Amanda Shires – For Christmas – Album Review

Amanda Shires’ new album For Christmas is one that could well prove divisive and boil down to a single question: Do we need ‘real’ Christmas albums? We all know that there are at least two Christmases. The first is the lie we’re sold of a perfect family day, full of luscious presents, sumptuous turkey, and good will. The second is the reality of family arguments and expectations dashed. It’s in this second one that we find For Christmas, a playful album that sets out to invert the genre and sing about a Christmas that can be all too familiar.

With eleven tracks that are hard to pin down musically but owe a fair debt to American folk and Country, none of them, with one possible exception, feels like an instant Christmas classic. This isn’t a criticism, but an observation. Due to the nature of these songs they are possibly best used as a palate cleansers sprinkled into a Christmas playlist; the contrasting salt to all of that seasonal caramel.

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With that thought the two singles released (so far) have been well chosen. ‘Gone for Christmas’ presents a list of unlikely Christmas wishes, with the continuing refrain that what she really wants is the person in her life gone for Christmas. The second single, ‘Blame it on the Mistletoe’, is also the standout track of the album, genuinely catchy, and the one most likely to get some serious play. This excellent tune is all about the abstract thoughts and memories of a past bittersweet encounter sparked by a sprig of mistletoe. The release was accompanied by a charming yet somehow disquieting video well worth a watch, though confusingly the mistletoe shown is actually holly. Possibly there is a deeper meaning here…

Fascinatingly, for such a personal album, it can be best summed up by the only two covers. Frank Loesser’s ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve’ is sung as an upbeat celebration of hope, while Shires’ near melodramatic rendition of ‘Silent Night’ is likely to have even the biggest fan of the season reaching for a double when the egg nog is handed round. This coupling of the joy of the imagined, clashing with the harshness of reality is what For Christmas is all about.

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The biggest issue faced is that lampooning the impossible optimism of Christmas and Christmas songs, with all of that cliche and saccharine good will, is the very definition of plucking low hanging fruit, though possibly here that should be low hanging candy canes. That’s not to say that existing fans won’t be pleased with this album. There is no denying that Shires can sing. Her voice dances through each track with a feather light, airy tone carrying a pleasing Texan lilt. Her lyrics are witty enough to keep listeners engaged while she sings about a world we can all understand and relate to.

If this album were one of those generic Christmas movies, it would be the section two thirds through where it’s raining, mistakes have been made, and the reality is setting in that, just because it’s Christmas, that doesn’t mean the mortgage is going to pay itself. It’s really important to remember that these songs never really move past that bit of the film. Perhaps then it’s best to view this release not as a Christmas album, but instead as an album about Christmas. Shires isn’t trying to sell you a lie, but tell you her truth. And we all know that telling the truth is the best way to get yourself put on the nice list.

For Christmas is out now from Silver Knife Records.

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