Rod surprised me…

…with his Merry Christmas, Baby holiday album release (Verve) … it’s actually pretty darned good! This came as news to me so it seemed apropos to land this mini review in the VS News section.

I have nothing but respect for Rod Stewart. The attention, appreciation and new listeners he’s brought to the Great American Songbook is a beautiful thing.

That said, Rod’s raspy interpretations of the standards have been largely lost on me (no surprise to regular VS readers, assuming you exist) with his high “gravel & smoke” vocal style firmly set in the ’70’s rock scene of my personal music perspective … think “Maggie May”, “Mandolin Wind” and the like.

Ray shamed me…

My trombone wielding buddy Ray, rang me up gushing about how much he liked Rod’s new release … really? I gave the LP a cursory listen and then I played my typical “I can’t get my head around Rod singing the standards” card and moved on … cold heartless bastard that I am.

But then, while stuck in traffic and really not wanting to spurn by changing the channel, I actually LISTENED to a few tracks off the album as they came lilting across the radio waves and a funny thing happened … I, uh, liked it. Weird, I know, right!

Before you stoke up the bag pipes…

…to celebrate, I’m still not sold on Rod Stewart as a standards crooner, but somehow he’s won me over with his renditions of these holiday numbers … and hey, baby steps; who knows if maybe this’ll loosen up my RS sensibilities?

I’m insanely busy this holiday season but I am so struck by my new found appreciation for Rod’s Christmas fare that I had to shim in this mini review. Most of Merry Christmas, Baby is OK stuff (in the single “+” range of my standards rating system) but there are five standout songs from the 13 track LP.

Rod’s voice, the elegant guitar lead and the very nice string/piano charts on the initial track — “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” — is superb. I found David Foster’s arrangements pretty uneven throughout the album but he nailed it on this number and the result is stellar.

Another perfect set up for Stewart’s voice is the “near Motown” version of the title track — “Merry Christmas, Baby”. Rod’s 70’s R&B muscle memory is in full play here and the duet with Cee Lo Green is pretty good stuff.

The last two tracks on the album are “+++” rated numbers. Rod’s raspy vocal style is surprisingly wonderful on “Silent Night” and is beautifully complimented by the young coral singers and elegant arrangements.

Likewise Rod nestles his vocals in nicely amongst the guitar and fiddle leads, and elegant string charts on “Auld Lang Syne” … the bagpipe finish is right out of the Scottish country side.

The best song of the bunch…

…has to be the synthetic duet with Ell Fitzgerald. Typically I’m hard to impress — downright “angsty” — with most synthetic duets, but I find “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” fabulous.

Ella had a penchant for duets … she did scads of duets with a myriad of partners, with none more famously celebrated than her multiple album releases with the ultimate smokey, raspy gravely vocal talent — Louis Armstrong.

Rod and Ella strike a similar vocal style juxtaposition to the “silk & smoke” that Ella and Louis delivered so well … I think this number more than any of the others reached out and smacked me into giving Rod Stewart another listen, and I’m truly glad I did.

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” – Rod Stewart/Ella Fitzgerald*

Good job Rod … Merry Christmas, Baby!

[* Please remember that all songs streamed here are for REVIEW PURPOSES ONLY and are NOT intended as a substitute for properly purchased original record company product. Give a listen and then please support the artists via iTunes, Amazon or your favorite music store. Artists/Record Labels — NO DOWNLOADS ARE SUPPORTED on this site; please contact me directly regarding the removal of any potentially infringing material.]