Paul Kelly - Paul Kelly's Christmas Train (Cooking Vinyl)

Paul Kelly – Paul Kelly’s Christmas Train (Cooking Vinyl)

I don’t know what it is about Christmas albums but somehow it’s difficult to judge exactly how to review them. For a start, most of the songs are generally covers or arrangements of traditional yuletide numbers, which is very much the case on 66 year old Australian veteran Paul Kelly‘s zillionth album Christmas Train, so it’s hard not to compare the songs here with previous versions from other artists.

There’s a sneaking suspicion, when opening track ‘Nativity‘ kicks in, that Kelly may have spent time listening to Bob Dylan‘s Christmas In The Heart album from 2009, but that thought is dispelled immediately with a quite lovely, respectful take on ‘Silent Night‘, and then the song ‘Christmas‘, written by Chris and Wes Harrington, is a dead ringer, first for Reef‘s ‘Place Your Hands‘ in its opening guitar riff, and then for The Beatles‘ ‘Taxman‘. Not QUITE as much as The Jam‘s ‘Start‘ was but we’re certainly approaching such a terrain.

The best numbers here, however, are often the ones with featured female vocalists. Especially ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’, an invigorating reading of Darlene Love‘s original from Phil Spector‘s 1963 album A Christmas Gift For You, truly taken charge of here by the sensational Linda Bull with a real powerhouse performance.

The faithful performances of the more choral tracks are another highlight, in particular the sparse, heart-rending rendition of ‘Coventry Carol‘, ordinarily something you wouldn’t often hear until Christmas Day itself – at least not here in the UK anyway – until it rears its head on Carols From King’s College.

It’s a very listenable album in general, and I’m sure that it’ll come out of the Christmas CD pile once a year for an airing, but it isn’t without its ‘flaws’, for want of a better word. For example, I’m not sure I needed the full church-goers’ sermon that makes up ‘Surah Maryam‘ – it certainly doesn’t work as an accompaniment to driving anyway – and the truth is, it’s impossible not to sing Thunderclap Newman‘s 1969 chart topper ‘Something In The Air‘ to the intro to Kelly’s own ‘How To Make Gravy‘, given the striking similarity.

Still, there are some truly glorious moments here – ‘In The Hot Sun Of A Christmas Day‘ (don’t forget Kelly is Australian, fellow Brits, if the title is confusing you!) is a sultry, Ry Cooder-like number that lilts along prettily, and the further choral take of ‘Intonent Hodie‘ is just exquisite before the finale of ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?‘ rounds things off with a quiet Christmas cracker bang, Alma Zygier’s vocals lying somewhere between Brenda Lee and Doris Day.

I was always told, by my old music teacher never to use to the word ‘nice’ to describe anything. Well balls to her. Christmas Train is best described as exactly that – a nice album.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.