Though he launched his recording career putting his fascinating trademark sandpaper and soul vocal spin and fanciful arrangements on highly recognizable standards, the ever-evolving Allen Austin-Bishop achieved a grand breakthrough with his most recent album Why Go?
That collection included a handful of familiar songs, all rendered in his unique style, but was blissfully dominated by re-imaginings of tunes so delightfully obscure you might have thought Austin-Bishop’s versions were actually originals. The vocal interpreter takes the same approach to his infectiously engaging, warm and spirited holiday romp, simply titled Christmas, balancing fresh, seductive takes on perennials we’ve heard over and over (“River,” “The Christmas Song,” “Someday at Christmas,” and the non-holiday Disney standard “When You Wish Upon A Star”) with seven tunes that will require some intense but truly joyful Googling to source (the lone exception perhaps being John Legend’s recent ballad “By Christmas Eve,” rendered as a sensual romantic promise).
Of the well-known tunes, the most striking is Austin-Bishop’s super-hipster, bluesy Fender Rhodes adorned roll through “The Christmas Song” that will seriously have you considering replacing Nat King Cole’s version on your playlist.
While every other jazz-blues oriented artist embraces the tried and true, Austin-Bishop revels in creative deep dives and sweetly optimistic and heart-tugging renderings of songs that have long existed but probably never heard before like “All I Want For Christmas is New Year’s Day” (The Hurts), a funked up, New Orleans tinged “Perfect Christmas” (Cathy Dennis), the delightfully swinging “My First Christmas With You” (The Eligibles) and the moody reflection “New Year” (Sugarbabes).
Once you let Allen Austin-Bishop charm you, knock your socks off, etc, you’ll quickly make room for him on your holiday party playlists and have discerning in the room wondering, “Who is that incredible voice and what is that amazing song?” Besides being a true delight, this Christmas is a festive conversation starter.