New Releases: Palmeri, Belle-Skinner revisit spirits of Christmases past

The door hardly closed on November before artists lent their voices to the upcoming holiday season, namely Vince Palmeri and Belle-Skinner.

Vince Palmeri: ‘Last Christmas’
Vince Palmeri emerged on the scene promising to make pop great again in 2019. On Thanksgiving, he dusted off a beloved pop holiday track and honored that promise.

Palmeri recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. He’s following in the footsteps of Max Martin, the songwriter behind hits made popular by Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and more. Drawing inspiration from the bold, hook-laden vibes, Palmeri crafts emotionally charged, high-octane tunes that defy easy categorization.

Photo: Vince Palmeri

He often weaves threads from pop, dance and rock to concoct a sound that stands apart from the current airwave offerings. Eclecticism defines his musical portfolio, with a range that forms the cornerstone of his artistic identity. Take a spin through his Spotify repertoire and you’ll encounter “Infatuation” and “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” infectious club-ready anthems that command attention from the inaugural beat. Yet nestled among these upbeat grooves are introspective ballads such as “3:32” and “Scar Tissue,” revealing a more vulnerable and intricate side of the artist.

Palmeri teased his cover of the Wham! holiday hit “Last Christmas” on social media last week, posing the question: What if this [synth-pop song] was pop/rock? The upstate native answered himself, dropping a track with a cranked-up tempo last week that is still just as danceable as the original.

“Last Christmas” was a pearl on a string of several hits for George Michael’s Wham! in 1984. The song has kept its legs since then, circulating on the radio each holiday season with other stars, including Taylor Swift, breathing new life into it.

Wham! released the original holiday song as a single in December 1984 as a follow-up to “Freedom” and “Careless Whisper.” It ultimately topped the UK singles chart two years ago.

Belle-Skinner: ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter’
Maria Brosgol’s captivating presence transcends the small stage. After a recent show at the Hollow Bar + Kitchen in Albany, promoter Greg Bell said she could play The Met.

The compliment is hardly far-fetched.

Best known as Belle-Skinner, her electric guitar and songbird voice draw the superlatives. She is just as likely to ease you into a century-old poem as she is a lullaby depicting murderous mermaids. Her solo act nearly earned an opening set at PearlPalooza in a 2019 battle of the bands. She finished as a finalist with the time slot bestowed to a seven-piece funk band.

Earlier this week, Brogsol dropped a Christmas-themed track fans of “Peaky Blinders” will recognize.
“In the Bleak Mid-Winter” was originally penned as a poem, but composer Harold Drake spun the words into a popular musical in 1909. His somber words were said to be recited later on the battlefield by English soldiers in World War I, a tidbit of history repurposed for the television series. Thomas Shelby, the show’s protagonist portrayed by Cillian Murphy, recalled the words whenever he faced dire situations. Murphy’s character explained with an anecdote from his war experience: Trapped behind enemy lines, without ammunition and a means to escape, he and his troops faced capture and death at the hands of the enemy. The bittersweet melody served to soothe them in the hours as they waited.

But when the enemy didn’t arrive, the event would instill the understanding that every minute lived was a gift.

“I liked this song the moment I discovered it,” Brosgol said, “because unlike most Christmas carols I know, which tend to be joyful and upbeat, this one is rather poignant, almost heartbreaking — but it’s also hopeful. This time of year can be really hard for a lot of people and songs like this can be a comfort in a way.”

Simplemachine: ‘Ones and Zeros’
Earlier in November, Simplemachine turned the malady of social media discourse into a theatrical show tune in “Ones and Zeros.”

David Tyo and John Durden placed a call for artists back in September to help lend a voice. Nearly two dozen responded, Tyo later shared, producing a wonderfully crafted song that parodies the modern pastime of online trolling.

Tyo wears multiple hats in the music industry, excelling as a mixing engineer, producer and songwriter.

His expertise extends beyond the studio with a notable contribution to the world of television. In addition to his work mixing and producing bands, he and Durden frequently team to produce commercial radio parodies and other collaborations that range from the serious to the absurd.

“Ones and Zeros” hits the mark on what sounds like a well-polished Broadway musical score for a modern-day comedy.

Michael Hallisey is a Nippertown contributor.

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