been listening to Bright Eyes’ A Christmas Album, a decade-old collection of songs released as a fund-raiser for the Nebraska AIDS Project.

As anyone familiar with Conor Oberst (the ridiculously-talented Omaha musician who fronts and essentially is Bright Eyes) knows, he’s not one you would expect to release a seasonal album.

Like many others, this slipped under my radar when it was first released (the album was only made available via the online store for Saddle Creek Records) but they’ve decided to re-release the 11-song collection this year to records shops, iTunes and whatnot.

It won’t find itself atop any bestseller lists, but it is, nevertheless, an outstanding offering featuring a plethora of guest musicians and vocalists from Tilly And The Wall, the Mystic Valley Band, Azure Ray, Rilo Kiley and others.

The tone throughout is wonderfully melancholy, and Oberst and his pals give a straight performance that captures the spirit of the season without resorting to the usual cheap Christmas song gimmicks – no sleigh-bells, no jingle-bells at all.

The best bits include a distortion-filled version of Little Drummer Boy, a sweet, bluesy cover of Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas, and Azure Ray singer Maria Taylor’s almost whispered vocal on White Christmas.

The New York Times described this album as the saddest, sweetest holiday recording you will hear all season when it was released in 2002 – and after 11 years in the cold, the same applies.