David Mead: Heartache For The Holidays

In "The Smile of Rachael Ray," David Mead crafts a melancholy Christmas song with an unlikely star. i i

In "The Smile of Rachael Ray," David Mead crafts a melancholy Christmas song with an unlikely star. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist
In "The Smile of Rachael Ray," David Mead crafts a melancholy Christmas song with an unlikely star.

In "The Smile of Rachael Ray," David Mead crafts a melancholy Christmas song with an unlikely star.

Courtesy of the artist

Wednesday's Pick

Song: "The Smile of Rachael Ray"

Artist: David Mead

CD: Dudes

Genre: Pop

Mark it down: There will never be a more heartbreaking Christmas song about Rachael Ray than this one. Of course, Ray herself is a bit of a MacGuffin in David Mead's "The Smile of Rachael Ray" — the embodiment of an unattainably happy life, as seen through the eyes of a lovesick traveler on Christmas Eve — but she's also an impeccably chosen pop-culture detail, worthy of Fountains of Wayne's saddest ballads.

As Mead's warm, high tenor chronicles the mundanities of a faraway airport — the line at Hudson News, the airport bar as a rest stop for lost souls — Ray's face on a magazine cover teases a life of domestic bliss. On the page, she "never changes, never ages," while Mead attempts to smooth things out at home with a futile phone call. The weariest holiday song this side of "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "The Smile of Rachael Ray" looks at the season through the same lens: Things are supposed to be perfect this time of year, so why do they suck?

As fans of Mead's near-perfect 2004 album Indiana know, the guy possesses a remarkable knack for capturing places in song: That whole record takes a wonderfully vivid journey along Midwest turnpikes and across iconic bridges, using each place as a metaphor for where we get stuck when we most wish we were home. "The Smile of Rachael Ray" continues in that tradition. By the time Mead reaches the song's joltingly humane coda — a sad surprise, a holiday wish — he's crafted a new Christmas classic; a minor miracle worthy of the season that surrounds it.

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