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October 2006 Archives

crash.jpgHaven't heard much from these alternative Canadian totems for quite a long time, and now here they come in 2002 with a Christmas album. This isn't particularly adventurous; it's all familiar carols, leavened only with the choices of "The Huron Carol" and "In the Bleak Midwinter," both in simple ballad readings by Ellen Reid. The group's odd dynamic between Reid and contra-bass vocalist Brad Roberts plays out here as always, Reid leading the more conventional sounding items like country versions of "Silent Night" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" while Roberts gets to cavort on lounge-y versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "White Christmas," along with a minor-key "Jingle Bells." The version of "The First Noel" here is similar to but a different take from the one on 1991's A Lump of Coal. Overall, enjoyable, especially if you're a Dummies fan.
buzzmeg.jpgSmithereens fans already recognize Babjak's name from the longtime Jersey pop-rock band, and this 2001 self-issued CD-R EP offers three songs Babjak wrote and recorded at home, "It's Love on Christmas Day," "Christmas Eve, Without Your Love" and "Christmas Morning." It's pop-rock just a little lighter in approach than the 'Reens, the middle song being the ballad of the three with Beatle-ish cello backing while the other two are more uptempo. "Christmas Morning," of course, was also recorded by the Smithereens. All three are worthwhile, assuming you can get a copy; it's a limited issue. Buzzed Meg also has a non-holiday CD you can look into while you're chasing this down.
actually.jpgFrom the original soundtrack to the 2003 romantic comedy "Love Actually," this re-imagining of the Troggs' "Love Is All Around" as a Christmas song figures prominently in the plot as a washed-up hard rocker's attempt to return to the charts. I'm kicking myself for not having the idea -- but don't get me wrong, this thing is 24-karat schlock through and through. Which is part of its charm, as you'll know when you see the movie. Music fans will want to see it to watch how the Brits get all gooshy about what song's going to be no. 1 during Christmas -- as I've noted elsewhere on the site, that part is based in reality. And then they'll want the song too. Turns out, in another case of art imitating life, they're actually going to release this as a single in England. Almost forgot to give props to actor Bill Nighy's terrific portrayal of aging rock star Billy Mack, not to mention his performance of the song. A slight dollop of this variety of cheese might have improved the likes of the Moody Blues' album.

"Missle Tow," Mosquitos (self-issued)

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mskitos.jpgStop by their website and download this for yourself (assuming it's still there since it first went up in 2004), a delightful Brazilian-flavored pop confection that goes all multicultural: "I wanna spend Christmas with you even though ... you're Jewish." And so it goes the other way around too, set to a catchy melody that'll bounce around your brainpan so much you'll think you're wearing an iPod when you aren't. If this kind of thing appeals to you, grab one of their regular albums while you're at it.
features.jpgWhat's with the title stealing? The Features come up with their own take on "Father Christmas" for 2004, not the Kinks original but their own. It even has a slight touch of Kinks to the melody in parts, and it's good in its own right. Another song sneaking under the holiday wire for 2004 at iTunes, it remains available for download.

Christmas 2000, Eric Alexandrakis (Y&T Music)

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alexmas.jpgThis self-issued set of Christmas rockers from the above-mentioned year is not bad at all. "All I Want For Christmas is You" is a clattery electronic shuffle with a bit of science fiction in the lyrics leading up to the simple sentiment of the refrain. "Christmas On the Moon" keeps up the sci-fi sentiment, although it could have got into the rocking part a bit earlier to suit me. "Santa Claus is Dead" is more of a novelty, good fun, and the title ends up being wrong. Alexandrakis previously released "Moon" as a single, and for 2001 he has "Here Comes the Snow!," a 3-inch CD EP with the title song, an almost Cajun fiddle and squeezebox stomp, the "karaoke" version of "All I Want," and an instrumental, "Theme From the Motion Picture Stealing Christmas," that probably works better as soundtrack; it steers into that no-Manheim-zone a bit. He also has "Have a William Shatner Christmas," a short, clattery noise that Star Trek completists will want. UPDATE: The collections are all broken up on iTunes, the only place that has this stuff, which is why all these links are posted separately.
bndaid20.jpgInspired by the continuing strife in Darfur, Sudan, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organized a 20th anniversary sequel to the original with an updated cast of current stars. On hand for the new version are Chris Martin of Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Dido, Fran Healey of Travis, vocal group Sugababes, rapper Ms. Dynamite, Joss Stone, Justin Hawkins of The Darkness, Dizzee Rascal and a bunch of other current English pop/rock stars, along with a reprise from Bono of his "thank God it's them instead of you" line, and a repeat visit from Sir Paul McCartney, who limits himself to bass this time. Thom Yorke of Radiohead is credited with piano and Damon Albarn of Blur is alleged to have "gotten tea" for everyone else. Madonna doesn't appear on the song but gives a spoken-word intro to the video, which was given a simultaneous premiere on all five of England's "terrestrial" channels, what Americans call broadcast stations as opposed to cable and satellite channels. Availability appears to be limited to Great Britain and Australia at the moment; I've been able to track down no plans for an American or worldwide release. (UPDATE: Nor did such a thing ever happen. I've linked the cover art to an Amazon page that has copies available through third-party vendors.) The CD single is scheduled to contain the original 1984 version as well as the Live Aid performance of the song. Download sales are available from the British divisions of most of the players in that business except iTunes, which originally balked at charging twice the going rate for a single song but ended up posting the song at its normal price and paying Band Aid 20 the difference out of its own pocket. As for the performance, it's not remarkably different from the original, except for the retro-70s double guitars of The Darkness in the breaks and Dizzee Rascal's raps inserted into the bridge. Of the latter, my first reaction was, "Why is Ali G on this song?" My guess is that folks will want this in proportion to how they feel about the current wave of British popsters, with a few completists mixed in who actually have the 1989 version as well as the "Live Aid" DVD.
stools.jpgCan't tell you a single thing about these guys, as they have one of the least informative websites in captivity, although there are a few laughs there anyway, which may be all that matters. UPDATE: Apparently these guys are a Boston-based parody band, with such hits as "Lay Some Pipe," "Italian Ice (Go Guido Go)" and "Drink Till You Want Me" to their credit. What we get here starts off as synthpop with attitude, a bit of rap, and some giggles. "Robert Goulet is Looped" is a comedy piece with a bad Goulet impressionist singing "Silver Bells, Christmas smells..." "Too Cold" has a bit of Beastie Boys' sound with gags separating the chorus, and it returns later as "Extra Cold." "Who's Been Naughty" demands a Christmas gift "the size of Jennifer Lopez's ..." well, you know. "Santa Copped a 'Tude" drops the synths for a Bob Dylan impression in a song about the jolly elf's travails with slacker elves and burglary charges. "It's Christmas Time Again" makes fun of the Beatles' Christmas fan club messages and "Merry Christmas" is an Elvis impersonation. Fans of blasphemy will enjoy "Come Back to the Catholics" set to "Happy Xmas," and they wrap up with a gospel tune, "On Your Knees." Parental Advisory for occasional lyrics, but otherwise pretty enjoyable. Unfortunately, this appears to be completely unavailable anywhere in the current day. And don't go by the website's discography; all those albums are made up. According to Artist Direct, they've only released this disc and Meat the Stools, both in 2000.
jowen.jpgThis Welsh-born jazz-pop singer might not have made this site under normal circumstances, but this EP has a novelty twist -- her mellow cover of "Christmas With the Devil," the mock-holiday classic by Spinal Tap. She didn't have to look too far for the inspiration to do this tune -- she's married to Tap co-creator Harry Shearer, who contributes supporting vocals. She throws in a couple of holiday originals, "The Dancing Tree" and "My Father's Voice," and covers "Silent Night" in a duet with Julia Fordham, also doing "The Christmas Song" and a fairly mannered jazz version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." The whole disc is mellow pop singing, but Owen is the real deal in terms of singing and writing talent, if you prefer the mellower sounds. But for Mistletunes regulars, the Tap cover is worth the whole disc. From 2004.
fandjback.jpgYes, Led Zeppelin fans, this is exactly what it looks like. Fleming McWilliams and John Painter have had two albums out on Universal, have played Lilith Fair and worked with Ben Folds, and are currently working out of their home studio. They posted this item on their website about 2000 along with a breathy "Carol of the Bells." The Zep homage has its lyrics tweaked a bit to match up with the season, and Fleming does a pretty good Plant impression. Unfortunately, it's long gone; maybe they'll post it again when the holidays roll around.
asylumst.jpgThe Spankers are a folky-jazz-blues conglomeration in the tradition of acts like Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks or the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and this holiday album was recorded in 2000 at venues in Houston and Austin, Texas, their stomping grounds. It's mainly stuff you've heard of, with a couple of originals, "12-25-61," a talk-sing about having your birthday be Christmas, and "Red Nosed Reindeer Blues," a clever rendering of the Rudolph tale as a 12-bar blues. They do fun versions of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," "Linus and Lucy" and "Zat You, Santa Claus." A ukulele-led version of "Blue Christmas" leads, appropriately, into "Mele Kalikimaka," and "Silent Night" is rendered as a solo on the musical saw. There are also versions of "Merry Christmas Baby," a nice duet of "Baby It's Cold Outside," plus "The Christmas Song" and "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve."

Christmas EP, Aimee Mann (Superego)

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aimeeep.jpgAimee finally came out of the Christmas closet with this brief 2005 collection I found on iTunes. It consists of fairly mellow covers of Joni Mitchell's "River," a song that fits her like an old shoe; the Mel Torme "Christmas Song" previously heard on the Q Division compilation; and last year's limited-availability cover of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," along with the instant classic from 2005's The Forgotten Arm, "I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up For Christmas." The latter features bright, funky rock band playing, cheerful melodies and a downer of a story about cleaning up and leaving a lover behind. Dark but warm, sort of like the dive bar around the corner from your apartment. (You have to get to the next and last song on Forgotten Arm to reach the somewhat happy ending.) The only thing missing is Aimee's duet with hubby Michael Penn, "Christmastime," from back in the mid-90s. The EP eventually vanished and isn't even listed at her website, although the Q Division collection remains available and "Have Yourself" was re-recorded for her eventual full holiday album One More Drifter in the Snow.
jramone.jpgThe late punk rock pioneer recorded solo after the Ramones, and this combines a couple cuts from his solo album Don't Worry About Me with a couple of Christmas songs, a full-blown version of Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" from the Phil Spector Christmas album and what his website says is a pre-Ramones demo of the Ramones' only holiday song, "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)." The demo is interesting, slow-tempoed and a little off-key occasionally; you might prefer the original for your mix tape. But if you love Joey -- and who doesn't -- you might want to have this around.
lostxmas.jpgEverything I said about these guys elsewhere on the site holds in spades -- your basic old-school progressive rock opera dressed up in holiday clothes and now turned into quite the money-making machine; two separate TSO troupes tour the USA during November and December to give you the live version of their oeuvre. This 2004 CD, their third Christmas album, has 23 cuts but it also recycles some of their older material with new performances. And if you're just coming around to these guys, all three of the holiday CDs are now available in a boxed trilogy set that also includes a DVD, "The Ghost of Christmas Eve." Oh, and for those of you still in thrall to the oft-aired "Metallica played with these guys" rumor, it's not true; the story is in the "elsewhere" link above.
lownavar.jpgThis folk-pop duo had a history of writing tunes for other artists like Pat Benatar and The Bangles before setting off to write for themselves. This album was released in 2002 (without cover art) and came back for 2003 as a complete package. Opening tune "A Song of Christmas" was on the Velvel compilation A Christmas To Remember, one original, and the other original is "The Meaning of Christmas." There is the usual bumper crop of standards like "What Child is This," "Silent Night," "Little Drummer Boy" and "Away In a Manger," but they also do a nice version of "Light of the Stable" and close with "Nar Juldagsmorgon Glimmar," the Swedish carol better known as "When Christmas Morn Is Dawning." Overall a little more folky than pop-rock by Mistletunes standards, but we're sure a lot of folks will like this just fine. UPDATE: Eric Lowen retired from performing after being diagnosed with ALS/Lou Gehrig's disease, and Dan Navarro took part in a 2010 group tour, Decembersongs, with Amy Speace, Jon Venzner and Sally Barris, from which an album resulted.
rickielee.jpgDespite the album cover thumbnail you see to the right, this isn't available on disc -- it's three songs she put up for free downloading in 2004. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is pretty straight jazz, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is done in a torch song arrangement and "O Holy Night" is a straight English folk rendition with pipes and harp. Nicely done, though a little seriously intentioned for this site, but I'm sure Rickie Lee has fans visiting this site. Currently these songs aren't available anywhere that's legit, as far as I can tell.

"A New York Christmas," Rob Thomas (Atlantic)

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robthoms.jpgThis song was released in 2002 to benefit Blythdale Children's Hospital in Westchester, N.Y. There were only radio promos and a brief window of time to download it back then. For 2003, it's a CD single, and it's still a benefit release. It's a nice uptempo contemporary rock tune a la matchbox twenty (surprise), and the verses are a bit reminiscent of "Feed the World." Thomas was also heard the same year on the title song from gospel star BeBe Winans' "My Christmas Prayer."

We Three Kings, Rev. Horton Heat (Yep Roc)

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revhortn.jpgThe rockabilly preacher delivers for the holiday on this 2005 CD, rocking up a full roster of classic carols and holiday standards. It's full pedal to the metal, letting up only for "Silver Bells" and "Pretty Paper." They didn't stretch real hard for the song selection, going with such staples as "Frosty the Snowman," "Jingle Bells," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and so on, plus rock standards like "Santa Bring My Baby Back" and "Run Run Rudolph" and the album's only original, "Santa On the Roof," about not catching Dad playing Santa. The good Rev. is known for a bit of comedy schtick when performing live, but this CD sticks to the music.
marshall.jpgSouthern rock's not one of my top favorite genres, which is probably why country from about the 1990s onward doesn't do anything for me. (Oh, you've never heard my rant about one of these being very much like the other, have you?) Marshall Tucker was one of the more radio-friendly of those bands back in its heyday 30 or so years ago, so it's not surprising this 2005 holiday effort by them covers a fairly wide swath of pop music history -- perhaps a bit too wide. Of the original tunes, "Snowfall in Georgia" uses flute to evoke the band's biggest hit, "Heard It In a Love Song." "Christmas in Carolina" is described in the liner notes as a tribute to beach music, but it's a bit more on the mild side of soulful than real beach tunes might be. "My Christmas in Custody" is a bluesy novelty and "Leave the Christmas Lights On" could easily be a ballad on country radio. The rest of the album is from the Christmas canon, "White Christmas" starting out just short of lounge music but breaking into Western swing halfway through, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is a straight pop ballad with a female vocal, "Let It Snow" and "Silent Night" are blues-based renditions, and the boys wrap things up with a spoken "Twas the Night Before Christmas." As I've said about most of the '70s rock legends who have stepped up with latter-day Christmas albums, this is more adult contemporary than rock 'n roll.

"Back Door Santa," Jet (Elektra)

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jetsanta.jpgThe "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" boys take a crack at the old soul chestnut and come off in fine fettle, although I suspect they took their cues from Bon Jovi rather than Clarence Carter on this one. Still, they did fine. Grabbed this 2004 performance on iTunes, but it since spread to Amazon (click disc jacket) and it was also on a 2008 rarities CD, import only.
nields.jpgThe duo, formerly a band called The Nields, put this sweet angst-y ballad on their 2002 album Love and China. Now that they're no longer a full band, they emphasize the folk and harmony on this reluctant ode to family and togetherness. If mellow isn't your speed, the full band back in 1994 did "Merry Christmas, Mr. Jones," more angst but with a beat, in a holiday tune addressed to a favorite former teacher on the topics of fitting in and greeting a new baby. That's from the album Bob on the Ceiling. (That one's hard to find even via the Amazon link; the band does have it for sale at their website, however.)

"Christmas," Leona Naess (Geffen)

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naess.jpgFrom her self-titled 2003 release, this acoustic number isn't strictly a holiday tune but uses Christmas as a metaphor for the gift of love. Leona is a stepchild of Diana Ross, according to her bio, but you won't find any diva moments here, just a nicely strummed tune with a string quartet backing her voice and guitar. UPDATE: This is on 2004's The O.C. Mix 3 Have a Very Merry Chrismukka collection.
swallows.jpgThis single from 2000 is by a hard-rock band from Boston, two guys and two girls, who kick off with a quote from "Carol of the Bells," a bit of Sex Pistols riffing and then into the verse, which hits lots of holiday cliches and toys with a few ("Let's put on some Perry Como or Boyz II Men"), but never quite explains who ends up having to celebrate Christmas "in the slammer." Still, it's a serious toe-tapper with lots of attitude. They seem to have completely vanished, and several other bands show up on Google with the name, but the disc is still available through CD Baby.
Bubblegum rock was considered a scourge back in the day when its practitioners ruled the Top 40 charts. That estimate has mellowed a bit with time, as some of those songs aren't all that bad in retrospect (and in small doses, I hasten to add). This isn't some overlooked minor classic from that era, however; it's a recent recording featuring two original members of the band, just out for 2007. It's mostly rock-era classics with a few originals thrown in, including the title song, which is kind of a wan carbon copy of the original band's style. That's pretty much the story of this whole disc -- it's OK from an oldies circuit standpoint, but it lacks the freshness of the original. That's understandable -- imagine what it would sound like if a 60-year-old Justin Timberlake got 'N Sync back together and went out on tour. The bubblegum bands were the boy bands of the late 60s and early 70s, and 30-year-older versions of those musicians just aren't going to sound the same. For evidence, check the non-holiday live version of the Fruitgum hit "Simon Says," and contrast to the original (if you're old enough to remember it, anyway).
alfie.jpgFrom the soundtrack to the 2004 remake of "Alfie," this is your basic big soul showstopper Christmas ballad featuring the up-and-coming singer Joss Stone, who duets with the moss-averse Mick Jagger to fabulous effect. This is, as far as we can ascertain, only the second Rolling Stones-involved Christmas song ever besides Keith Richards' "Run Rudolph Run," and it benefits further from the involvement of teenaged diva Stone. And keep yer mitts off 'er, Jagger. UPDATE: Well, Joss isn't so teenaged nowadays, and she, Jagger and Stewart, along with one of Bob Marley's kids and the music guy from the movie "Slumdog Millionaire," formed a band in 2011 called Superheavy if you're interested, no holiday tunes involved.
darkness.jpgMissed getting this 2003 holiday single onto the site in time for the holiday since I had to have it shipped over from England. If you're not familiar, The Darkness brings back the whole 70s hard rock vibe, from album art and wardrobe to stomping beats and screaming guitars. This is even produced by Bob Ezrin, who gave us Alice Cooper's biggest albums along with Lou Reed's Berlin. It's said these guys are way too subtle to make it in the United States, and I think I'd have to agree. They unashamedly steal from all the era's greats, especially Queen on this particular tune. The song itself is pretty much what you'd expect from a 70s hard rock act, which is the point, of course.

"Merry Christmas Emily," Cracker (Virgin)

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cracker.jpgFrom 2002's Forever album, promo copies actually made it on the radio for Christmas 2001 at some of the more enlightened stations around the country, all 22 of them. Cracker produced a solid, entertaining record about lost love that doesn't necessarily have to be about Christmas, but it's nice that it is. Bad word in the start of the second verse might keep this off some of our mix tapes and CDs, unfortunately. UPDATE: Collectors may want to track down those early promo copies, as they sanitized the bad word to "messed" rather than just muting or distorting it, according to the band.
This four-piece British outfit decided to put together this holiday single for 2004, a nice mid-tempo number about the Bridget Joneses among us, whether male or female. They cite Roy Wood's classic "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" as an influence, and that's not too far off. The second tune, "Please Ring," is not a Christmas number but is about the longing for that one phone call. Was only available in Old Blighty at the time I got it, and that appears to remain true. Also, the band's website is long gone and an alternate site provided by Google failed to load when I went there. Too bad, it's a good pop-rock Christmas song.
mornjack.jpgI have to admit I'm unfamiliar with these guys though I've seen their name mooted about for a few years now, but they're still a rising rock band as of 2011. Member Jim Jones is also known for his membership in Monsters of Folk and for a solo EP of George Harrison covers. This 2003 EP (excuse the outdated terminology, but that's what I'm used to calling a six-cut mini-album of this kind) only has one rocked-out tune, the Elvis Presley tune "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," and it's more of a slow shuffle. The other tunes are fairly downtempo but sincere evocations of the holiday. "I Just Wanted To Say" would be at home as part of a David Lynch Christmas special, with a tempo more easily computed with a calendar than a metronome. "New Morning," a Nick Cave tune, doesn't sound particularly Christmas oriented, though the sentiment jibes with the other songs. "Xmas Curtain" also appears on their At Dawn album, and it's a pretty cryptic musing on "criminals who never break the law." "Xmas Time Is Here Again" is more conventionally Merry Christmasy, mostly acoustic guitar with a little electric guitar picking bass notes in the background. Oh, and there's a "Bonus Track," just seven minutes of doodling over a descending figure ripped from the previous song. Took a while, but it grew on me. Found it on the now-defunct Sony Connect, although there was a short run of CDs back in the day and there's a possibility of a vinyl version for 2011.
reina.jpgHave no idea who Reina is, but she does a pretty good job singing the Spector classic over a modern dance track. That's it -- that's all there is to this, but for a lot of folks this will be enough. Another one from the iTunes store, haven't seen a physical CD version of this 2004 single anywhere.
lukather.jpgThe former guitarist for Toto and studio player with a resume the length of a metropolitan phone book comes to the Christmas season for 2003 with your basic studio-dog supersession. It's kind of in the vein of Merry Axemas and Ho Ho Hoey, only it's more a jazz-fusion thing split between vocals and instrumentals, and the liner notes are full of notations like "cool chords" and "1st take first real session 5/4, no click..." You have to get to the album's first original, five cuts in, called "Broken Heart for Christmas," before you get to anything that's more like rock. Still, a lot of folks like this kind of thing, especially when done by brand-name musicians like Lukather, Edgar Winter, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Larry Carlton and Sammy Davis Jr. Yes, Sammy; they rack up his version of "Jingle Bells" and lay a contemporary sheen over it. The other original, "Look Out For Angels," is a midtempo rocker with a musical debt to Steely Dan, though not so much lyrically. The album kicks off with "Joy to the World" in a fast jazz shuffle, goes into a workout on "Greensleeves" and includes a "Carol of the Bells" that has a bit of that TSO crunch. "Winter Wonderland" is a swing rendition with Edgar Winter on vocals, and the album tapers off with slower fare like "Silent Night" and a plain guitar version of "The Christmas Song."

"Let It Snow," Magnet (Filter)

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magnet.jpgThis one-man band from Norway named Even Johansen throws a decidedly 2005 approach into this Christmas standard, crooning over a mash-up backing track. Not for everyone, but I got a kick out of it. Found it on iTunes in 2005, but it doesn't appear to be currently available except on a Norway-only EP called Minus. So we'll turn it over to YouTube to get the man's official "video," which is really an "audio" as you'll notice.

Blondfire Holiday EP, Blondfire (Wax Divine)

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blondfir.jpgThis 2005 collection is an iTunes exclusive from the band formerly known as Astaire, Brazilian-American siblings Bruce and Erica Driscoll. Two piano ballads, "It's Been Christmas Here" and "Where's the Cheer," are fine pop songcraft if a little sedate, while "Underneath the Mistletoe" has a little more rhythm to it. Don't know if this is typical of their oeuvre or a little more hearth-friendly in keeping with the season, but this EP bodes well for the group in the other months of the year. There's also a demo of "Baby Blue," a non-holiday song, included with the full download.
podsafe.jpgThis 2005 Christmas single combines performers from nine countries in a "We Are the World" -- "Do They Know It's Christmastime" endeavor, organized by podcasting poobah and former MTV VJ Adam Curry, that will donate all the funds from the 99-cent download to UNICEF. It's a decent song, well performed, with big-platitude lyrics, pop-radio-friendly done in a familiar style, but I don't see any reason other than exposure that this couldn't become a holiday standard over time. No doubt the fact that none of the folks on this record could earn an Entertainment Weekly feature on their own will have more to do with this song's ultimate chart placing than anything else. The purchase link takes you through PayPal, by the way.

"Secret Satan," Karkis (Roadkill Supper)

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karkis.jpgFrom the album Choking on the Bon Mot comes this hysterical bit of heavy metal riffing on the popular "secret Santa" tradition. Stop by their website, where it will stream the song and video right to you. One can never tell whether the Spinal Tap principle applies to bands of this genre, but I took it at face value and got quite a kick out of it. UPDATE: This was a complete goof by an ad agency, but it's still funny. They even went to the trouble of creating a MySpace page. Needless to say, there's no album, but there is a video, which can't be embedded but can be watched here.

Brand New Year, SHeDAISY (Lyric Street)

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shedaisy.jpgHaving been knocked out by "Santa's Got a Brand New Bag" from this album and the Santa Clause 2 soundtrack, I figured I needed to take a closer look at the entire 2000 holiday CD by the Osborn sisters despite the general ban on country music this site maintains. No trepidation involved -- country cues are as rare on this album as dreydls in Baghdad. An occasional close three-part harmony here, a twangy guitar there, a touch of yodel in the solo singing, but finding them is like playing musical "Where's Waldo." As close to country as they get -- what passes for country today, anyway -- is their version of Sammy Cahn's "The Secret of Christmas," which should tell you something right there, especially since the co-performance of "Twist of the Magi" with Rascal Flatts, which you would think had its country bonafides in order, is such an overworked piece of Broadway kitsch. Whoops, overlooked the a capella version of "How Can I Keep From Singing" hidden after the title song; now that's country gospel. About "Brand New Year (My Revolution)," co-written with Richard Marx: it's a not-bad New Year's song, but it sounds more like 80s Los Angeles corporate pop than modern-day Nashville. The CD kicks off with a solid rock-pop "Deck the Halls" and there's a Celtic take on "Jingle Bells" that builds into a rocked-out finish. "Really Scary Intro" is a cute Halloween touch going into "Tinseltown," an original tune that evokes "Strawberry Fields Forever." "Sleigh Ride" is kind of funky with country-sounding vocals, and the rest is various flavors of pop of the sort that got Shania Twain's Grand Ole Opry membership card pulled. I can't honestly recommend this whole CD to rock fans, but I can't deny it has its moments.

Winter Weezerland EP, Weezer (Geffen)

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weezer.jpgThe two songs here, "Christmas Song" and "Christmas Celebration," have apparently been widely distributed as free downloads for several seasons now, so some of the more rabid fans of the band are offended that they've posted them at iTunes for sale and taken down the free links for 2005. I find it's a question of act now or forever hold your peace. Those who have 'em free don't have to buy them. Meanwhile, you'll find these two original tunes right in step if you remember the band from its big hit "Buddy Holly." UPDATE: These songs have disappeared from iTunes and appear to be unavailable unless you track them down from some unofficial provider. Those who want eggnog with their Weezer will have to grab their other Christmas EP.

Camp Holiday, Martin Sexton (Kitchen Table)

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I'm not all that familiar with Sexton, but the customer reviews at iTunes were mostly adulatory for him, if not necessarily for this 2005 CD. The buyers seemed to regard it as a holding action while he puts together another album of original material. This is your basic acoustic singer-songwriter approach to a CD full of classic carols leavened with a few pop classics, no surprises in song selection, and not much in tempo either. The one original tune, "Welcome to the Camp," at least throws a funky acoustic beat into the mix. Too mellow for my taste, but if there were more performances like "Welcome to the Camp" we might have had something here. The CD will make a contribution to Camp Sunshine for children with life-threatening illnesses, by the way.
frickina.jpgAmenable folks these Frickin' As are, as all you have to do is go to the home page, wait a bit and the song will come rockin' out of your speakers. UPDATE: Not any more. Props to Martin Johns for pointing this out to the site. He thinks it's from 2004, and I tend to agree since the flip side of this sucker is a "World Champion Red Sox" version of the same song. Hard rocker with good melody and hook and great lyrics ("My cousin Ashlee, her singing really sucks/ Blames it on her drummer and acid reflux.") Give these guys a tumble, grab both versions from Amazon on the album Jesse's Girl, even you Yankees fans.
jewclarity.jpgRewritten entry. Originally known as an "emo" band (does anybody even remember that genre anymore?), the band has a few Christmas entries. "Christmas Card" softpedals the connection to Christmas, in the reference to a "card postmark Dec. 23." Another song for the holiday by the group is "12/23/95," again keeping the holiday at two days' distance. Both songs were on Alternative Rock Xmas as well as the expanded version of the band's Clarity album, and "12/23/95" was on Nettwerk's Maybe This Christmas. Another JEW holiday entry has its own separate listing.
evilbevr.jpgEvil Beaver was a female bass 'n drums hard rock duo composed of Evie Beaver and Laura Ann Beaver. The Chicago band fooled me with their title, leading me to expect a Nirvana parody, but they just riffed on the title with what sounds like their own original tune. Or tunes: there's the CD's title song, and then there's another song called just "Smells Like Christmas Spirit," the latter a speedy bit of fuzzed-up thrash giving Santa a Christmas list, the former a bit more about togetherness of the season with a little more rhythmic variety. The rest of this short collection from 2001 is covers. "Feliz Navidad" is poppy with just a little thrash on the bridge, "Christmas In Hollis" is a not-bad version of Run-DMC's tune, and they take a semi-funky crack at James Brown with "Soulful Christmas." "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" is kind of military-marchy, and they attempt an Elvis impression on "Santa Claus is Back in Town," although the latter has a bit of a problem keeping the augmented lineup (piano and harmonica) playing in the same key. Somebody does a brief Marilyn Monroe impression with "HBJC," or "Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus." And for no apparent reason, they close with their version of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." UPDATE: Evil Beaver underwent a painful breakup sometime after this CD was made, with Laura getting the boot and Evie becoming Evil, but this disc remains available on the band's website as Evil Beaver Punk Rock Xmas.
jimeat2.jpgA peculiar couplet kicks off this dirge-like 2004 holiday tune: "If you were born today/They'd kill you by age eight." UPDATE: Bob Bailey points out this is a cover of the Low tune. This five-minute number mixes Christmas sentiments and suggestions of atonement. Following this is what sounds like a fresh attempt at their previous cover of Wham's "Last Christmas," a poppy acoustic romp through the tune. This single is called Christmas EP at iTunes, the only place that seems to have it. "Last Christmas" also appeared on The OC Mix 3 Have a Very Merry Chrismukkah, and was on a single of its own before this EP came out. These guys apparently seem to like doing Christmas tunes, as we've noted before.

"Jukebox Christmas," KAL (Marmalade)

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Jukebox.jpgKAL's a New Yorker and MySpacer who plays acoustic sets in coffeehouses and a little classical piano on the side, but when he goes to the recording studio he likes his backing nice and old-school soulful, as a quick run through the selections of songs on his page will affirm. This 2007 song is a nice mid-tempo ode to the holiday, and it's easily downloaded. Speaking of MySpace, Ingrid Michaelson is signed in as one of KAL's friends.
mcgarigl.jpgI'd been a bit wary of this 2005 release, as too-authentic folk and sacred music take us too far away from our strengths here at Mistletunes. This despite the presence of Rufus and Martha Wainwright and Teddy Thompson, though Martha does bring along a bit of rock 'n roll here, her own "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year." She also shares the lead vocal on a poppy version of Jackson Browne's "Rebel Jesus." Rufus' "Spotlight on Christmas" is another mid-tempo rocker, but the rest will go down much better among folks who treasure the antique touches at Christmas. As you might have noticed elsewhere on the site, Rufus and Martha's songs are available on other holiday compilations, notably the Nettwerk ones.

December, The Moody Blues (Universal)

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moodyblu.jpgAlthough a British invasion band, the Moodies didn't hit their stride until they discovered orchestras with Days of Future Past, and then they went on to be one of the more popular progressive acts of the 1970s. They've remained active into the current day, even scoring a hit in the late 80s ("Your Wildest Dreams"), but they've really only gotten more mellow over time. So this 2003 CD is far more pop than rock, putting it pretty much out of the question for younger listeners and more into that Baby Boomer demographic. They get credit for putting together some originals, like "Don't Need a Reindeer," "December Snow" and "On This Christmas Day," and they cover "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," "White Christmas" and "In the Bleak Midwinter," also adding lyrics to a Bach melody on "The Quiet of Christmas Morning." But this is far more easy listening than rock.
casioton.jpgFrom their 2003 album Etiquette, this is your basic lo-fi dirge for someone not getting the Christmas spirit, heavy on the cheap-sounding chimes and electronic pianos, rather like the inexpensive keyboards featured in the band's name. On the same album, they also do "New Year's Kiss," more of the same with a little more beat to it, about year-end infidelity. For those who like to underline the angst at the holidays. UPDATE: They also contributed "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" to a charity compilation, Peace On Earth.

"Family Christmas," Lizzie West (Warner Bros.)

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lizzwest.jpgThis impressionistic take on family memories at the holiday over a generation is nicely done, based on a midtempo shuffle accented with strings. It's on an EP called West from 2002, which probably isn't available anymore since Lizzie left her label for the wonderful world of self-published music following her accusations of label censorship for her political views. Since then Lizzie joined up with a guy named Baba and they've become a kid-music duo complete with kid of their own. UPDATE: West is downloadable, so click the cover art and grab it.
jethtull.jpgThe often-maligned progressive rock act of the 1970s never actually went away, continuing to record straight through any number of pop music fads. And this is a good time to note this site has been remiss in not noting the group has actually had a number of holiday tunes over time - "Christmas Song" from Living in the Past, "Ring Out Solstice Bells" from Songs for the Wood, "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow" from an 80s single B-side, and "Another Christmas Song" from the 90s album Rock Island. UPDATE: Tom Rombouts notes a performance of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" on the 1978 live album Bursting Out. All of these tunes are on this newly recorded 2003 album, along with the Bach instrumental "Bouree," first played by the group on the album Stand Up. On the other hand, these guys have kept their rock influences at arm's length for quite a while now, and there's very little on this album for rock fans. It's mostly classically oriented pop, a lot of guitar/flute instrumentals with some vocals and a little jazz thrown in from time to time - other than those jazz flourishes, this album wouldn't sound out of place as the background music for a colonial Christmas tableaux in Williamsburg, Va. The 16 tunes include those mentioned above, along with a sprinkling of new originals and a few classics like "Greensleeves," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "We Five Kings" (poetic license there, but it's the same song) and "Holly Herald," a medley of "Holly and the Ivy" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." The album was re-released for 2004 in a deluxe package that includes a DVD. Both versions appear to be out of print, but Amazon continues to offer downloads.
jcyoung.jpgThe former sparkplug of the Youngbloods, makers of hippy anthem "Get Together" back in the late 1960s, Young may be as well known today for the kona coffee grown on his farm in Hawaii. Nothing against his solo work, mind you. The holiday CD was originally put out in 2002 and has been reissued for 2004. No surprises, no original tunes, just a dozen mostly Christmas standards in his mellow pop-folk style. A little walking jazz on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," a syncopated take on "White Christmas," but no revelatory arrangements. On the other hand, there's no attempt to hoke things up with jingle bells or anything other than a bit of violin or string quartet on a few songs. Too seriously intentioned for my taste, but coffee gourmets might want to order this directly from his site and get some of that fresh-ground java with it.
flamlips2.jpgPreviously represented by a couple of hard-to-find versions of "White Christmas," not to mention "Christmas at the Zoo," the Lips whip out their Sharpies and give us another original Christmas tune on their 2003 EP Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell. It's a winner, slightly dirge-y in a similar way to David Bowie's "Heroes" but with chimes, tambourines and jangly piano instead of Robert Fripp's guitar to carry it along. The highly optimistic lyrics could put it into contention with "Happy Xmas" as a future holiday staple.

Season's Greetings From moe, moe (Fatboy)

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moe.jpgLiner notes indicate moe's bass player is a Christmas-aholic, so much so that he conned the boys into whipping out this Christmas album in September 2002. They mostly revisit classics but they manage two originals, "Together At Christmas," a mid-tempo rocker that is radio-ready whether anybody actually plays it or not, and "Home," a nice piano ballad. They do a countrified "Blue Christmas," rock out "We're a Couple of Misfits" from the iconic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" TV show, medley "Silent Night" into "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire" with an arrangement that builds to a nice solid climax, and attempt, successfully, the only rock-band arrangement of "Linus and Lucy" from the original "A Charlie Brown Christmas" that I'm aware of. A nicely rockabillied "Jingle Bells" and a portentious "Little Drummer Boy" round out the set. Hanukkah alert: a semi-spaghetti Western version of "Oh Hanukkah." Kudos to a solid rock 'n roll Christmas effort; they manage to keep up the rock attitude even though some songs don't really lend themselves to the treatment.

Christmas Lights, Martha's Trouble (Aisling)

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martha.jpgThis holiday EP came out in Canada in 2002 and is being marketed in the U.S. for the first time in 2004. Martha's Trouble is a folky duo, Jen and Rob Slocum, who split their time between Ontario and Alabama (talk about your red state/blue state dichotomy) performing what is essentially folk music, lots of fingerpicked guitar and occasional touches of violin, although they also have full band accompaniment on this short CD. "Christmas Song" is their own midtempo original and the only such among the six tunes, the rest of which are standards including "Silent Night," a syncopated "Little Drummer Boy," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." More folk than pop, and a bit mellow for this site, but Jen Slocum is an excellent singer, and you Roches fans will probably go for this. UPDATE: They took a second bite at the Christmas apple later, see separate entry.
joyelect.jpgThis synth-pop act from California is apparently Ronnie Martin's one-man band, judging by credits and CD artwork. Joy Electric was previously featured on the BEC compilations Happy Christmas Vol. 1 and 2, and both the songs from those two CDs, "Winter Wonderland" and "Lollypop Parade (On Christmas Morn)," are on this 2003 album. This has an early 80s vibe, in terms of electro-pop; it has the sound of Depeche Mode in their early, cheap-synth phase, more so than their later, dour pop star incarnation. Even on a minor-key song like "What Child Is This," JE has a rather cheerful sound, and the choice of tunes plays to this quality. The bouncy "Lollypop Parade" is the only original here; all the rest of the tunes are standards and traditional carols like "Angels We Have Heard," "Deck the Halls," "Frosty the Snowman" and so on. This is a short album, but a good one.
vallywin.jpgThis one kind of treads the line as to whether it's really a Christmas song, but the chorus is irresistible and it's more holiday-oriented to my ears than "My Favorite Things," so a Christmas song it is. We've celebrated many relationship songs here in which the Christmas reference is secondary, so this could go along with those. The Waynes are already on record with "I Want an Alien for Christmas," a more overt and fun holiday song, and this is from their 2003 album Welcome Interstate Travelers, which also includes their big hit "Stacy's Mom."
bigvoodo.jpgMore big band swing mixed with rockabilly, in the vein of the Brian Setzer Orchestra, and therefore it suffers a bit from arriving two seasons later in 2004. I wouldn't recommend this to hard-core rockers, but more open-minded folks and fans of dancing cheek-to-cheek will likely go for this. Give them credit for a couple of smart covers, "Mr. Heatmiser" from the TV chestnut "Night Without a Santa Claus" and "A Party for Santa Claus," the Lord Nelson calypso classic. Not to mention "Zat You, Santa Claus," the Louis Armstrong song. "Jingle Bells" appears twice as an instrumental, one as a cha-cha and the other a little faster. Originals include "Rockabilly Christmas, "Last Night (I Went Out With Santa)" and "Christmastime in Tinsel Town." UPDATE: Completing the historical record, the band dipped their toe into the holidays much earlier, in 1997, with the EP Whatchu' Want for Christmas? It featured three of the songs from this album plus three non-holiday tunes. Currently only available at collector prices.
crikey.jpgThis bit of festive semi-punk thrash with the edges ground off just a tad comes from a local London, England band that is looking to snag a recording contract by billing themselves as the "Kings of Broadband Rock." No, I don't know what it means, but I say whatever works. These middle-aged guys know how to have fun, and you'll probably appreciate this 2003 tune if you manage to get a hold of it, as it's not for sale anywhere. You can play it from the website, however. They sent me a demo with four non-holiday songs and this on it, fastened inside a Christmas card. If you found this by Googling for "Crocodile Hunter," this has nothing to do with that.
hawksley.jpgA California correspondent, Vicki Pasek, put me onto this 2002 CD, and I have to say it wasn't what I expected. I was under the impression that Workman was some kind of Gordon Lightfoot-come-lately, but it turns out this guy has great pop and rock sensibilities along with a quirky way of looking at things -- take "Learn How to Knit," a ballad about that very topic as a way of making Christmas presents. "First Snow of the Year" is a sprightly rocker that romanticizes what will eventually be a seasonal nuisance. "Merry Christmas (I Love You)" is a 9/11 homage to a lover who may or may not still be among us, then the singer decides to just succumb to a holiday "Common Cold." "Three Generations" is a fun faux-polka about families taking pictures of each other on Christmas. The title song loses the Christmas plot a little, but it's still a nice love story, and "Watching the Fire" is in a similar vein. A fairly conventional "Silent Night" wraps the album. This is good enough to encourage listeners to seek out Workman's other CDs. The album art links to Amazon, but it's only available through third party sellers there, as it has always been a Canada-only release. Here's a link to a Canadian seller, which is for a reissue with two additional songs. It's also on Canadian iTunes.
walkmen.jpgOriginally just a download from the band's website, this late 2004 song remains available from iTunes when you buy the single of "Little House of Savages." (Click the album art to go there.) It's bracketed with spoken-word holiday sentiments and jingle bells, then it goes into a medium shuffle with a duet vocal reminiscent of the old Nuggets days -- or the latter-day garage movement, whichever you remember better. They like their wine in this song, too. On their Bows and Arrows album, they have two songs, "No Christmas While I'm Talking" and "New Year's Eve," neither of which appear to be holiday related as near as I can hear. UPDATE: 2008's You and Me album features "In the New Year," which is a bit more overt of a holiday song.
thorogd2.jpgNot sure folks were really waiting with baited breath for an original blues tune called "Merry Christmas Baby," considering there's a classic tune with the same title. This 2004 single makes me think of what a blues artist would sound like if he played Branson, Mo. three shows a night. George knows better than this -- see here.
SiLeag.jpgThese New York City pop-rockers made their version of the Vince Guaraldi-Peanuts classic a free download for 2004. They stuck with the ballad tempo for it, though they noise it up a bit toward the end. Gotta say this isn't representative of their regular work, but hey, it's free for now. UPDATE: Not so much anymore. Not available for sale, not showing up on their website. Feel free to comment if you track down a legit source for a copy.
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