If you don't like Christmas songs, there might be something wrong with you (even if you celebrate another winter holiday). Not only are there all kinds of high-minded reasons for liking them — they're a rare continuing example of our collective history going back generations; they get just about everybody singing — but they're generally catchy as hell. WHOM's playing of nothing but Christmas tunes from Thanksgiving on? Brilliant. Going to Sounds Absurd and landing Country Christmas Style, complete with Johnny Cash doing "Little Drummer Boy," along with Perry Como Sings Merry Christmas Music? Tremendous.
The fact that Don Campbell has released a second volume of Christmas tunes, including two originals? Even better.
This time around, Campbell tackles 11 more songs suggested to the band by fans, plus two tunes he penned: "Christmas Lights," a sentimental look back on his childhood Christmases in Portland; and "The Snow at Arlington," an homage to the Wreaths Across America organization that takes Maine evergreen boughs and turns them into wreaths adorning veterans' graves. The first is one of the best tracks on the album, a simple and heartfelt piece with just Campbell singing and fingerstyle guitar, before Andy Happel joins him with a weighty fiddle part. Campbell, too, shows himself as much a fan of Christmas tunes as anyone: "Listenin' to the sounds on the radio/Johnny Mathis doing his thing/David Bowie singin' with Bing."
The second may not ever be a Christmas classic — the melody just isn't catchy enough — but it's a got a nice bass walk down (Campbell plays all the guitar and bass parts here) and it's a fitting tribute to what's a genuinely impressive organization.
The rest of the album is chock full of polished country takes on many of your favorite holiday carols, with plenty of contemporary nods. "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" has a great easy ride on the high hat from Sean Daniels and Happel hands off a slick fiddle lead to Sumner McKane on a reverb-drenched pedal steel. "Frosty" is like a bouncy Don Ho tune and maybe only suffers because there aren't that many versions out there and it's hard to hang with Burl Ives. There's even a take on Dan Fogelberg's "Same Old Lang Syne," which is middle-aged nostalgia, but not all that great a song.
Best are the two extremes here. "O Christmas Tree" is completely classic, all instrumental with a spare piano and a thoughtful fiddle. If it doesn't make you desperate for egg nog, you just don't like the stuff. "Little Drummer Boy" opens with a guitar peal and a growling "rum-rum-rum-pum-pum-pum," that much more fun than the gravity with which Campbell and company tackle the rest of what's here.
Sure, Christmas is a time for the classics. But sometimes even they need freshening up. Grabbing this album for the collection is a must for any true Christmas fan.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A DON CAMPBELL CHRISTMAS, VOL. 2 | Released by the Don Campbell Band | at the Landing at Pine Point, in Scarborough | Dec 16 | at Westbrook Performing Arts Center, in Westbrook | Dec 18 | doncampbellmusic.com