Christmas time is the season for giving, and it's also the time of year that your favourite bands let you down by releasing naff, phoned-in covers of festive songs, often in an ironic manner, as a special free gift to say thank you to their fans. As a music fan, I generally choose to ironically reply with a "yeah, thanks, thanks a bunch", and get halfway through the track before putting something decent on instead. But that's enough of my internal Scrooge making himself known though, because the prolific Paul Cook & The Chronicles really do know how to treat their fans. If you nip over to their Bandcamp page you can download a brace of original Christmas tracks - the delightfully tender 'Mine For Christmas' (a song that some fans may already be familiar with) and also 'Wood On The Fire' which is more upbeat, turning the whole coming home for Christmas theme that's so common with seasonal tunes on its head, and telling the tale of someone leaving on Christmas day. Don't wait around though, as this freebee is only available until the end of December.
Anyhoo... better still is a non-festive set which is also yours for buckshee. The 'Night Fires EP' is a prime example of Cook's approach to being a singer-songwriter but not sounding just like every other bloke with a guitar that's doing the rounds. The title-track is beautifully optimistic and is one of those songs that will leave you cock-eared like a spaniel listening for his master's voice as it quietly tells you with a wide-eyed innocence that "If you open your eyes, let the light in, we'll set the night on fire". 'Only Love Pt. 2' is the perfect vehicle for Cook's lovelorn voice, but also has a positive outcome unlike the tales of heartbreak and what might have been that permeate his back catalogue. The equally unhurried and pretty 'Equal Amounts' features guest vocals by Alexia from The High Wire and manages to shine bright with a youthful fragility. If you need a break from rooms full of noisy family members, the rush of the Boxing Day sales (which seem to last about a month) or the hectic schedule of sports and TV specials, as every company under the sun tries to wring every last penny out of you, then these songs should be just the tonic.