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Christmas music: a peculiar genre that offers everything from solemnity to exuberance. Christmas carols are beloved, largely uncontested vessels for emotion and memory, gratitude and generosity.
Enter Chilly Gonzales.
Composer, showman in slippers and a bathrobe, he has a deep dedication to his craft: he’s an Entertainer. His humble service to this calling lends a certain inevitability to this announcement: Chilly Gonzales has made a Christmas album.
From feudal oldies to newer holiday pop canon, A very chilly christmas surveys a broad scope of seasonal repertoire and sentiment. There’s grandeur and solemnity, there’s austerity and merriment, and there’s Mariah Carey.
With his unabashed loyalty to melody, Gonzales’ approach deftly navigates the myth of one shared songbook with a collection that opts for nuance over pomp. From Wenceslas to Wham, the great revelation of this collection is the restrained, distilled beauty of Gonzales’ signature minor key interpretations.
“Christmas is a time of very mixed intense emotion for me, and the existing canon often sounds like a forced smile. Christmas is a typical time for superficial happiness, but also a time for reflection and mourning the sad events throughout the year, and to play the songs in a minor key makes Christmas more authentic and realistic.”
A very chilly christmas finds its star in The Banister Bough, the album’s sole original song. This tinseled, sugar-plum collaboration with Feist, complete with miniaturized Jeunet-esque stop-motion animated video, balances delicate whimsy with an ecological message in disguise as a home decorating tutorial. The song gently encourages us to reimagine traditions, those we claim and those we inherit, for the generations to come.
Another album standout is the cover of Snow Is Falling In Manhattan by David Berman, a fellow Christmas-loving Jew. Jarvis Cocker’s fireside vocals and Feist’s ember-afterglow chorus are nestled amongst Gonzales’ piano and a flute. This stop-motion video sees Gonzales and Jarvis de-ambulating through the snowy streets of Manhattan, watching as stoops gets salted and peering in a window at the crackling fireplace inside where an outsider has been taken in.
From solo arrangements to intricate, delicate additions of strings, bells, choir and more, A very chilly christmas also features Gonzales’ frequent stage and studio collaborator, cellist Stella Le Page. As a whole, the album’s gift is the space it creates for quieter moments amid the flurry and noise of the season.
Since the final pre-pandemic stops of his Solo Piano III tour in early 2020, Gonzo has continued to explore and create. New episodes of his ongoing Pop Music Masterclass series add Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” and Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” to the library and Christmas song episodes are in the works. Chilly Gonzales also recently announced a new book, ENYA: A Treatise On Unguilty Pleasures, due in October. In this musical memoir, he examines his and millions of other peoples’ enthusiasm for Enya’s singular music and asks: Does music have to be smart or does it just have to go to the heart?
Barry says: Gonzales has never been one to go with the crowd, and this display of christmas cheer gone minor-key only serves to prove that point. It's another side to the uplifting anthems and choral singalong we'd expect, but if anything a lot easier to listen to. Variety is the spice of life, and with Chilly, you definitely get spice (sorry).
01. Silent Night
02. Good King Wenceslas
03. Silver Bells
04. Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
05. Last Christmas
06. The Banister Bough (feat Feist)
07. Jingle Bells
08. All I Want For Christmas Is You
09. In The Bleak Midwinter (feat Jarvis Cocker)
10. Snow Is Falling In Manhattan (feat Jarvis Cocker And Feist)
11. O Tannenbaum
12. Maria Durch Ein Dornwald Ging
13. O Come, All Ye Faithful
14. We Three Kings
15. Auld Lang Mynor