Paul McCartney Gets the Chestnuts Roasting; Stream "Christmas Song"

Paul McCartney's lush version of "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire") has been unwrapped as a preview of the new Hear Music holiday album Holidays Rule due October 30. Details on the album via the press release below.

Paul McCartney - "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)" (from Christmas Rules)

The set boasts 17 all-new recordings, including pop phenoms fun., the legendary Paul McCartney, indie-pop luminaries The Shins, Americana favorites The Civil Wars, adored singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright (with Sharon Van Etten), playful popsters Fruit Bats, bluegrass revisionists Punch Brothers, soul icon Irma Thomas (with The Preservation Hall Jazz Band), cinematic rockers Calexico, eclectic troubadour Andrew Bird, Latin neo-traditionalists Y La Bamba, Texas twang-rock troupe Heartless Bastards, alterna-folk standard-bearer Holly Golightly, roots quintet Black Prairie (featuring Sallie Ford), choral revival collective AgesAndAges, Fiery Furnaces alumna Eleanor Friedberger and Seattle Americana outfit The Head and the Heart.

Christmas Rules delves into an unusually rich assemblage of Americana, alt-pop, folk, electronica, country, American standards, singer-songwriter, New Orleans gospel, garage rock and more. Producers Sara Matarazzo, Chris Funk and Executive producer Randall Poster of bi-coastal music-supervision company Search Party – along with Executive Producer Nancy Jeffries of MPL – strove to give the project the feel of a cohesive album, rather than a holiday hodgepodge.

"We've had great success working with Nancy and the MPL team on a number of projects," explained Poster. “We thought it would be a lot of fun to record some holiday songs together!"

“I love holiday music,” Matarazzo volunteers. “But every year I find myself going back to the standards. I wondered, where’s the holiday record for this generation? This was a chance to create something that gave today’s artists a chance to put their mark on the tradition.”

Matarazzo particularly credits Funk, avid multi-instrumentalist, house producer at Search Party and guitarist for The Decemberists, for the cohesion and community vibe of the project.

Funk oversaw several of the Christmas Rules sessions, notably the very first: “We brought in Y La Bamba to do ‘Señor Santa,’ which was one of the more challenging songs, and we were really excited by the result,” Funk recalls, adding that the band’s dreamy, accordion-accented spin on the whimsical tune (a yuletide variation on “Mr. Sandman”) helped set the tone for the entire set.

The city of Portland, where Matarazzo and Funk are based, also helped set the vibe. “The music community here is beyond special,” insists Matarazzo, an East Coast transplant. “The musicians all know each other and there’s nonstop collaboration. I don’t know if I could’ve put this album together in another city. Being here makes everything feel obtainable. Of the artists on our wish list, almost every one ended up participating.” Poster added, "Recording holiday music in Searchparty's newly fitted Portland recording studio kept some of the action close to home and allowed us to hang the mistletoe early and abundantly."  Participating Portlanders include The Shins, Black Prairie (with Funk on dobro), AgesAndAges and Y La Bamba – but Funk’s network of musical friends extended to locations as far-flung as Austin and Brooklyn. 

fun. whips up a distinctly postmodern take on the rollicking “Sleigh Ride,” adding a frosty techno swirl to the winter perennial. Although synths are otherwise nowhere to be heard on Christmas Rules, the cut’s rambunctious energy is fully in keeping with the joy of the season. “I’d describe it as ‘shimmering pop,’” Funk offers.

Paul McCartney continues in the velvety mode of his recent pop standard outing, effortlessly conjuring the warmth of the fireside with “The Christmas Song.” “Having him on this record is unbelievable,” enthused Matarazzo. “As far as I’m concerned, I could walk on the moon and it wouldn’t surpass this.” Adds Funk, “Paul nailed it, of course. And the track is so masterfully recorded that you feel like you’re in the room with him.”

The Shins, meanwhile, take McCartney’s own “Wonderful Christmastime” in a cheekily retro direction, turning the track into a musical homage to the Beach Boys. AgesAndAges, too, seem to nod to Beach Boy Brian Wilson on “We Need a Little Christmas” (originally from the musical Mame). Friedberger’s “Santa, Bring My Baby Back (to Me)” sources a similarly playful pop vein.

Wainwright and Van Etten deliver a fittingly seductive “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” “Their voices just wind around each other,” marvels Matarazzo. Piano bounce and a delicate duet also characterize The Head and the Heart’s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

Funk journeyed to New Orleans to co-produce the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s gorgeous collaboration with Irma Thomas. “It was an incredibly basic recording setup,” he recalls. “But they don’t need any studio tricks – they killed it in a few takes.” The experience was made more poignant by the fact that a storm was bearing down on New Orleans in a few hours; Funk says he flew out of town just hours ahead of the deluge. “May Ev’ry Day Be Christmas” stands as a tribute to the profound faith and resiliency of NOLA’s musical denizens.

But the team behind Christmas Rules is equally proud of the down-home sound on much of the rest of the album – "This will enthrall the growing, multi-generational audience for folk, bluegrass, blues and traditional country" says Matarazzo.  “As a banjo player,” Funk says, “I couldn’t be happier about what’s going on right now.”

Grammy-winning, Gold-selling duo The Civil Wars, for example, work their intimate magic on “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” with only acoustic guitar and their spellbinding vocal blend. Calexico’s “Green Grows the Holly” works similarly spooky-rural terrain (with their trademark border-town brass for expressive contrast); Heartless Bastards deliver a high-lonesome “Blue Christmas” with a rockabilly edge; Black Prairie mix Appalachian mystery and swingin’ hoedown energy on “Waitin’ on the Man With the Bag,” guided by Ford’s versatile vocals; Holly Golightly channels the demure sparkle of ’50s pop on “That’s What I Want for Christmas,” her honeyed voice gliding over the whir of a skate-rink organ.

Fruit Bats, meanwhile, do Gene Autry proud on “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” buoyed by pedal steel, Marxophone and an incandescent vocal by Eric Johnson. Punch Brothers’ mandolin-spiced rendition of the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is the most overtly religious track but offers, as Funk notes, “some unexpected twists and turns.” On the disc’s final track, Andrew Bird harkens back to his Bowl of Fire days with the violin charge of “Auld Lang Syne.”

“Either you love the holiday season or you don’t,” Matarazzo reflects. “But if you do, you’re going to sing passionately about it. That was the one constant in all these different recordings – that warmth, intimacy and conviviality – those qualities that bring us all a little closer.”

Buy it:  http://smarturl.it/ChristmasRules

Complete Track Listing
1. fun. – Sleigh Ride (3:38)
2. The Shins – Wonderful Christmas Time (2:25)
3. Rufus Wainwright with Sharon Van Etten - Baby It's Cold Outside (4:15)
4. Paul McCartney – The Christmas Song Ages (3:55)
5. Black Prairie feat. Sallie Ford – Man with the Bag (3:34)
6. Civil Wars – I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day (2:35)
7. Calexico – Green Grows the Holly (4:07)
8. Agesandages – We Need A Little Christmas (3:16)
9. Holly Golightly – That's What I Want for Christmas (2:28)
10. Irma Thomas with Preservation Hall Jazz Band – May Everyday Be Christmas (2:32)
11. Heartless Bastards – Blue Christmas (2:10)
12. Eleanor Friedberger – Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me (5:29)
13. Fruit Bats – It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (3:02)
14. Y La Bamba – Senor Santa (3:10)
15. The Punch Bros. – O Come O Come, Emmanuel (4:06)
16. The Head & The Heart – What Are You Doing New Year's Eve (4:30)
17. Andrew Bird – Auld Lang Syne (4:31)

Produced by Sara Matarazzo and Chris Funk
Executive Producer: Randall Poster