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July 2009 Archives

sundayxm.jpgThis is a series of compilations that is sold at Barnes and Noble stores. The idea is that this is music to relax by, mostly current artists with some of their mellower tunes. This 2008 holiday compilation follows right along with the concept. We've covered the songs by The Bird and the Bee, KT Tunstall, Over the Rhine and Sufjan Stevens before, but there are some tunes here that are billed as exclusives. Ingrid Michaelson adds to her Hotel Cafe holiday offering with the original "Snowfall," Ashton Allen gives us the ballad "Until Christmas," Sono sings the a capella "White Winter Hymnal" and Eastmountainsouth offers a stripped-down lounge band version of "Ave Maria." Also on here are Lou Rawls with a big-band "Merry Christmas Baby," Ray Charles' "Little Drummer Boy," Imogen Heap's ballad "Just For Now," Norah Jones' "Peace" and Celtic Woman's "Panis Angelicus." Capping off this collection is "O Holy Night," the jazz horn choir version performed on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." The performance was a plot point in the show's Christmas episode, in which musicians from TV show house bands were calling in sick for a week to allow New Orleans musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina an opportunity to work. If you remember the show, this is a nice souvenir to have.
straight.jpgThis a cappella group came together at Indiana University and became one of those Internet traditions we are all aware of when they YouTubed a performance of "12 Days of Christmas" that interpolates the carol into several other familiar carols, topping the whole melange off by singing the words over Toto's "Africa." A live version of that hit is the centerpiece of their 2008 Christmas CD. Ten voices strong, the cover kind of screams "glee club," but these guys, if not quite as deranged as the Bobs, manage to put together decent, snappy versions of rock-era arrangements of such tunes as "Jingle Bell Rock," "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," "Little Saint Nick," "This Christmas," and more. "The Christmas Song" is definitely glee club material, however. The version at iTunes has three bonus cuts, including a full version of "Africa." Here's the famous "12 Days":

hillbill.jpgWith all the varieties of rock and pop out there nowadays, serious rock fans might feel the need to cleanse the palate with something from the old days. These guys may be from the modern day, but this 2008 disc is straight-up rockabilly, accent mark over the rock. They put that 50s spirit into an otherwise straight reading of "Jingle Bell Rock," embue "Here Comes Santa Claus" with some serious stomp, make Chuck Berry proud with a cover of his "Run Rudolph Run," and put their own stamp on the holiday with such originals as "Santabilly Boogie," "Blue Suede Santa," "Tangled Up" and "Up 'n At 'Em Old St. Nick." Oh, and clear the dance floor for their version of "Holly Jolly Christmas." Apparent disc closer "Blue Christmas," an uptempo version at that, hides a live version of "Santabilly Boogie," but you have to get past several minutes of jingling bells before it comes up. (Or you could just hit scan, or drag the cursor on your iPod's screen until you find it.) You gotta get it from these guys' website, but it's worth the trouble. Roll over Carl Perkins, and tell Brian Setzer the news.
punkadvn.jpgI'm reviewing this unfinished project because I'm operating under the same constraints the rest of you are -- this is a free song a day from Dec. 1-25, 2008, from the label's website. So far, the band has offered thrashed-out versions of Jona Lewie's "Stop the Cavalry," "Blue Christmas," Mud's "Lonely This Christmas," "Little Drummer Boy," "Santa Baby" and the old Jim Reeves chestnut, "An Old Christmas Card." Well done, and the price is certainly right. Update: Add to the above "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," "C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S," Gary Glitter's "Another Rock 'n Roll Christmas," "Jingle Bells," "Wombling Merry Christmas," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Silent Night." And more to come. Further update: Add "Senor Santa Claus," "Frosty the Snowman," "Mary's Boy Child," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" to the playlist. Finally: Fill out the playlist with "Merry Christmas Polka," "Silver Bells," "Once In Royal David's City," "When a Child Is Born," "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day," "Mistletoe and Wine," and "White Christmas." Check it out before the link goes dead. Update: Link's dead.
singles.jpgThis 2008 single is good old power pop from this Detroit trio, and if you like this they're rolling out some more non-holiday goodies in the new year. A lovesick plea to a girlfriend, offering to give up the gifts in favor of the girl, all set to jangling guitars. Unique it's not, but catchy it is.

kennedy.jpgGotta love the chorus line "All I want for Christmas is a bulletproof vest," and this Oklahoma band takes a look at the holiday from the mean streets of California's largest city. Grab this 2008 single from iTunes, and if you play drums, the band was looking for a drummer at this writing.
xmasbaby.jpgThis is a 2008 re-release of a 2006 EP with additional songs from the roster of this gospel and R'nB label. I'm just catching up to it this year, and well, this sucker just makes me smile. It's old-school soul music of the 60s variety, less like Motown and more like Stax. I got a little confused trying to identify the title song, as there are two versions of "It's Christmas" by Rick Lawson and O.B. Buchana, but the real title song is "It's Christmas Baby" by Ms. Jody, more of a big-band blues number in which we are invited to jingle the singer's bells. Yeah, we get a lot of those single-entendres here, but that's a feature, not a bug. Just check out "I Need a Man Down My Chimney" by Barbara Carr, Sheba Potts-Wright on "I Need a Lover For Christmas," or the return of Ms. Jody on "Humping Santa," the latter set to an Al Green beat. Lee Shot Williams also has only one thing on his mind when he sings "I Ate Too Much Over the Holidays." If a soul Christmas gets your Yule log burning (now there's a double-entendre), you need this collection.
polaris.jpgThis California band has a unique way of presenting itself -- it puts out songs a week at a time over a period of time instead of holding them for an album. This collection of holiday covers is a free download for 2008, featuring hard rock takes on Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," Wham's "Last Christmas," and Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas." They're all well done and worth a listen.

"It's Christmas," Davy Jones (Formative)

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davyjons.jpgOffered in three different mixes, including karaoke, this is indeed the former Monkees singer offering a new holiday song for 2008. The "indie" mix, which I have, pushes the voice down a bit in the mix in favor of guitar; check out all three mixes before you make your choice. Found this on Amazon MP3, don't think there's a physical disc.

"30 Days," NeverShoutNever! (self-issued)

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neversay.jpgThis indie band -- actually 17-year-old Christopher Ingle -- offers a sweet love ballad for the holidays via download services. The singer is taking 30 days to list the ways his girlfriend has made his life better. An interesting take, and one that could have wide appeal if it made the radio. On iTunes.

Santastic 4, various artists (djBC)

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santast4.jpgAnother compilation of DJ skills offering holiday mash-ups for 2008. The Ramones get sound-checked with "Christmas Bop" by Smash-Up Derby and "Blitzkrieg Santa" by Divide & Kreate, both playing off "Blitzkrieg Bop", the latter superimposing the Jackson 5's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." "You Should Be a Freaky Christmas Baby" by ATOM combines what sounds like Chuck Berry's version of "Merry Christmas Baby" along with "You Should Be Dancing" by the Bee Gees, and there's a bunch of other things ladled in there as well. Mojochronic, of "Yuletide Zeppelin" fame, is back here with "Whoville (Won't Get Yuled Again)," combining the Who with the scourge of Whoville himself, the Grinch, and also smashing "Baba O'Reilly" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" together with a James Brown Christmas song, the "Theme From Shaft," "Back Door Santa," "Freddy's Dead," the Beach Boys and more on "Xmasploitation (Santa's Badass Revenge)." Props for the grab of "Santa's Got a Brand New Bag" from the Bobs on that one, the bit spoken by "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist." Go Home Productions offers "High Tides and Blocked Peace Pipes," combining "The Tide is High" by Blondie, "Wonderful Christmastime" and "Pipes of Peace" by Sir Paul. djBc turns "The Night Before Christmas" into a fast-paced rap over an electropop bed. My favorite from this might be "A Message To You Santa Claus," mashing the Specials with Augie Rios' "Donde Esta Santa Claus." There's so much going on here, and the nice thing is that it's a free download.
indiecate.jpgAnother independent label compilation for 2008, this one is for sale at their website. The liner notes take pride in noting that all 17 cuts are original holiday tunes and even optimistically hope there are some future standards on the list. That's up to listeners, of course. Remington Super 60's "Here Comes Christmas" and The Very Most's "This Year, Christmas Came on Nov. 4" have been reviewed here before, the latter on Cherryade's 2008 compilation. Nina Hynes offers the breathy "Twinkle," a kind of 60s chanteuse performance. Bill Baird's "Christmas In Jail" is another in a series of similarly themed songs, this one a little more ethereal than its predecessors. Idaho posits the proposition that "Santa Claus Is Weird," though the artist admits he held onto his Santa belief through the age of 13, so I guess it's all a matter of degree. Normandy offers what I believe is a first of its kind, "Merry Christmas, Blogosphere!" Great opening: "Santa bring to me / credibility." Loxsly discovers that "Santa Got the Spins," which is to say the eggnog was spiked and a fake, drunken Santa ruined Christmas. Jape and David Kitt sing "I Will Cry This Christmas," a synth-pop dirge of loneliness and alienation on the holiday. The Specimen "Wish It Would Snow" so they could get out of going to school, Nonstop Everything sticks it to Idaho, above, with "There Is No Santa, Little Boy," which ironically is a clattery, shambling instrumental, and My Teenage Stride gets a little low-rent Spector ambience on the uptempo "Is It Christmastime Already." A solid indie-rock Christmas collection.
wedgpres.jpgThis popular British alternative band gives us two versions of this original Christmas song for 2008. "The Klee Remix" is the poppier, radio-ready version of the song, but the standard version has its own subtle charms. I'd guess the remix will pop better on mix discs, but I think folks will better enjoy the song in the standard version. A stripped-down "White Christmas" rounds out the EP, which is a download-only release.
boyleast.jpgThis alternative duo brings us a quiet folky ballad about being alone at Christmas for 2008, with lots of holiday instrumental touches. Listen closely and you'll hear a few familiar riffs, including one from "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)."

tedythom.jpgThe son of folk-rock guitar-songwriting whiz Richard Thompson pulls together members of his family -- that would be dad, mom Linda and sister Kamila -- for this fine original reggae/calipso look at the holiday. And it's a fundraising instrument for Amnesty International as well. From 2008.

This Christmas," Slim (M3 Productions)

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slimthis.jpgThis 2008 single isn't Donny Hathaway's classic -- it's an original holiday slow jam, and a nice one at that. Slim is from the Grammy-winning R'nB group 112, and this comes hot on the heels of his solo album Love's Crazy.
garyusb.jpgThe early rock-era star whose big hit was "Quarter to Three" still pops up from time to time, last being heard on a solo album produced by Bruce Springsteen with "This Little Girl." Over at his website you can pull down these two songs, the latter being a "Quarter to Three"-styled takeoff from the original carol that appeared in a TV show and the former, "Call Me," is a soulful ballad from an album released in 1995, Take Me Home to New Orleans, but it sounds like it was from back in the day. Both tunes sound like they could be off the Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns Christmas album.
hueylews.jpgThe popular 80s band had this out originally on a limited basis in 1984 and it was on their website for a free download in 2008. It's a straight a capella performance of "Winter Wonderland," not quite doo-wop but definitely not glee club either. Worth having.

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