Christmas standards are a tricky beast. Anyone over the age of twenty five has been so completely inundated with these classics that it becomes difficult to hear any new version without a cynical ear. Too often they seem calculated to clear a very low bar and, having appealed to the listener’s sentimentality, set their sights no higher. More so than probably anything else in the pop spectrum beyond novelty or gimmick songs, seasonal songs are designed to be disposable. We sing along until December 26th and then dustbin the songs for another calendar year. Frank Shiner, however, clearly doesn’t view these songs in the same light. “Please Come Home for Christmas” is a living and forever relevant work of musical and lyrical art that he fills with stylish soul and fathomless depths of emotion. This single previews his upcoming second full length effort and, after hearing it even once, many will likely agree that album promises to be a fantastic release.
The musical arrangement gives Shiner a memorable forum to weave his vocal magic. The song was produced by 10x Grammy winner Jay Newland and incorporates the standard musical colors of stringed instruments like guitar and bass along with restrained percussion, but piano and saxophone make their presence felt in the mix with great results. It accentuates the blues/soul feeling that Shiner achieves with his vocal while never attempting to overshadow him in any way. The musicians always abide by the well-known dictum that it’s the notes you don’t play that, ultimately, matter much more than those you unleash and the result is a surprising mix of delicacy, melody, and power in one package that never overwhelms the listener but, instead, insinuates themselves into the audience’s consciousness and isn’t easily forgotten.
Shiner’s singing abides by its own dictums as well. The most important decision he makes as a vocalist here is to listen to his band and singing with them rather than against them. The production mix strengthens this decision by achieving a perfect sonic balance. They end up dancing in an elegant yet gritty counterpoint with each other and the song, as a whole, benefits from such chemistry. His emotive capabilities are second to none and recall iconic singers of the past thanks to his penchant for singing each line in an unique way that rarely repeats itself. He really invests the individual passages with the power of his own personality. The phrasing makes such emotiveness possible for the reason mentioned at the opening of this paragraph.
Few singers today possess this sort of skill set. Shiner can dramatize these performances thanks to his own inherent musical talents and the dramatic potential derived from his training as a performer. His rendition of “Please Come Home for Christmas” is never trite or overly sentimental. Instead, it will surely impress many people who hear as perhaps one of the most deeply felt reinterpretations of standards like this that they have ever had the pleasure of hearing.