Saturday, December 12, 2020

BAYLESS "Christmas"


(c) 2019 Independent Release

  1. O Holy Night
  2. Little Drummer Boy
  3. First Noel
  4. O Come O Come Emmanuel
Jared Bayless--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Vanessa Bayless--Lead Vocals, Keys, Programming

I honestly thought that with 2020 being such a...well, let's call it "frustrating"...year, we might see more new Christmas albums being released to try to brighten up the end of the year.  That has not been the case, at least with bands and labels that send music to Glitter2Gutter or our all-Christian sister site, PositiveRockReview, so I pulled up an EP from last year to spread some holiday cheer in these dreary Covid days.

One of the most exciting modern rock bands to come out in recent years has been the independent act, Bayless.  The husband and wife team features incredibly powerful clean vocals from both, with some harsher vocals coming from Jared, who also plays guitars, while Vanessa is responsible for keys and programming.  Does that mean the drums are programmed here?  I would have to assume so, as no drummer is credited anywhere that I can find.  This is of minor concern here, however, as these are traditional Christmas songs, and there is little to really shake up for the most part, although the Bayless couple does alter the arrangements just a bit to keep things fresh.  But if you know anything about Bayless...which you should after last year's stellar Ready.Aim....then you know Bayless is about powerful vocals from both spouses, with strong guitars and programmed elements.

This EP starts off with "O Holy Night", although "Carol Of The Bells" is used to lead the song a chorus of what I'm guessing are programmed bells, kick the song off.  Once this traditional favorite kicks into it's familiar vocal opening, things really take off.  Surprisingly, I would say this is my favorite performance on the EP, as Bayless does a great job of keeping things traditional as far as the melody and tune go, while also adding some programmed orchestral elements and the heavy rock riffing from Jared's guitar, along with a driving drum line.  Jared sticks to backing his wife on vocals for most of the song, with his haunting baritone ringing out in the chorus sections, but for the most part this is Vanessa's baby, and she delivers in a big way.  Jared does break into a refrain the band adds to the end, as he sings about "the night that saved my life", referring of course to the "holy night when Christ was born".  I couldn't tell you how many times I have requested this song on (I'm sure THEY could tell you!), but it is a lot!  I really like what Bayless did here, and I was jacked for the EP to continue.

My all-time favorite Christmas song, "The Little Drummer Boy", is up next, which had me very excited.  Unfortunately, I ended up being rather let down, to be honest.  The vocal performances are superb, to be sure, but I am not a fan of the arrangement at all.  The drums, physically, are lacking, and lyrically, there is very little in the way of "pah rum pum pum-ming" going on here.  The song features some slightly discordant piano at the beginning, which gives way to the the soaring vocals of Vanessa who sounds absolutely exquisite here.  But Jared's backing "ahs" where there should be powerful "pah rum pum pums" really shocked me.  On the second verse, the snare drums kick in with a marching cadence as Jared takes over on lead vocals and Vanessa slides into the background, but she doesn't "pah rum pum pum" for me, either!  The guitar work is solid but not overpowering, which it typically isn't in this classically drum-centric song, and the programmed strings and orchestral elements remain enhancements rather than major players, giving plenty of room for the vocals to work, which they do extremely well.  But in the end, the lack of a truly powerful drum presence and the overall arrangement just really let me down.  Perhaps I am unduly biased due to this being such a favorite of mine. 

"The First Noel" is an acoustic-based number here, with Jared handling the lead vocals on the first verse, with Vanessa tackling verse two.  The production here is a bit thin but not horribly so.  Some tinkling xylophones and chiming bells ring in the background as the song builds on verse two, with the electric drums smoothly sliding into place over a simplistic drum line.  Nothing overly unique about the arrangement here for the first 2/3 of the track, as Bayless plays it pretty close to the original for most of the track here.  They do add some of their own style in the later stages as there is some nice tympani work added in and the vocal arrangement is altered a bit.  A few modern flourishes are dropped into place toward the end.  I like this quite a bit.

"O Come O Come Emmanuel" closes things out in unique fashion.  The first verse is starkly different than the rest of the song, with an almost island feel to the sparse acoustic guitar and simple drum line that backs Vanessa's soaring voice, with a tinkling of piano drifting in as the first verse closes.  The guitars crunch their way into the track with the start of verse two, as do some programmed strings and drums, with Jared's powerhouse baritone adding solid support to his wife's remarkable soprano which is used as the lead on every verse here and throughout the chorus sections.  Again, I really like what the band does here, I just wish the production had been a bit beefier.  Very much listenable, just not in line with the greatness that Ready.Aim. as far as fullness of sound goes.

As far as I know, this is only available digitally, and I am sure you can download it on all your favorite platforms.  I know Amazon has it for under $4.00, so snag it an put it into your favorite holiday musical mix...although I'd honestly consider leaving "Little Drummer Boy" out, especially if you are as big a fan of the track as I am.

Rating:  The performances are strong but the arrangements are a bit hit or miss for me, especially on "Little Drummer Boy", and the production is not quite at the peak.  Rock this to a 6.5.

Merry Christmas!

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