Dan Blakeslee amps up the spirit on Christmas album

During the 2005 Christmas season, singer-songwriter Dan Blakeslee remembers wandering around Market Square in Portsmouth, N.H., playing tunes in the below-freezing night. Blakeslee had just come from a family gathering where he presented new song “The Christmas Homecoming” as a gift to his clan. He played the song inspired by soldiers overseas on his acoustic guitar to a quiet square then, wanting to spread a little more cheer, launched into a raucous “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
“All the sudden, three guys from different parts of the square start singing along with me,” Blakeslee said. “They could have been a construction worker, a banker and fisherman, I have no idea, but it was just so magical.”
The roots rocker, who has bounced around New England and now lives in Providence, has a soft spot for Christmas music. He readily admits he puts it on before Thanksgiving. He loves playing it and even loves writing it. Since giving “The Christmas Homecoming” to his family, the songs have kept coming. Last week, he went full Nat King Cole and released his first seasonal LP, “Christmasland Jubilee.”
“I have wanted to do this for so long and last year I couldn’t stand it, it was boiling over inside of me, and I called my studio engineer friend (Chris Chase) five days before Christmas and asked him if he had any time before Christmas and he said, ‘I have five hours,’ ” Blakeslee said. “I hopped in right away and still fully decorated his recording studio even though you can’t hear that in the recording.”
Blakeslee paused then added: “But I think you can hear it.”
“Christmasland Jubilee” has kitsch but no irony. Blakeslee skips polish for a kind of hootenanny holiday party, a sort of honkytonk jug band bash on originals such as “Mister Candy Cane” and “To Be an Elf” (the clarinet, accordion and glockenspiel touches are inspired). He picks his covers with an aficionado’s ear: “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” “We Three Kings” and “Silver Bells” come with a smile and hug. There’s even an earnest original about the dozen plus seasons he spent surrounded by the wonderfully garish decorations Somerville residents bring to their homes each December (“The Somerville Lights”).
“One of my favorite traditions every year would be spending multiple nights driving, walking or biking around town and looking at these Christmas lights, that well, you’ve never seen anything like these lights,” he said with a laugh.
It’s hard to make modern Christmas music but Blakeslee has a trick to pulling it off.
“Sincerity,” he said. “One of my top favorites is ‘Oh Holy Night’ by Nat King Cole. It can’t be touched. It’s the single most perfect recording of that song. You can sense his sincerity in his vocal delivery.”
This year is a tough one to release a Christmas album, but Blakeslee’s enthusiasm won’t be stopped. He’ll be happy to have these songs to play at holiday parties for years to come even if he only has a single December gig lined up for 2020.
“Our one album release show is at the Stone Church Music Club in Newmarket, N.H., it’s on Dec. 19, and it’s outside,” he said with a laugh. “I hope their heaters work.”

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