ROB HALFORD CD

CELESTIAL

Sony Music Japan - Out now

Ten years ago Rob Halford released his Winter Songs album, reworking some traditional Christmas and winter songs into a Metal frame and adding some new ones written by him. The initial announcement had Priest fans worried and the critics were ready to scribe a negative review but he surprised all by delivering a fine and fun record that some said was actually better than Nostradamus, his last outing with Priest in 2008. Celestial carries on where Winter Songs ended and although the mid-paced overindulgent Priest of Nostradamus has been confined to the history books by 2018’s stunning Firepower, this solo from Rob should not be overlooked or ignored. In fact, it could be the best Christmas album to be released this year and certainly the most original.

 

There are four new songs on the album and the first two set the tone for the record at the start. The title track is an a beautiful string quartet instrumental beneath some Christmas sound effects which dives straight into a guitar riff straight out of the Priest catalogue (how do they keep coming up with all these glorious riffs?). The album continues with all the interpretations of the yuletide carols as out and out Metal or floating ballad, each one carefully selected and arranged musically, retaining the charm of the more traditional versions we know. Rob is obviously enjoying himself as he vocally gives God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen a stage musical approach whilst Deck The Halls is given a full Priest makeover with twin solos and tempo changes. Of the two other new ones, Morning Star is an obvious attempt at a single with simple arrangement and chord structure topped with a sing-along vocalize. In truth, it’s a bit cheesy and probably belongs in a 1970s British chart but it does give another texture to the album - you’ll either love it or hate it.

 

This being an album for the festive season, traditionally in the UK a time to be with your family, Rob has called on a few family members to help out. His younger brother, Nigel, is on drums; his sister, Sue, shakes some jingle Bells and Sue’s son, Alex, (from her marriage to Priest bassist Ian Hill) is on bass. The rest of the band is made up of friends Robert Jones and Jon Blakey on the aforementioned twin guitars, Phil Ridden on percussion and Priest associate Mike Exeter on keyboards who also handle all of the production and mixing.

 

Celestial (or Metal Christmas as it is titled in Japan), is far from a classic but it is a seasonal album you will return to every year when the nights draw in, the cold weather starts to bite your bones and the Christmas lights are going on everywhere. Throw it on your player, pour yourself a large  Glühwein and join the fun.

 

Track List

Celestial*
Donner and Blitzen*
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Away in a Manger
Morning Star*
Deck the Halls

Joy to the World
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
The First Noel
Good King Wenceslas
Protected By the Light*

 

*New song

RICK WAKEMAN

CHRISTMAS PORTRAITS 

Sony Music Japan - Released 27th Nov

Christmas albums have a limited playing time purely because listening to Christmas carols in 35°C and 75% humidity just doesn’t feel right and more often than not, most Christmas albums are bought, played for one season and then forgotten because someone else releases a Christmas album the following year. However, in the case of Rick’s latest offering, I will be so bold as to predict that this CD will be played annually in many households for many years to come.

 

The keyboard wizard has never made a secret of the fact that his first love is the piano and here we have a perfect example of that love which flows from his fingers in beautiful arrangements of some classic tunes. Rick has in the past recorded several piano albums and was one of the forerunners of New Age piano music as far back as 1986’s Country Airs and he has recorded a Christmas album before (2000’s Christmas Variations – I confess, I forgot I had it) but that had synths on it and for this fan, never really worked. Now, stripping back these melodies to their very basics and with Rick playing as deft as ever, we have a collection of tunes that can you leave playing on a loop all day as you stuff the turkey and sup the Gluhwein but make no mistake, it’s not just background music, it’s a highly enjoyable listen. 

 

Half of the pieces are medleys, the others are single compositions. As you would expect, the transition between two (sometimes three) pieces is smooth whilst the single pieces bear all the hallmarks of Rick’s ability to make full use of the range of notes at his disposal. Most of the tunes will be familiar to you and are traditional. The few modern exceptions Rick has adapted sit alongside the traditional ones naturally and he has resisted the urge to include more popular hits (there’s no Irving Berlin’s White Christmas for example) which was the right decision – they just wouldn’t suit. As for the production, it’s minimalistic of course but captures every nuance from Rick’s fingers and for the Japanese release, the  BSCD2 mastering faithfully reproduces every note from the Steinway Model D Grand Piano. There is a also bonus track on the Japanese edition which all in all, makes this very nicely priced disc, an excellent stocking filler for either yourself or your music loving relative.

Track list

The First Noel

In The Bleak Midwinter

Deck The Halls/

     Away In A Manger

The Holy & The Ivy/

     Mary’s Boy Child

Silent Night

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/

     Angels From The Realms Of Glory

O Come All Ye Faithful/

     Hark! The Herald Angels Sing/

     See, Amid The Winter’s Snow

O Little Town Of Bethlehem

I Saw Three Ships/

     When A Child Is Born

O Holy Night

Coventry Carol/

     O Come O Come Emmanuel

A Winter’s Tale

We Three Kings

Sussex Carol/

     It Came Upon The Midnight Clear

Joy To The World (Bonus Track for Japan)