Cas Haley | Gifts to Give
album review by John Powell
Cas knows reggae, folk, soul, and all with sincerity, but on this lovely Christmas EP he doesn’t strain to remake the classics to put him in the ranks of Bing and Sinatra. No, he’s just having fun, and it shines through on these five songs, which is a good number, as Christmas songs, as much as some of us love them, can get old. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has a slightly honky tonk- minus the honky tonk- vibe, with piano frills and slide guitar. Cas’ voice is perfect for this stuff, full bodied, resounding, and gleeful. “A one, a two, a one, two, three, four,” he counts the band off. It’s an excellent modern version.
“The Christmas Song” is just Cas and one microphone. It’s warm, slow, and focused on his voice. The guitar is light. On “Let it Snow” he goes jazzy, but not overwhelming. Everything is instrumentally restrained. The backing vocals, especially the oohs and aahs, make it all sound old school, which is key here, how timeless he’s made everything sound.
A gem is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, which has Cas exploring his range. When the band kicks in it’s an acoustic reggae rhythm, loaded with percussion, shakers and bongos. The layers are beautiful. It turns the song on its head and recreates a feel. It’s less about the snowy wonderland here, and more about the community energy, a vibe of togetherness.
Cas adds his own tale, “Gifts to Give”, which is an instant classic. Slightly sarcastic and full of fun, Cas has fun lyrically. “I’ll probably be a mean guy/I know I do some wrong/I won’t take down that Christmas tree.” I don’t really know what he’s getting at, but it’s done with so much playfulness, especially when he mouth fluggals a solo, that it’ll make you grin.
I know I said that five songs are just enough, but the criticism here is that there really should be more. There are so many classics that Cas could nail. I’d love to hear his “Frosty the Snowman” and his “Here Comes Santa Claus”, but what can you do? Be happy with what you have, and we have Cas giving his excellent takes on Christmas songs. Awesome.
Bottom line: You really can’t go wrong with this EP. Holiday cheer done with heart.