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October 2009 Archives

holdrunk.jpgThe Drunks, aka Winzenried, as in Eric Winzenried, are a sharp modern rock/pop band with a couple of albums to their credit and soundtrack placements on some TV shows. This holiday offering from 2009 should whet your appetite for their off-season sounds as well. They open up strong with a single original tune, "Looks Like Christmas," in which Santa appears to have passed over the singer's house in previous years. These guys like to throw a little funk into their rock, and you hear that on this song as well as on their versions of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Do You Hear What I Hear." On "We Need a Little Christmas," the Johnny Mathis/"Mame" chestnut, they put a light Caribbean sheen over the proceedings, and "Let It Snow" is a straight reggae reading. "We Three Kings" swings over into a more metallic realm, and "Here Comes Santa Claus" is a bit more bluesy boogie. And "Carol of the Bells" gets livened up with a bit of Latin percussion. This is one you can throw on at your Christmas party and let run all the way through.

Still gearing up for holiday rush

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Suggestions are always welcome for music to review at Mistletunes. I'm in the process of acquiring goodies for this year's run-up to the holidays, but I thought I'd take a moment to note that I won't be bothering with this year's A Very Special Christmas 7, as it is built mainly around tween-age performers and former American Idol contestants. (You'll note I wasn't too proud to put up an Amazon affiliate link, of course.) Anyway, you can click on over and check out the samples if you're so inclined. Hopefully there will be a future VSC disc that will feature more rock-oriented performers once more, and we'll be watching for it here.
sting.jpgWhere Bob Dylan threw himself wholeheartedly into a 1940s-50s pop Christmas on his new holiday disc, Sting went a lot farther back -- three to six centuries, in fact. This probably won't be a surprise to the folks who remember his recent CD Songs From the Labyrinth, a similar excursion into early folk and classical music with period instrumentation. The Police-man designed this 2009 album as less of a holiday celebration and more of a reflection on the winter season, highs and lows alike. Sting contributed two originals to this album, "Lullaby for an Anxious Child" and "The Hounds of Winter," and he translated a Schubert song from a winter song cycle, "Hurdy Gurdy Man" (no relation to Donovan). The rest of the album consists of mid-millenium holiday and winter songs, including a new version of "Gabriel's Message," which Sting previously performed for A Very Special Christmas. There's a deluxe version of the disc that adds a making-of video and a bonus cut, "Blake's Cradle Song," the iTunes edition features another bonus cut, "Bethlehem Down," and a live version of the album on CD and DVD is slated for late November. All told, this is a strong artistic expression for the season, but there's nothing rock 'n roll about it -- this is strictly antique folk music, much like the Blackmore's Night holiday album of a few years ago.

Songs For Christmas, downhere (Centricity)

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downhere.jpg
"How Many Kings" is an original single for 2008 from this Christian band, a song of praise and thanksgiving that isn't strictly for the holiday. It rocks out pretty strongly, too. UPDATE: The single has given birth to an entire album for 2009, adding a "reimagined" version of the single in a slower tempo with more of the patented "rock ballad" bombast. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" puts a little guitar funk over the melody, the original "Christmas in Our Hearts" brings a little white-boy soul to the proceedings, "Gift Carol" returns to the rock ballad well, "Good King Wenceslas" is rendered in a barroom shuffle, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" brings in a little acapella mixed with Salvation Army band tuba, and they also do fairly straight readings of "Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella," "What Child Is This," "Silent Night" and "Angels From the Realms of Glory." A nice mainstream rock holiday album.

Christmas In the Heart, Bob Dylan (Columbia)

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Dylan2.jpgFirst impressions can be definitive, and those of you who glommed onto the YouTube of 30-second samples that were mistakenly posted by Amazon last month may have already developed a notion of this album. Gotta say there's not much to misinterpret from the preview. Folks who glommed onto Mistletunes in the past because it offers the rock 'n roll alternative to carefully groomed old-old-school pop renditions of traditional carols, well, this 2009 release is the kind of album you came here to get away from. As Bob Dylan is a rock 'n roll icon, however, we couldn't turn away from his first-ever Christmas album, so here it is. Considering his work on the "Theme Time Radio Hour," abetted by musical scholar Eddie Gorodetsky (Eddie G), my first impression upon hearing about this album was that Dylan might have something equally eclectic up his sleeve. Looking at the package as a whole, however, from the album art (fake Currier & Ives on the front, a Bettie Page holiday pinup on the inside) along with the fact that Dylan arranged and produced ("Jack Frost" being his producer's pseudonym), I have to believe that this is exactly the album Dylan set out to make. Indeed, even the "Christmas Blues" he performs is the Sammy Cahn number, not anything by any of the old-time blues artists. If you consider this disc as a mid-20th century American artifact you might have found in an old chest in your great-grandma's attic (ignoring the fact it would have had to be on vinyl), then the whole thing makes perfect sense, and the pop music history Dylan drew upon to make "Theme Time" also informs this album. Indeed, if you took Dylan's voice off these songs and substituted Gene Autry, the project wouldn't miss a beat. The only fly in the ointment is that Dylan's voice just isn't suited for this sort of vintage pop workout -- his voice is the vehicle by which we get his songwriting, but he didn't write anything here. All that said, I still like Dylan's "Must Be Santa," and I wish this song had been the springboard to the rest of the disc. UPDATE: Forgot to mention that proceeds from this disc will benefit hunger charities around the world, including Feeding America here in the U.S.
nohoho.jpgThis collection was released in 2007, and it includes some things we've covered here including the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," Gary Glitter's "Another Rock 'n Roll Christmas," the Fall's "Protein Christmas" and The Sweptaways with Magnus Carlson's "Cry Cry Christmas." Also on hand is a nicely repurposed Laura Nyro chestnut, "Stoned Soul Christmas" by Binky Griptite, the Autumns' mopey power pop gem "She Whispers the Winter Snow," a slightly electronic background on Luke's "Mele Kalikimaka," a Pro Tools electronica cutup of "Frosty" by Dim Dim, and Caroline's ballad "Winter." A nice collection of goodies, marred only by whether you have too many of these songs already.

izumix.jpgThis has been lurking in my iTunes master playlist for a while now, so it's way past time we get it out there for the folks. From 2006, this British compilation is your basic alternative rock holiday playlist featuring artists from the roster of Izumi Records. It's pretty enjoyable all the way through. Highlights include the Duels' "Do You See What I See," a fairly straight take with a slightly low-budget vibe; Iain Archer's acoustic folk take on "Little Drummer Boy"; the Late Greats' pop-rock take on "Sleigh Ride"; and Ingo Starr Cruisers' version of Low's "Just Like Christmas," a little more exuberant (but not too much more) than the original. Amusement Parks on Fire call in strings to support their ballad "The Day It Snowed," and David Ford strikes twice, once with his nicely jaundiced shuffle "Have Yourself a Bitter Little Christmas" and again as songwriter on Duke Special's ballad "Of Whoredom and Falconry." Can't quite associate the title to the song, but never fear, it's a holiday tune. Emmy the Great shakes some of the cellblock doldrums out of John Prine's "Christmas in Prison," and El Perro Del Mar go to the Phil Spector well for the sound of their original "Oh! What a Christmas." And a crowd of Izumi stalwarts convene under the excellent parody name The Joseph and Mary Chain to cover "Twelve Days of Christmas." Oh, and proceeds benefit the charity Shelter.
I missed out when this was originally released as a free download from her website, so this is the best I can do in the interim. A bit more chanteuse-y than I'm ordinarily inclined to promote, but the song is great, and I giggled when, at the end, keeping in mind the downbeat lyrics, Nellie said, "Merry Christmas, everyone!"

Yeah, this isn't anything new, but since Amy seems to have dropped off the edge of the earth lately, I thought this would be a good way to remind folks that she's still out there and to hope that the silence means she's hard at work on a new album.

fallpro.jpgFrom 2003, this tune by British punk group The Fall is a cutup of their song "Proteinprotection" with Christmas-themed lyrics. Having never heard the original song, I can't tell you how it compares, but it's probably similar since both tunes were released in 2003. Nevertheless, the performance, 25 years on, is vintage Fall, including the line "The only good thing to say/Is all the politicians are on holiday."

sweptawy.jpgWell, this turned into a bit of a scavenger hunt when I started trying to unwind what's going on here. Fortunately, J. Williamson's user review at Amazon helped me figure things out. The Sweptaways are a 30-member women's choral group from Stockholm who perform pop tunes -- a more sincere version of Polyphonic Spree, if you will. For this 2007 four-song EP, they combine with Magnus Carlson & the Gray Brigade, and the results are about what you'd respect from the above description when it comes to "Silver Bells" and "Vintersong (Icy Version)." Then there's a remix of their previously released version of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights," which is, well, what it is. The title song, however, is quite another kettle of fish. It sounds like nothing so much as an outtake from the Phil Spector Christmas album, and I'm guessing that's ol' Magnus on lead vocal. To add to the confusion, The Sweptaways released another four-song EP the same year called A Christmas Party With the Sweptaways and Friends. That collection repeats "Cry Cry Christmas" and "Silver Bells," adding "Christmas Party" and "Lady December," both of which are more like "Silver Bells, which is to say glee club-ish. Don't bother trying to unwind all this yourself -- just download "Cry Cry Christmas."
jingjump.jpgRummaging through my tall pile of Christmas music on my desk, I stumbled across this, quickly realizing I had no idea how I'd come by it. It's clearly a rip from an old vinyl record, as the surface noise will betray itself. Fortunately, our friends at Goldmine are on the case, having made this record the subject of a Q&A column. Apparently this song was made to go with a toy from the early 60s called the Jingle Jump, a jingling ball on a string that attached to your shoe. The object was to jump it in the way you would jump rope. And of course, there are copies of the record where the band is called the Apollos instead of the Tigers. Goldmine goes on to explain that the song is often confused for a Christmas record when it's not. So why's it here? Well, "Jingle Bells" doesn't mention Christmas either, but you could play this back to back with that and nobody would be the wiser.
asteria.jpgThis band from Indiana brought out this hard rock ballad for 2008, gentle acoustic strumming alternating with fiercer choruses to tell the story of a singer who's far from home, cursing the cold and the solitude during the Christmas season. It's even cold in Texas, or so the lyrics tell us. Another nice dark holiday tune.

"True Love," The Echoing Green (B.E.C.)

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echogren.jpgThis semi-electropop ensemble from Albuquerque put out this song for 2008, a doomy little ballad about the uncertainty of the holidays in which the singer offers to lend a hand and asks her friend to follow the light of the stars. You can almost hear Human League doing this tune. The song is actually a cover of the original by Angels & Airwaves, from their 2007 album I-Empire.

3-D Christmas, Tres Diablos (3-D Productions)

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tresdiab.jpgAn EP starring "I'm Coming Home," a nice, simple pop-rock ballad from this Los Angeles combo for 2008, playing on the coming-home-for-Christmas motif. They're made up of members from The Rembrandts, Gin Blossoms and Devereaux 75. They throw in an uptempo "White Christmas" cover and, general alert, another version of "I'm Comin' Home Backwards" -- literally, Paul McCartney-is-dead-rumors backward. If you're downloading, save yourself a little cash on that last one -- unless you really need a backwards Christmas song, in which case ignore me. Note that there have been at least two other bands called Tres Diablos, one featuring three members of Pantera, and another who recorded a song called, wait for it, "Tres Diablos." Neither of these have, to my knowledge, recorded a Christmas song.
casyshea.jpgShea is a young singer-songwriter from New York by way of the south who sounds like he learned music from listening to a lot of 60s folk-rock. The apparent A-side, "A Very Merry Christmas," is a ballad very much in that tradition, jangling bells and chimes over acoustic guitar strumming and lots of la-la-las to boot. It's a bit of a dirge-y tempo, however, belying the lyrical sentiment. In another old-school musical tradition, the B-side, "My Holiday Song" kicks off with a spoken word bit about making latkes for Hanukkah, followed by lyrics about how "you don't care about my holidays/We were raised in two different ways." The divergence of the Judeo- from the -Christian is played for giggles here. Yes, we're issuing a Hannukah alert.
rodthoms.jpgDon't confuse this bright young Brit with the Matchbox 20 guy named Rob. He put this song up as a free download from his website in 2008. It's a nice acoustic ballad with no relation to the famous carol referenced in the tune -- just a more contemporary take on the same notion.
tingting.jpgNot actually available anywhere, the boy-girl duo from Manchester, UK, worked up this acoustic version of their iTunes commercial song for a performance on BBC Radio 1 in 2008, switching the lyrics to something more seasonal. You'll have to look around a bit for this; the website hidden in the metadata of this file has a link to a site that's been parked for sale. Meanwhile, here it is on YouTube:
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