I know a lot of people who don’t even like holiday tunes. They dislike the hackneyed, clichéd invocations of emotion, the predictable revisiting of familiar tropes divorced from any sort of transforming effect, and how the lyrical content seems to boil down everything into simple-minded emotions. They object to the unrelenting romanticism and sentimentality that plays more like a performer groveling for the listener’s attention instead of truly trying to connect with them. Frank Shiner’s version of the Charles Brown composed standard “Please Come Home for Christmas” avoids all those things. This is the sort of holiday song you should play for people who believe such songs invariably bore people or touch on a narrow range of experiences. Instead of being wrapped up in blue-tinted sweetness, Frank Shiner comes out of this song as a performer determined to claim everything he sings as his own and appeal to his potential audience in a wide and broad-based way.
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It isn’t hard to pull that off when you have pipes like this and artistry to match. Shiner’s voice, despite this being a studio recording, clearly needs no post production trickery to reach its goals. His confident and rich baritone deceptively masks a wide range that allows him to explore moments of great sensitivity and shows a muscular edge at other key points. His training as an actor helps give him a component to his performance that other singers lack – the lyrics are fully performed as if the experience of the song is being lived out concurrent with its recording. This immediacy is priceless and moves the song far away from simple holiday emotions and, instead, approaches something more akin to a cry from the heart. This emotiveness never relents through the song and, unlike flashier modern singers, Shiner can never be accused to singing the material with the same cookie-cutter take on each new line. Every line sounds new, fresh, and completely engaged with.
The arrangement will impress people for the same reasons. The stellar production from 10x Grammy winner Jay Newland (Norah Jones) along with the band is obvious with every note of the song and never wavers off course. There’s no self-indulgence here. Everything is properly focused on complimenting Shiner’s vocal and realizing the song’s melodic potential. The band locking in with Shiner’s vocal is, arguably, their smartest move as musicians, but they distinguish themselves as well with several exceptional performances. The percussion, piano, and brass playing helps the track move and never threatens to overpower the other elements making the song work. This ideal balance of musical elements never competes.
Frank Shiner doesn’t do “covers”. To quote the artist, he’s not interested if he can’t put his own spin on the material and, by that measure alone, “Please Come Home for Christmas” is a resounding success. There are more accolades and laurel leaves to come if this great performer continues along on this course.