Eric Clapton - Happy Xmas How festive does Slowhand get?

From The Arts Desk

Christmas is traditionally that time of the year when cool rock-dudes like to come over all silly and tinselly. Not Eric Clapton. On this, his first Christmas LP, the veteran axe-man spurns the usual seasonal schmaltz, in favour of some good old-fashioned blues. The results, unsurprisingly, go a little easy on the comfort and joy.

Xmas chez Clapton it would seem, is more about melancholy and regret. The start of "White Christmas", for instance, could almost be an outtake from "Me and Mr Johnson". Similarly "Away in A Manger" is virtually "Run So Far". If you're a sucker for EC's back catalogue you'll surely enjoy his take on the Christmas standards.

That, however, is only part of the story. The other half of the album is made up of lesser-known Xmas songs that EC discovered, apparently, in secondhand record stores. The most engaging is "Home from the Holidays" originally by R&B singer Anthony Hamilton. Clapton reworks it in his weepy, country-blues style, and while it might not be very festive it's certainly pretty and reflective.

Less successful are some of the album's efforts to be jolly. Like "Christmas in my Hometown, a ragtime piece intended to evoke the atmosphere of an American bar. In truth, it's more like the musical equivalent of a cable-knit jumper. Other upbeat numbers work a little better. "It's Christmas Day" is spirited, if incongruously summery.

The strangest track on the LP is "Jingle Bells", recorded as a tribute to Clapton's friend, the late Swedish DJ, Avicii. It's mainly a techno track with a few seconds of Clapton's guitar thrown in - and he's not even playing the tune. And yet, its sheer weirdness also makes it the most interesting track on the album. In recent years, Clapton's increasing sentimentality and repetition has caused some to say he's ready for his rocking chair phase. Sections of Happy Xmas may bear that out, but there are also signs of life in the old dog yet.

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