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February 2008 Archives

Oy To the World, The Klezmonauts (Satire)

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OyWorld.jpgThis band offers a sort of reverse-Hanukkah alert, in that klezmer music is a Yiddish folk form yet almost all the songs on this 1998 album are standard Christmas carols in klezmer style. "Deck the Halls," "Jingle Bells," "We Three Kings," the title carol, "Little Drummer Boy," and so on. One novelty tune appears here, "Santa Gey Gesunderheit," the only vocal, in which a Jewish haberdasher marvels at a certain North Pole's resident's ability to execute his Christmas Eve route. A one-joke album, handicapped further by the fact that The Three Weissmen executed funnier versions of "Deck" and "Jingle" in the same vein on the long-out-of-print Blame It On Christmas. Nevertheless, this has its charms, in that it's an original idea nobody else appears to have tried.
hungryhn.jpgWe've told the Hungry For Music story elsewhere, and it all applies here to their 2004 collection of Hanukkah-related tunes. Traditional Yiddish folk songs line up here among a fair number of originals, covering a wide range of styles from actual klezmer to jazz, blues and rock. The Alexander Kleztet keep it real with three traditional selections, Lox and Vodka repurpose the old gospel tune "This Little Light of Mine" into "These Chanukah Lights are a Sign," the Jew-Bop All Stars jazz up "I Have a Little Dreydl," and the Hip Hop Hoodios syncopate "Ocho Kandelikas" with a bit of rock crunch in the middle. Honky Tonk Confidential give us "Honky Tonk Hanukkah," but it's more of a waltz, followed by Evan Johns and Dr. Louie's bluesy "Feel the Holiday Cheer." Chuck Brodsky's "On Christmas I Got Nothing" features a Dylan impression, and then Mark Novak aka MC Macabee gives us the hip-hop "If You're a Macabee (Then You're a Hammer)," and Mikhail Horowitz and Gilles Malkine bring it all back home with the comedic "Hebrew Blues." George Winston throws in a harmonica solo, "Variations on Rebbe Elimelech." This collection treads a fine line between observant and irreverent, so it may be too serious for some of you folks out there, but it's pretty good listening no matter what religion you are.
feslight.jpgThis 1999 compilation was the second of two albums composed to put a contemporary spin on Hanukkah music. Some of the songs are traditional, others are originals written in the spirit of the holiday. Contemporary and stately is definitely the order of the day; the only break in the mood comes from They Might Be Giants' "Feast of Lights," with its toy piano, rock beat and gentle satire of Jewishness: "You never write, you never call..." Check it out below. Serious stuff from such artists as David Koz, Robin Holcomb, Peter Himmelman, The Klezmatics with Chana Alberstein, Wayne Horvitz, Continuo, Neshama Carlebach and others. The first volume in this series is similar and featured Jane Siberry, Marc Cohn, The Covenant, David Torn, Frank London and John Leventhal. On that one, the only pop-rock move comes from "Lighting Up the World" by Peter Himmelman and David Broza. Overall, a little serious for Mistletunes' purposes, but good for folks who want a more modern sound to their Hanukkah celebrations.

A delightful Hanukkah Alert we have here for 2005, a punk rocker for those who would be glad "if Rudolph were a Maccabee." It's a download from this Seattle-based pop-rock singer-songwriter and parodist's website. If you like the song, pick up one of her mugs with the song title on it. (While the title is censored, the song most assuredly is not.) UPDATE: There's a video of it now.

Christmas Jews, 2 Live Jews (Kosher)

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livejews.jpgThis comedy duo has been doing the same Jewish-stereotype parody schtick for years, ever since they took off on 2 Live Crew with "As Kosher As You Wanna Be." From 1998, this is their fourth album, keyed in on the holidays (Christmas and Hanukkah, of course), and they jam it full of parodies like "Happy Chanukah" set to the tune of "Feliz Navidad," "Bagel Rock" instead of "Jingle Bell Rock" and "New False Teeth" based on "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth." You'll probably be able to connect the dots yourself on most of them: "Walking On Miami Beach Sand," "Deck the Broad," "Twelve Days on South Beach" and so on. Note the album begins with "The Jewish Follies Christmas Megamix," which is a medley of numerous cuts from the album and may be all you need.
chutzpah.jpgThis 2005 album isn't dedicated to Hanukkah -- it covers a lot of Jewish ground while parodying the conventions of rap and hip-hop. But Master Tav, Jewdah, Dr. Dreck, MC Meshugenah and the boys do give us "Chanukah's Da Bomb," an entertaining rap that gives us the "Menorah-ty Report" on the holiday. If this is enough for you, you can download just the track from iTunes. Other great song titles that can apply, or not, as you see fit, include "Da Lost Tribe," "Shiksa Goddess," "Tsuris," "Super Jew" and "The Shtetl," or as they sing it here, "the funky, funky Shtetl." You might miss the fact that Dr. Dreck is portrayed by George Segal, but it should be more obvious on the DVD version of this, "Chutzpah This Is?," in which he's joined by Gary Oldman, Debi Mazar, Viv Campbell of Def Leppard and Sharon Osbourne. Check out the holiday song here:

Hanukkah Rocks, The LeeVees (Reprise)

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leevees.jpgThe LeeVees are the brainchild of Guster's Adam Gardner and the Zambonis' Dave Schneider. The fact that they're opening for Barenaked Ladies on dates in December tells me everything I need to know about them. The BNLs treated us to a Christmas CD in 2004 leavened with a few Hanukkah tunes, and now for 2005 these guys give us the full pop-rock treatment for the Yiddish observance, no Christmas allowed. Happily, they dispense with any pretense at authenticity in favor of social commentary and lots of humor. You'll want to buy this just after reading the song titles: "At the Timeshare," "Goyim Friends," "How Do You Spell Channukkahh?," "Gelt Melts," "Kugel" and "Jewish Girls (At the Matzoh Ball)." And you'll be right -- the tunes all live up to the titles. UPDATE: There's a downloadable EP based around "How Do You Spell Channukkahh?" with some alternate versions of the songs from the album. Here's a live version of that song:

poppas2.jpgNothing hard about this 2006 album, the title says it all. "Hanukkah (Say It Loud, Sing It Proud)" starts the show in a standard Seventies rock groove, then there's more of the same in the title song ("There's Ed Shapiro/He plays guitar like a rockin' hero)." "Hanukkah Is Right Around the Bend" is a ballad backed with chiming synth and shakers, and then "Burning Flame," an ode to menorahs and their meaning, shifts between country and rock. "Oy Veh Blues" takes a Jewish approach to the three-chord musical style, and the whole thing wraps up with "Rededication." Overall, a workmanlike approach that will appeal to folks who want something a little different for Hanukkah.

klezmatc.jpgThis could easily be the subject of one of those "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" quizzes in which they tell three unlikely stories and you have to pick which one would be true. And I guarantee you, only Guthrie scholars would have gotten this one right -- that Woody wrote an album's worth of Hanukkah tunes during his lifetime. The Klezmatics were granted access to his notebooks to ferret these tunes out and add music to them (except for "The Many and the Few" and "Hanuka Dance," which Woody wrote in total) in the vein of the fine Wilco/Billy Bragg Mermaid Avenue discs. Woody didn't go all Sufjan Stevens on the holiday mind you, so the disc is fattened up with originals like "Gilad and Ziv's Sirba," "(Do the) Latke Flip-Flip," "Groovy's Freylekhs," and "Spin Dreydl Spin." Not exactly rock 'n roll, I'll grant you, but klezmer is perfectly fine party music, after all.
outaclay.jpgI'm embarrassed to have not caught up with this 1999 album until recently. The backstory to this Hanukkah Alert is that a then-16-year-old Shirley Braha compiled this grouping of 20 original performances of indie-pop-rock odes to the Jewish holiday. There's kind of an amateur touch to a lot of performances, but a lot of folks will consider that a feature rather than a bug, as they say in the software biz, as the garage pop ethos rules here. It starts out promisingly with "Verhanukkah," a parody of Elvis Costello's "Veronica" by Kisswhistle, and "Menorah Mall" by Winterbrief, a slap at the commericialization of the holiday that repurposes the "12 Days" into eight. And who wouldn't want to spend "Hanukkah in Brazil" with Jumprope, complete with the mellow syncopation of this tune? Josh Bloom gives us a kind of Jonathan Richman/Rubinoos take on "Hanukkah Night," while the Casino Ashtrays' "The Relatives Song" takes on a universal situation from the Hanukkah standpoint. Chariots of Tuna give "I Found Me" a cool Nuggets treatment, while Metronome tries to bridge the religious gap for his "Hanukkah Girl." And even though it barely fits the theme, Bruce fans will want The Teacups' "Max Weinberg," about the E Street drummer and Conan O'Brien bandleader, not to mention The Rosenbergs' "Puff Daddy Isn't Kosher." Great fun for everyone, but unfortunately, Shirley warns us there are but a few fresh copies left of this. UPDATE: Long out of print by now, and meanwhile Shirley has gone on to bigger and better things.

Dipset Christmas, Jim Jones (Koch)

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dipset.jpgThe very first cut, "Dipset Xmas Time," cracked me up when I realized they'd lifted the chorus from Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime," changing it to "Living fast and ballin' at Christmastime." Jones is part of the Dipset, so all those folks are involved in this at some point, but it's not all Christmas, as his hit "We Fly High" is remixed for this album. My recommendation is run with the title song, as nothing else here really comes up to its level.
beatings.jpgThis is a hip-hop DJ collective essentially giving us its version of a mix CD. Unlike those of us out there who simply fire up iTunes or Musicmatch and let 'er rip, mix and burn, these guys commit the whole dancefloor experience to disc, complete with mash-together segues, scratching and some original raps. An incomplete rundown of the records used on this collection includes "Up On The Housetop" by the Jackson 5, "Soulful Christmas" by James Brown, "Winter Wonderland Reggae" by Byron Lee, and still more by the likes of Rufus Thomas, Rotary Connection, Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, Mack Rice and even Paul McCartney, Shonen Knife and The Waitresses, not to mention some things that fly by too quickly to note. For those of you who need the whole experience to get through the holiday nights, this is actually not bad at all. Those of you who want individual tunes to make your own mixes, well, you'll have to go back to the sources, same as these guys did.

beating2.jpgThis is the 2005 version of something we featured a couple of seasons ago, a hip-hop collective doing the whole DJ schtick on a collection of holiday tunes. Essentially it's a mix disc with the end of one song mashed into the beginning of another, using all sorts of found sounds from canned jingles to old radio bumpers recorded by British pop stars like the Police, Duran Duran, Paul Weller and Culture Club. Because of the transitions, you won't be able to extract tunes from it for your own collections, but if you want people to think you hired a DJ for your Christmas party, this is the way to go. Mostly hip-hop and R'nB stuff from the likes of Biz Markie, De La Soul, Kool Moe Dee, Run DMC, Biggie Smalls, Eazy E, Mary J. Blige, Destiny's Child, Donny Hathaway and more, but there's also reggae from Jacob Miller and Lee "Scratch" Perry, rock from The Ventures and Elton John, jazz from Billy Taylor's Orchestra, and inexplicably, three Lou Rawls cuts (but they're pretty good, so go figure.) Website seems to be history, however.

beating3.jpgThey're baa-aak for 2006. J-Squared and Hudson promise this is the very last time they will throw down with one of their hip-hop holiday mix discs. They mash up all kinds of stuff from the Anita Kerr Singers to Free Design, Mr. Lif to Free Design, Force MDs to Princess Superstar, Clarence Carter to James Brown and more. Check out the full song roster for all three discs at their website. UPDATE: Website seems to have gone away.

dirtboyz.jpgA single I found on iTunes in 2005, all this duo wants for Christmas is to "get drunk." Beats and rhymes are set over "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," for you "Nutcracker" fans out there. I'm told what I have is the "clean version," so there must be a not-so-clean version knocking around out there somewhere.

daHood.jpgYour basic Christmas hip-hop number, a 2004 single from iTunes, but it sounds like something from 20 years earlier, patching together a number of bits of carols including "Carol of the Bells," which provides the musical motif. I don't know anything about these guys, but this is pretty good. It's tough to know for sure -- there's Young Lo, or Young L.O., Da Real Young Lo, Young Dro, and more, so anybody who wants to add to this is welcome to try.

"Christmas Rappin'," Kurtis Blow (Mercury)

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kurtis.jpgFrom 1979, one of the earliest rap records -- it actually came out before the artist's breakthrough "The Breaks" -- and definitely the first rap Christmas tune, unless you count "A Visit From St. Nicholas," aka "The Night Before Christmas." Kurtis cops the lick from Chic's "Good Times" and starts testifying, and never lets up. Important from a historic point of view, but useful for holiday booty-shaking, too. If you feel like you have a rap in you, the flip side of the original 12-inch single is an instrumental version, though that version seems to have been lost with the sands of time, unless you're willing to search out the original vinyl.

"Christmas Is," Run DMC (A&M)

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special2.jpgThis plea for the needy is on A Very Special Christmas 2 from 1992, and it's not bad; an old soul groove (can't identify it, but it sounds familiar) under the rap, with a great chorus: "Give up the dough, give up the dough for Christmas, yo!" Plenty of quotes and rhymes to move it along. This one doesn't turn up as often in other places as did "Christmas in Hollis," so you'll most likely get it off this Special Olympics album.

"Christmas In Hollis," Run DMC (A&M)

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rundmc.jpgThis Christmas tune by the historically significant Run DMC kicks off promisingly by sampling Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa," then we're into a funny tune about finding Santa's wallet on the street in this Queens neighborhood. Great groove, ironic for the fact that this cut from A Very Special Christmas precedes Bon Jovi's plain vanilla cover of the Carter song on the same compilation. This tune has since turned up in a number of places other than the Special Olympics album, and a live version is on the live Special Christmas album as well. Or you can just download it by itself by clicking the album cover and visiting Amazon.

Christmas Rap, various artists (Profile)

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Chrisrap.jpgHere's a long-out-of-print budget compilation of holiday rap from the early days, put together in 1987. I haven't been able to grab one of these for myself, but given the number of folks who have tipped me to this, I figure it's worth a mention. Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" kicks this off, and there's also "Let the Jingle Bells Rock" by Sweet Tee, "Dana Dane Is Coming to Town" by Dana Dane, "Ghetto Santa" by Spyder D, "Christmas in the City" by King Sun-D Moet, "Chillin' With Santa" by Derek B., "He's Santa Claus" by Disco 4, "That's What I Want for Christmas" by Showboys and "A Surf M.C. New Year" by Surf MC's. Sometimes there's a used copy on Amazon. UPDATE: Einar Hedman from Linköping, Sweden corrected the release date above, which means there might be a vinyl version of this out there somewhere too.
millie.jpgGreat rap single from 1991 with a message that definitely clashes with the season. Millie is the daughter of the singer's social worker, suffering sexual abuse at her father's hands. Dad has a side gig as a Macy's Santa; you can see where this is going. Powerful stuff from this seminal hip-hop act, but you might not want to hoist eggnog toasts while it's playing. No downloads, but the Amazon link takes you to some possible used copies.
luke.jpgThis 1993 effort is available in two versions, a "clean one" and a "dirty one" (called Christmas at Luke's Sex Shop), in keeping with Luke's history as the originator of 2 Live Crew's As Nasty as You Wanna Be. The song lineups are completely different on the two; the "clean one" is pretty much 90s-style rhythm and blues with a little bit of talking in front and in the middle of the songs. Artists helping Luke out include H-Town, U-Mynd and Chris Brinson and the Gospel Music Ministry Choir. As risque as the clean one gets is "Knockin' Boots for Christmas." The tunes are mostly original, although "We Bring You Joy" swings into "The Christmas Song" and "H-Town's Coming to Town" steals liberally from the Santa Claus version of the song. I don't have a copy of the dirty version handy as of this writing (UPDATE: It's available for downloading, click above), although I recall one of the songs on it is titled "Ho-Ho-Ho's" or something similar that alludes to the street name for prostitute.

Xmaz-N-The-Hood, The M (Priority)

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xmashood.jpgSome old-school hip-hop on this EP from 1991, with "Chris Kringle is a Black Man," heavy on the synth bass, talking about one of the vocalist's Compton neighbors; "Ebony's a Scrooge," rapping over the riff from Johnny Taylor's "Disco Lady"; a deconstruction of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas"; lots of ghetto talk in the disjointed title song; and "Brighter Days," a languid mid-tempo jam that alternates singing and rapping about hope for the future. If you can still find this, it'll probably be in clearance racks. Language advisory.

quadcity.jpgThis hip-hop compilation from 1996 features more party-oriented music than a lot of rap holiday collections. There's more singing on this CD, the beats are consistent and the arrangements are tight. "Alone" by Joni featuring 24K is a medium ballad about being just that on Christmas Eve. The 69 Boyz talk about "What You Want For Christmas," which may still include a 12-disc changer but almost certainly doesn't include "nine Sega tapes." A remix of the song appears later on the disc. "Where Dey At YO!" is Knock singing about "the real men" who "don't sell drugs" and "stay home with me sometime." Big Dave and Tina reconstruct the standard "White Xmas" in their own hip-hop arrangement, and the album closes with a brief remix of it. "Da Jam" is a fast rap by UndaAged -- too fast for me to get much of the lyrics, unfortunately. "Xmas Blues" by BigTyme (no, not Dick Cheney) is a talker over a blues background. This is pretty good overall, even non hip-hop fans should be able to enjoy this.
posse.jpgThis rap act is best known for having had a Disney-owned record company cancel its first album for the label minutes before its scheduled release because of pressure from the usual suspects. But they survived unscathed, and this 1997 single is the proof. "Santa is a Fat Bitch" pretty much lives up to its title, with the vocalist's complaints about never getting anything for Christmas leading to threats to kill Father Christmas. Say guys, do the words "naughty and nice" mean anything to you? The band gets its just desserts in "Red Christmas," in which the singers try Santa's trip down the chimney for themselves, only to run into the real St. Nick, who ices them; this is followed by several Christmas carol parodies. These would be a lot funnier if the Posse had a little more sense of irony; the Parental Advisory sticker, meanwhile, speaks for itself.
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