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June 2009 Archives

I Love Christmas, Tommy James (Aura)

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tommyjms.jpgThe title song was a single in 2004, and for 2008 the former leader of the Shondells is back with a full CD for those who remember the guy who gave us "Crystal Blue Persuasion" and "Hanky Panky." Two additional originals besides the title tune are included here, "Born On the First Christmas Day" and "It's Christmas Again," and they're in much the same vein. The latter, more of a ballad, features a Shondells reunion. Other than "Jingle Bell Rock," the rest, alas, doesn't rock much at all. The arrangements are pretty much stock for the various songs, which you've heard done this way a thousand times. A dramatic reading of Matthew 1:18 over a musical bed doesn't do much for the proceedings, either.

Ho Ho Ho, Bobnoxious (Wannabe Records)

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bobnox.jpgThis gang of rockers from London, Ontario, put this Christmas album out in 2006, a fairly irreverent bit of punk rock fun. After kicking off with a medley of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and "Jingle Bells," they swing into a parody of "Feliz Navidad" called "Police Nabbed My Dad." Originals include "You Ruined Christmas," an ode to the parental admonition slung at unruly kids, and the title song, in which a child tries to catch Santa in the act, and as usual, fails. And leave us not forget "Santa Bring Me Money," where this mercenary Christmas wish goes unfulfilled. An array of high-speed versions of carols fills out the rest of the disc.
nightrev.jpgYou all remember Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and its soundtrack album from a decade ago. Well, Disney, the king of post-release film marketing, has detected the film's cult audience and is pushing the movie once again. They recut it in 3D/IMAX, and last year a special edition of the soundtrack CD included cover versions of the songs by rock artists. This year, they've gone whole hog with a full CD of covers of the movie songs. Only Marilyn Manson's "This Is Halloween" appears to have made the jump from last year's special edition, so it's off to eBay with you completists out there. Highlights of this CD, along with Manson, include the Bowie-esque version of "Town Meeting Song" by Polyphonic Spree, Korn's "Kidnap the Sandy Claws," Amy Lee's version of "Sally's Song" and "Poor Jack" by the Plain White T's. A disappointment was that "Oogie Boogie's Song" was done as an instrumental by Rodrigo & Gabriela. Most of these songs might be tough to use on your Christmas discs, though, as musical theater songs tend to be a bit specialized.
sixpence.jpgThis Christian pop-rock band had broken up a few years ago but reformed in the past year to make an EP and now this, their first full Christmas album for 2008. The band previously dabbled in the holiday with versions of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" on Happy Christmas 2, "Christmas Time is Here" for a Peanuts compilation, "Silent Night" for a compilation called City on a Hill and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" for Maybe This Christmas Too. In addition, singer Leigh Nash did a solo Christmas EP, Wishing For This, in 2006. As far as I can tell, this album was recorded fresh in 2008 with no repeats from the past, so that means they've done two versions of "Silent Night," the one here featuring an assist from Jars of Clay's Dan Haseltine. If you recall the band from its hits like "Kiss Me" and "There She Goes," there will be no surprises. The whole album has a contemporary alt-folk-pop sheen to it, mostly slow to midtempo, with two original songs, "Christmas For Two" and "The Last Christmas" sitting nicely alongside eight covers, six familiar ones like "O Come O Come," the Emanuel carol in a nicely martial beat; a folky "Carol of the Bells"; a rather heavy take on "Christmas Island"; and a straight cover of Joni Mitchell's "River." Two unusual covers are "Some Children See Him" and the Spanish carol "Riu Riu Chiu."

Christmas Cheer, The Boxmasters (Vanguard)

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boxmast.jpgThis is the band featuring actor Billy Bob Thornton, and this 2008 Christmas disc is their second album. I'd call this "Americana," which apparently nowadays means "country music of the kind they haven't played in Nashville for years." The band worked up three originals for this outing, and they're nicely cynical takes on the holiday, on the order of "Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas." (That song's not on here, though it ought to be.) "My Dreams of Christmas" is sung from the POV of a kid living in a dysfunctional household who dreams of holiday gifts that never come. "Slower Than Christmas" tells how the holiday just grinds by because the singer has to put up with relatives who drive him "as crazy as a hundred shithouse rats." And "I Won't Be Home For Christmas" is because the singer's in jail. Add to those John Prine's "Christmas In Prison," a perfect rockabilly version of "We Three Kings," a hoedown take on Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song," and the only countrified version of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" I can think of at the moment. This might be too country for some folks, but it hangs together nicely and the originals deserve to be heard more widely.

Holiday EP, The Pretenders (Shangri-La)

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pretend2.jpgThe band's "2000 Miles" from 1980 is one of the rock world's classic original Christmas songs, and for 2008 Chrissie Hynde and the band decided to revisit it, along with three other classic carols, in what sounds like a live-in-the-studio performance. You'll probably prefer the studio originals of that song and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from A Very Special Christmas, but the four tunes -- add "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and "Blue Christmas" to the mix -- are nicely done. Folks who like their music unadorned and spontaneous might just like this better. It's on iTunes.
holliday.jpgIt's been a decade or so since Jimmy Buffett did his Christmas album, so if you need an update on your sun-drenched holidays Roy is here to give it to you on this 2008 single. And yes, Roy's website is part of the Parrothead Web ring, just in case you need it spelled out for you. It's a nice little number with a touch of calypso to it that wouldn't be out of place on Buffett's record.
undead.jpgA nice jokey rocker with hip-hop touches and Hanukkah references, along with a Parental Advisory for lyrics, starting with an overly familiary response to mistletoe, if you catch my drift. Don't know much about the band, but this 2008 single is a strong and profane modern rocker the more adventurous among you will want on their mix discs.
illstay.jpgNot much information is available about this 2008 collection of indie-pop-rock performers except that the album is raising money for Amnesty International. Haven't seen it anywhere except as a download from Amazon and iTunes. Sally Shapiro returns with "Anorak Christmas," only this time a piano-led version that's also missing the Eurodisco beat of the original. The overall vibe of this collection is downbeat and experimental, with the almost-inaudible "Shenandoah" by Le Loup and My Brightest Diamond's "Nature Boy" requiring a bit of work to connect with the holidays. Au Revoir Simone kicks off things with the Peanuts song "Christmas Time Is Here," Parenthetical Girls get all Facebook-y with "Festive Friends (Forever)," No Kids put a bit of electrobeat behind the folky "Another Winter In a Summer Town," and Radar Bros. do a kind of bent Everly Brothers take on "Baby Jesus." After most of those tunes, the finger-picked guitar behind Blitzen Trapper's "Christmas Is Coming Soon" is sprightly by comparison, and Man of Arms' "It's Christmas Time and Every Thing's Wrong" is a nice holiday protest song, with just a hint of horns adding a Salvation Army flavor to the proceedings. Papercuts leads an instrumental "Go Tell It On the Mountain" off with organ, but never quite takes it into the gospel realm a listener might expect. Kind of a mope-y approach to the holidays taken in total, but it's for a good cause and there are good songs on here.
peaschil.jpg"Peas" is the nickname of Peter McEvilley, a DJ and musician who works in film, TV and jingle music, and Leslie is an independent singer who has worked with Peas before and toured with Jennifer Lopez. They came together to perform this electro-pop-dance tribute to the holidays. No surprises in song selection other than the Latin hymn "Dona Nobis Pacem," the rest are classic carols plus "Auld Lang Syne." These are mostly rendered in mid-tempo dance beats, except for ballad treatments on "Joy to the World," "The First Noel" and "Silent Night." Leslie has a good set of pipes and she doesn't diva up the proceedings, and though there's not a lot of variety in approach here it's quite listenable. From 2008.
lipsflic.jpgAfter several years of whispered promises, the band's long-awaited movie is here. Unfortunately, it comes to us without any new Christmas songs, unless you count Fred Armisen singing "Silent Night." The soundtrack CD consists entirely of instrumental background music from the film, which is kind of neat in a cheap sci-fi way, but it will never pass for holiday music. As for the film, you can tell it was made by a small crew of first-time moviemakers on a small budget, but since it was made as a kind of homage to cheesy old-school space movies, that's really not a handicap. The plot eventually revolves around people on a Mars station slowly losing their grip on Christmas Eve, including a guy who commits suicide in a Santa suit. The mood is attributed to a combination of a faulty oxygen supply and the notion that "humans weren't made to live in space." A mute alien lands at the station and takes over the Santa suit, and his presence appears to bring calm to the station. There are a lot of disjointed narrative points along the way, and the dialogue is weighed down by a surplus of delete-able expletives. Also, there's a bit of an obsession with vaginas, including people who have them for heads in a dream sequence. My guess is that folks who are excessively fond of 50s space and monster movies will catch a lot of homages -- I noticed the opening scene with the woman inside a plastic bubble bore a slight resemblance to "Barbarella" -- and Flaming Lips fans will find meaning in this that many others won't. The Lips do offer some additional Christmas music, but you have to go to their site and order the vinyl version, which throws in a single with "Silent Night," "It's Christmas Time Again" and "Lord, Can You Hear Me."

"Santa's Coming Over," Low (SubPop)

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lowsingl.jpgThe Minneapolis band who made a mark on rock Christmas history with their 1997 album Christmas is back for 2008 with this 7-inch single. (They'll let you download it if you order the vinyl artifact.) The A-side is kind of doomy and desperate-sounding, begging Santa not to overlook the needy children. Flip it over and we get "The Coming of Jah," another holiday tune with a reggae beat based on the Biblical story of Christmas. I kind of like the B-side better, but then I used to flip singles over in my radio days, too.
jdwebb.jpgWebb used to be part of a Christian rock group called Raze, and this is him being a blue-eyed soulster for the holidays on this radio-friendly possible future carol from 2008.
kyotocon.jpgCan't quite get a handle on this band. They do electronic-pop music, they claim to have Japanese influences, and their website is bilingual English-Spanish. Given that their gigs list shows concerts mostly in Argentina, I'm going to guess that's where they're from. As to this free download, it throws the holiday into the mix of above influences to create this Christmas ballad for 2008. Check it out.

Comfort & Joy, Decemberadio (Slanted)

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decemrad.jpgFrom 2008, this Christian band put together a downloadable EP of holiday tunes, featuring an instrumental of "Away in a Manger," a slow shuffle of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and a strong modern take on "Run Rudolph Run." Good work, guys.
denibone.jpgDeni's rocking 2008 ode to the holiday consists of packing the kids off to relatives on the holiday and retreating with her man for a more intimate holiday. "Let's pretend it's Valentine's Day," she sings, intent on hoarding the holiday cheer instead of spreading it around. Many will sympathize, others will simply rock out.

The Scandinavian singer-songwriter spares a thought for the dispossessed, the needy and the homeless on the holiday with this 2008 ballad that's a free download from her website. Compared to her previous "Christmas" song, this tune is not quite as dark as that one. She wrote the song and played all the instruments on this performance.


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