Monday, 17 December 2012

James Whetzel - Holiday: Sarod & Beats

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is almost upon us. With all the decorations, mountains of food and the promise of presents, December is a great month. However, the music around at the end of the year is usually dire. It’s the same old tired mix of Christmas pop, traditional carols and end of year party anthems. Last minute shopping is far more stressful when done to the sound of Last Christmas or Mistletoe and Wine

One musician has made a holiday album that is different from the usual seasonal music. James Whetzel, a Seattle based sarod and tabla player, has recorded eleven traditional Christmas songs and given them a twist. Holiday: Sarod & Beats uses a range of instruments such as the sarod, dhol and the mandolin to reinvent well known carols.

All the holiday songs are instantly recognisable but have an Asian touch. This is noticeable in the beats, instrumentation and the way each song is constructed. James has chosen the right carols to makeover as I think there are some traditional carols, such as O Come All Ye Faithful, which would not have worked.

God Rest Ye Funky Bhangra is the most radical reinvention on the album. It is the only song with a significant name change, it’s usually called God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and there is more funky bass than there usually is in a carol. I would not class it as bhangra, but the dhol section halfway through is superb. Angels We Have Heard On High is another track with some funky beats.

All the tracks are instrumental and the lack of vocals mean you can sing along. Joy To The World and We Three Kings are two songs that are great to sing along to. The crude versions work as well as the original lyrics!

Each song has been sympathetically put together. O Come, O Come Emmanuel dates back to the 12th Century and this version still keeps the elegance of the original. The Dreidel Sarod is another tune that is sensitively played. It’s low key and works brilliantly.

Deck The Halls and Here We Come A-Wassailing are two tracks that are more lively than the original versions. They both have a lot going on and are more complex than they seem on the first listen. There is a definite party theme in these songs.

Auld Lang Syne brings the album into the new year. Without all the drunken singing that usually goes with the song it sounds completely different. Perfect accompaniment to a glass of fizz.

Verdict: These carols are not the same carols you were forced to sing at school. Holiday: Sarod & Beats is a great reinvention of classic seasonal songs with a hint of the East. Pack it away with the decorations and bring out year after year.

Holiday: Sarod and Beats is available here.

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