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Radar Reviews: Michael Tinholme – ‘It’s Christmas Time In The City’

Michael Tinholme is a Los Angeles-based singer songwriter who never got the best start in life and he has had to overcome several adversities to get to where we find him today. As a child, he suffered abuse from one of his mentally ill parents and he was constantly on the move between different cities, and he later spent six years living on the streets of California. At first, it feels strange that he’s been producing a Christmas-themed LP release that feels very joyous like the season that it portrays.

However, Tinholme has focused his efforts on recruiting a top class backing band line-up including Bruce Fowler (Frank Zappa), Mike Miller (Chick Corea, Brand X), Bill Cuncliffe (Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra) and Gary Novak (Natalie Cole) for his festive LP – ‘Christmas In The City’ – a mix of original recordings and new takes on Christmas carols that feels credible of his well-regarded standing within his localized Jazz scene. In a world full of ‘Silver Bells’ covers and a festive season that has perhaps become overly commercialized, however, it can be difficult for a new Christmas release to stay on people’s radars instead of becoming obscure. It is a pleasure, therefore, to report that the new record from Tinholme is an example of a new yuletide project that should not be missed and is worthy of your attention. He shows plenty of decent chemistry with his bandmates and controls the pace with tight precision.

Despite his difficult home-life, Tinholme caught the attention of a frequent David Bowie collaborator – Mike Garson – who recognized the broad talents of Tinholme as a songwriter and a guitarist during some live shows. Talking of live shows, Tinholme played his first professional gig when he was just twelve years old and, on the album, he continues to establish himself as a strong talent with a retro approach to composition.

This is clear on the LP’s latest single, a cover of ‘Silver Bells’, which trades the wistful horns of the original recording for a more Jazz-oriented style that evokes the ‘Joyful and Triumphant’ lyric of ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ with a bold personality. Other highlights include ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ because they show Tinholme’s thoughtful ability to comfortably let the backing band have some time to shine on their own by placing the emphasis more intently on the warm instrumentals that surround the smoky tone of his voice.

The finale, ‘Maybe Next Year’ is also notable for ending the record on a note of hope by speaking about the forgiveness that is found in common people and situations at Christmas time. ‘Happy Christmas (War Is Over)’ sees Tinholme dive wholeheartedly into Gospel influences with a radiant female backing vocal that he duets with, and, finally, the vocal samples of children playing and unwrapping joy at Christmas allows his covers of ‘Sleigh Ride’ and ‘O Holy Night’ to stand out from their original counterparts with a classic and conversational vibe that evokes the comfort of slipping into your Pyjamas and lazing around in front of your television in anticipation and relaxation of Christmas as a subtle mind-set before the day arrives.

Most of the recordings are joyous and bright, but they feel mellow and very laidback in their tone. I found that just a few of the cover tracks on the album, such as ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song’, didn’t quite expand on the originals in ways that felt quite as refreshing as others, but they fit the mood of the music well. His version of ‘Moonlight In Vermont’, for example, is pleasant but little else. Overall, I would say that I found that a few of the tracks on the album sounded a little too similar for me where, although there was nothing inherently wrong with any of them, they were a little unnecessary when compared to stronger tracks. On the other hand, the similar production styles ensures a cohesive and well-rounded LP when you take a listen throughout one sitting, and so it’s more of a constructive criticism than a real flaw of any sort, and it’s not something that is likely to bother you or bog the experience down much, if at all.

Through thoughtful production, a method of allowing his backing band to feel important in each recording and focused songwriting that is oriented towards a classic and the smoky, soulful 60’s Vegas Jazz aesthetic of his bright vocals, Michael Tinholme has created a new Christmas album that is certainly worthwhile, and most of the cover tracks feel like they are adding something quite different to their portrayals from previous recordings by other artists. A record that simply invites you to wrap up warm underneath the mistletoe and have yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Words by Jacob Braybrooke

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