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November 2009 Archives

Yuletide Beat, Los Straitjackets (Yep Roc)

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strait2.jpgBack in 2002, this masked band that specializes in instrumental rock 'n roll brought us their first holiday disc, and for 2009 they're back with another one. This time around they're playing it a bit coy, however, with only CD and vinyl versions being offered, and even then only a limited edition of some 1,000 copies of each, and no download sales. So you're advised to get cracking on this one if you want a copy. As for the new album, it's exactly what you'd expect if you're familiar with the folks named after the dinner jackets that tie in the back. They put a little Tex-Mex into "Que Verdes Son," or "O Christmas Tree" to the rest of us, and marry "Deck the Halls" to "I Fought the Law." "We Three Kings" gets a surf arrangement, the stomping rock version of "Joy To the World" reminds just a tiny bit of "Soulfinger," and "Silent Night Rock" starts off with surf/Duane Eddy guitar and ukelele, plus a bit of ocean sound, then kicks into an arrangement rather like the one the Beatles put to "My Bonnie" on the Tony Sheridan album. And is that a riff out of the "Friends" theme I hear on "Jingle Bells? "Jolly Old Saint Nick" becomes "Groovy Old Saint Nick" in the Straitjackets' telling, and "Soul'd Lang Syne" turns the New Year's anthem into your basic lounge band break song. Good work once more. By the way, folks who miss out on this are advised to stop by Yep Roc anyway, as they're holding a sale on the label's other Christmas recordings -- including the first Los Straitjackets disc. UPDATE: In comments, xenophonic says Amazon does have a download of this, with "Deck the Halls" as a freebie. Click on the album cover to get to the Amazon page. Looks like iTunes has it too. Can't believe I missed this.

In the Christmas Groove, various artists (Strut)

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xmasgroo.jpgOld-school soul music is beloved of so many folks that it's hard to believe there's much in the way of anything from that era that hasn't found its way into the marketplace. And yet, the good folks at Strut Records tell us they have unearthed a bunch of obscure gems, all soul and funk, all Christmas-oriented. Not being a collector's scene expert, I'll let their claim stand, though the comments are available for those who have something to add on the topic. I will say the only people on this album I even recognize are bluesman Jimmy Reed and the Harlem Children's Choir. The 13 tunes on this collection are all from the 60s and 70s, and it doesn't take a recording expert to tell these tunes were put down quite a while ago. I won't claim these are indispensable classics, but they sure are fun to listen to. Electric Jungle's "Funky Funky Christmas" has a bit of War's "Me and Baby Brother" in it, and "Let's Get It Together For Christmas" by the Harvey Averne Band has quite the slinky beat itself. "Gettin' Down For X-mas" by Milly and Silly (really!) features wah-wah rhythm guitar of a kind that might remind you of porn soundtracks if not for the Christmas melodies played on bells. The Soul Saints Orchestra come to tell us that "Santa's Got a Bag of Soul," in an arrangement that wouldn't sound out of place on a James Brown disc. The Funk Machine imagines a "Soul Santa" "with black kinky hair," while J.D. McDonald tells us about "Boogaloo Santa Claus." The Jimmy Reed tune, "Christmas Present Blues," is a take on the funky blues, and the Harlem Children's Choir offers a ballad, "Black Christmas," about a holiday among the poor. The album doubles up on New Year's bonuses with Jimmy Jules going all Barry White on "New Year," followed by The Black On White Affair doing a big band jam on "Auld Lang Syne." All told, an interesting collection for those who like to delve into pop music history. You may want the physical disc, as I downloaded this only to discover I did myself out of what are supposed to be extensive liner notes.

"Holiday Love," Mishon (Streamline)

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mishon.jpgMishon, last name Ratlif, is one of the stars of ABC Family's "Lincoln Heights," and he's intent on parlaying his TV audience into a musical following. He's offering this modern r'nb hit for 2009, a midtempo soul ballad. He sneaks a little overt auto-tune in there, despite the current vogue for bad-mouthing that technique. This is a good tune, and it bodes well for a wider music career.

brothers.jpgBrothers got his first national notice as one of the artists chosen for the soundtrack of "Garden State," the young adult sleeper hit written and directed by "Scrubs" star Zach Braff. The film became more famous for its soundtrack, which was curated by Braff himself. Brothers was a bit suspicious of the sudden interest in him and chose to take things slowly, going the indie route. Since then he's cut a couple of albums of rock-pop singer-songwriter type material. This 2009 holiday EP features his cover of the title classic by the Kinks, a bit poppier than the original, and he adds the original "Christmas Tree," an acoustic ballad about shining a holiday light on a distant lover. In between we hear his take on "O Holy Night," also downtempo.

"Christmas Time," Chris and Conrad (VSR/EMI)

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chriscon.jpgThis Christian-market duo celebrates the holiday in 2009 with this mid-tempo original Bryan Adams cover (see comments) that has hit single written all over it. While they're all about worship, this tune has enough of a secular side that nobody needs to scrutinize it too closely for "hidden messages," whatever those might be. Stop by the website and you'll see that while they push a religious message, the folks marketing them haven't overlooked their teen-heartthrob qualities either. Nice work.

"Sexy Santa," Steel Panther (Universal Republic)

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steelpan.jpgHere's a little something nice and rowdy from this modern metal band. Where August Burns Red have contributed to a Christian music collection, these guys are unlikely to get a similar invitation with lyrics like "he delivers the sexy and he never fails/The rest of the year, he works at Chippendales." It goes on in that vein for three and a half minutes and never lets up. I'm not a metal fan, but this made me giggle, and that's good for something.
rescues.jpgThe Rescues are, by their own description, a kind of small-scale "supergroup" pulled together by a group of folks who had been working as solo singer-songwriters. They've been together for about two years and have spent some time in a residency at Hotel Cafe, from which the folks at a certain female-centered medical show have drawn numerous songs for the program's soundtrack. I'd bet this sweet ballad might show up on that show's holiday episode, and if not there, it'll be because some other show snapped them up first. Check 'em out.

Winterlove EP, Parachute (Mercury)

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parachut.jpgThese pop-rockers from Charlottesville, Va., put together a handful of holiday tunes for 2009, led off by the title track, an original power ballad about missing a lover at Christmas time. "New Year" is a festive original rocker about making changes when the calendar does, and the two originals bracket a fairly dramatic reading of "What Child Is This." I suppose I should say something snarky about them having just toured in support of original American Idol Kelly Clarkson, but heck, even Jimi Hendrix opened for the Monkees.
augstred.jpgThis up-and-coming metal band from Lancaster, Pa., home of the Amish, took time out from promoting their new CD Constellations to grind out this heavy instrumental of the traditional hymn/carol for 2009. You probably already know enough about this from my description, but give the guys credit for putting lots of energy into this one. They're also planning a vinyl single of "Carol of the Bells," which they did for the Christian music compilation X Christmas and also have on their Lost Messengers outtakes album.

Punk Rock Advent Calendar is back

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punkadvn.jpgJimmy Severe writes to let us know that the Punk Rock Advent Calendar has returned to the Intertubes. Last year he posted one new punk rock Christmas song a day for free downloading. It's the same batch of songs, but this year he's added a contest -- click on the correct day of December, listen to the song and click on the Competition link, where you will be asked to spot as many "borrowed" riffs and punk cliches as you can for each song. I didn't see anything about a prize anywhere, but it sounds like it's worth your time to play along. Here's a video of their version of the old Jona Lewie chestnut, "Stop the Cavalry":

No drinking while leading Santa's sleigh

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Another question comes our way from cbrs34, who asks,

A few years ago I heard a parody version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" done to the sound of George Thorogood's "One Bourbon One Scotch One Beer" and haven't heard it since. Not able to find it anywhere. Any ideas?

None whatsoever, but I'd love to hear this done myself. Readers, chime in via comments or by e-mailing the site.
swampdog.jpgSwamp Dogg, aka Jerry Williams, may be best known for this album cover, but he's got a long career as a songwriter and producer for soul and country artists. His success is probably more due to his behind-the-scenes work, as his records under his nom-de-canine are quirky outings, too outre for soul fans, though some rock folks have unearthed tunes of his like "Total Destruction to Your Mind." This 2009 disc is right in the tradition of previous Swamp Dogg albums, in which he creates old-school soul songs with titles designed to grab attention. Like the title song, which goes on to be a fairly conventional lost-love lament about pursuing another man's wife unsuccessfully. Probably the most attention-grabbing title is "Santa's Just a Happy Fat Fart," a gospelly tribute to the man in red designed to make you laugh. "Santa Claus Has Fallen In Love" kicks things off nicely with the story of a randy old elf. "What Christmas Means To Me" is a Dogg original, not the Stevie Wonder song, and it's a slow ballad about holiday verities. Given the title, you may be surprised to find that most of the album is like this song, fairly straight 60s-70s soul takes on classics like "Jingle Bells," "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger," along with originals based mainly on familiar themes. But I'll give him credit for a fairly rocking take on "Silent Night," not the usual slow-tempo rendition. How you feel about old-school soul will probably color your reaction to this album, but it definitely has its moments.
Strat09.jpgWe've had this band on the site before with such great Christmas material as "Last Christmas Girl," "Mod Guitar Christmas" and "Thank You Christmas," and they're back with yet another new tune. This one has a harder-rocking power pop thing going on, more of a '70s sound like Blue Ash or Cheap Trick. The singer knows he's been bad this year, and the music suggests he's been bad to the bone. A solid rocking Christmas tune, and it's free. UPDATE: Well, not anymore, but you can grab it from Amazon by clicking on the disc art.
centromat.jpgOn the way to looking for something else, I stumbled upon this 2008 song by this Texas indie-rock band at music blog Stereogum. It's a fairly dour take on the holiday, as described by its author (who has been playing with Monsters of Folk lately) at this particular link -- it's a slow tempo, half-whispered lyric about being depressed for the holidays. It's a free download, though you'll have to sign up with the blog to get the link, though I can't imagine this will be much of a discouragement, especially if you're interested in up-to-the-minute indie bands.

Winter EP, The Very Most (Indiecater)

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verymost.jpgThis indie-pop band from Boise, Idaho, has been pushing out a series of EPs based on the seasons of the year, and naturally we would be interested in the Winter edition just out for 2009, so here it is. They previously offered "This Year, Christmas Came Nov. 4" for the Indiecater holiday disc, though that cut isn't here. Instead, we hear a ukelele-driven, uptempo version of "Away In a Manger," a song you don't often hear given such a breezy take. "It's the Best Thing" is almost a small-group version of Polyphonic Spree, with its ba-ba-ba backing vocals over a drone-y, slow tempo backing, but it's compelling nonetheless. They wrap up this collection with "When Does the Goodwill Start?," a tribute to Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys musically. Right now the disc is only available from Indiecater, but the band promises all the season-based EPs will find their way to iTunes/Amazon in the New Year.
soundsxm.jpgKen Kessler is a friend of the Mistletunes site, having contributed many tips about hot rocking Christmas tunes over the years, and we've also posted some of his questions about obscure recordings over the years. He's taken his Christmas obsession to the Web with an Internet radio station, The Sounds of Christmas, and for 2009 he's moved on to curate his very own Christmas compilation, proceeds from which will benefit the Hollywood Charity Horse Show. Not surprisingly, he named the collection after his radio station, and it's 15 selections from off the beaten path. Among the highlights is the first-ever CD release of the doo-wop a capella "Winter Wonderland" by Huey Lewis and the News, which was originally released to the fan club only back in 1984; a strong rocking version of "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" from Richard Marx; Stephen Bishop's "Rock Little Reindeer"; the Jimmy Buffett-styled "Christmastime on the Beach" by Roy Holliday; Hayseed Dixie's fabulous rock/bluegrass fusion "Misty Wonderland Hop," combining "Winter Wonderland" with the Led Zeppelin classic; Pete Hopkins' modern r'nb take on "(I'll Be) Home For Christmas"; and a cute, if a bit dated, novelty, DJ Ice Z Ice and the Fresh Elf doing an old-school rap in chipmunk voices with "The Night Before Christmas." William Shatner's "Good King Wenceslas" is his usual overly portentious dramatic reading over a musical bed, something that might get old fast if you're not a Denny Crane fan. The remaining songs on this album track much closer to middle of the road, including former Styx-man Dennis DeYoung's "When I Hear a Christmas Song," but as the album's for charity I assume Ken made his picks to attract a wider audience. Nevertheless, there are some good rocking reasons to go with this collection. For a deeper look at this disc, visit Ken's MySpace page.
invczars.jpgPyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky is quite the pop star among classical composers, with numerous "hits" to his credit, including "The 1812 Overture" (and how many patriotic Americans know a dad-blamed Roosky wrote this piece often performed for the Fourth of July?), "Swan Lake," "The Sleeping Beauty," and his now-associated-with-Christmas opus "The Nutcracker Suite." It's so popular that you have to be pretty far into the woods not to be able to take in a live performance within commuting distance of your home sometime between mid-November and New Year's Day. Of course, most performances tend to be fairly literal readings of the score, with a few of the more adventurous jurisdictions offering George Balanchine's famous choreography to go with it. For those looking for a little holiday spice with their cracked nuts, the Invincible Czars, pride of Austin, Texas, have obliged with their more irreverent, rock-jazz-country-Latin-tinged arrangement, which they've performed for charity every year since 2004 and released on disc in 2007. I'm just catching up with it now, and though I'm not a Nutcracker maven, I can assure you the Czars do justice to the work of old Mother Russia's favorite son. It takes some serious chops to put down something like this, though, so not surprisingly, these folks are mainstays of Austin's serious and academic musical scene -- they just manage to do a decent job of keeping that news from the listener. Though it's billed as a "rock" version of the classic ballet, this isn't the two-guitars-bass-drums version -- the Czars take a more multilayered view of things, with a wide spread of instrumentation and a taste for throwing in everything from classic carols to square-dance rhythms. If you're in the Austin-Houston area, you might want to punt TSO and Mannheim this year and catch these folks instead.

A little something for Web radio mavens

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Some of you folks are fans of Internet radio, so I'm passing on this bit of news from AccuRadio, which has announced a veritable feast of Christmas-themed channels, including rock, r'nb, Latin and many others. The press release notes holiday-themed Internet radio channels currently available on the AccuHolidays.com website cover genres like rock, pop, country, jazz, classical, r'nb, and Latin, focus on various themes (such as "Old-Fashioned Christmas"), and even play nothing but many different renditions of a single song, like a "Chestnuts Roasting" channel which features hundreds of versions of the classic tune "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)." By early December, the website will offer a total of over 40 different channels, according to site officials.

While we're talking Internet radio, don't forget friend of the site JJRadio.com, the Web-based rock radio station that goes wild with Christmas offerings when the season draws nigh.

Rub-a-dub-dub, a Christmas song in her tub

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Kim Skidmore e-mails the site to ask us:

Do you by any chance know who sang a reggae Christmas song with the following lyrics? 

All I want for Christmas is to rub it
To scrub it...not to love it.
All I want for Christmas is to rub it
Rubbing it at Christmas time...

I remember having it on a home made tape which I got as a teenager while living in Belize and have since lost. I'd love to find the song again and have tried Googling it to no avail.

I put the magical Mistletunes spin on a Web search and was able to scare up "Rub-a-Dub Christmas" by Sugar Minott, which is a riff on "Sleigh Ride" but doesn't contain the lyrics above. I also found "Rub-a-Dub Christmas" by Phillip Fraser, or at least two-thirds of it, also a reggae tune that's missing the lyrics we're looking for. I'm throwing the floor open for nominations.

XO For the Holidays Vol. II, various artists (XO)

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xovol2.jpgFree, fresh original Christmas rock 'n roll, anybody? You've come to the right post. Just click the album cover. XO Publicity of Portland, Ore., is back for 2009 with their second such collection of free holiday rock music. Their previous collection was a few years ago, so there are some different faces on this collection, but also a few repeat performers with new tunes. Most of these tunes appear to be originals, though Piney Gir offers "You Make Me Feel So Young," an old Frank Sinatra staple that doesn't have much to do with Christmas. Caravan of Theves does a string-band version of "The Grinch," and Jessie Torrisi's version of "Christmas Don't Be Late" gets a less commercialized rewrite in which she asks us to forego the toys and gifts in favor of someone to hold. Blue Skies For Black Hearts kicks things off with the poppy "Wishin' You a Merry Christmas, in which Hanukkah and Kwanzaa get shout-outs; The Backsliders aver that "Christmas (Doesn't Have To Be So Bad)" in a 70s pop-rock vein; and The Very Foundation offer "All Lit Up (For Christmas)," which starts off sounding like a travel advisory and ends up marveling at the holiday lighting displays. "Snowed In" by Sleepwalk Kid is a rock-boogie shuffle about letting the snow pile up; The Winter Sounds give us "The Anthem Is a Gift," a mid-tempo ballad about being separated for the holidays; Drew Grow gives us a David Lynch-ish meditation on a "Tennessee Christmas," in a slow tempo with portentious slide guitars setting the mood; and "New Year's Eve" by Team Five is a mostly guitar-based instrumental, not particularly festive considering the title. I'd recommend you pay money for this, so grab it while it's free. Vol. 1 is also at this link.

casablan.jpgThe Strokes frontman is being duly hailed for his 2009 solo disc Phrazes For the Young, but he's definitely not getting enough credit for this song from it -- a rocked-up version of a silly novelty song that originated on "Saturday Night Live" with Horatio Sanz, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan, who sang it every year for as long as the four of them were members of the cast. Julian takes the running gag and turns it into something that can fill the dance floor, partly by tweaking bits of it to make it sound less like an afterthought. Folks who don't recognize the jokes will definitely recognize a good rocking Christmas tune when they hear it. For those who prefer the original, here it is:

"Is This Christmas?," The Wombats (Roadrunner)

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wombats.jpgThese guys are a lighthearted rock band from Britain, and this 2008 single appears to have been grafted onto the American release of their album A Guide To Love, Loss and Desperation. It's a delightfully exasperated and snarky look at the holiday, bracketed at the front and back with Salvation Army horns but in between going all Buzzcocks on us. Great power pop-rock for your holiday, and something your friends aren't likely to have heard.
frighrab.jpgA single from 2008, I passed on paying import prices for a single last year, but this might have been worth it. This modern Scottish band puts together a nicely anthemic tune of unity, friendship and holiday feelings that deserves much wider notice. Just discovered that the song actually originated with a single in 2007, so there are actually three versions of this song, the acoustic original, the more produced 2008 rendition, and a "choir" version, literally a choir-sung version of the song, all available for your downloading discernment.

Midwinter Graces, Tori Amos (Universal Republic)

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torimid.jpgWith Kate Bush in a state of semi-retirement, the leadership of the niche for female singer-songwriters with a penchant for both lyrical and musical drama has fallen to one Tori Amos. You've seen her previous albums, in which she creates multiple personas that she illustrates through wardrobe, wigs and makeup -- and, not incidentally, in the songs that she writes, produces and performs. For 2009, she brings this approach to a holiday album -- or, if you will, a "midwinter" album, in which she combines her originals with rearranged and augmented versions of traditional carols. The approach to the subject is similar to Sting's album, in that overt discussions of Christmas are played down in favor of her evocations of the impressions and emotions of the winter season. Love and nostalgia star in "A Silent Night With You," "Winter Carol" harkens back to pagan legends of the season, "Snow Angel" creates a celestial being out of a child's snow game, "Pink and Glitter" appears to be about a family holiday, though wrapped up in allegory and delivered as a torch song, and "Our New Year" is a more elaborate take, featuring a mixture of emotions, on the theme of "Auld Lang Syne." The Amazon edition adds two bonus cuts, "Comfort and Joy" and "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht," which inexplicably is sung in English. If you're starting to think this doesn't sound like a lot of fun, well, you'd be right -- there's not much rock 'n roll spirit on this album. Like Sting's disc, this is one artist's serious expression of her ideas of the holiday season, with only the slightest amount of whimsy to leaven it ("Pink and Glitter"). I will say there's enough substance here that Tori could build a live show around it and tour it in competition with Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller at Christmas time. (Hope I'm not creating a monster here....)
hollyber.jpgSurfing and Christmas have gone together going all the way back to the Beach Boys and Surfaris, and we've featured a number of contemporary takes on the combination at this very website in the past. Coming in strong for Christmas 2009 is this note-perfect surf-pop-rock tune by a band with an Oscar-winning name. Composer, performer and producer Kip Brown combined with singers Caron Maso Murray and Michele Maso Tinsley, all of whom previously worked together in the 80s band The Little Girls, to create this perfect snapshot of a sunny Southern California Christmas in the mid-60s. Some folks tend to resist this sort of nuevo-retro stuff, but I'm not one of them. Perfect mix disc bait. No physical media, says Kip, stop by your favorite download outlet for a copy.
goldbergs.jpgThe two bands sharing this EP have Andy Goldberg in common, who wrote the two Goldbergs cuts in 2009 and co-wrote the Sun Kings tunes with Dean Basil in 1998. This is textbook power pop, strong songs well performed that have you leaning an ear more closely to the speaker, both to spot the influences as well as to catch more of the lyrics. The Sun Kings evoke the Beatles and other Merseybeat bands on "Santa's Calling" and "Have a Very Merry Christmas," the latter having a nice slapdash quality accentuated by the use of bongos and other percussion rather than a trap set. The Goldbergs keep up the pace with "Christmas Time Again," a Badfinger-ish melody with acoustic guitars and lyrics that liberally quote familiar carol lyrics, and, Hanukkah alert, "Chanukah Guy," a song about "a Chanukah guy who loves Christmas/And the rabbi doesn't know." A great effort from an indie band (or two).

Open thread

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Now that the training wheels are off the all-new, all-singing, all-dancing Mistletunes, it occurs to me that the ability to attach comments to every single piece of business on the site might be a little intimidating to visitors. So I'm going to steal a blog tradition and post this open thread. Click on the link under the headline where it gives the number of comments and put up a few words relating to Christmas rock 'n roll, ideas for this site, or something else pertinent. Really good ideas might just turn into site posts or even site features. Have at it, and be excellent to each other, as Bill 'n Ted might say. UPDATE: I've had a couple of messages from folks who tell me attempts to register via TypePad/TypeKey are failing. I've only done limited testing but I've yet to duplicate any problem. But I went rooting around in site preferences and discovered I could enable logins from OpenID, LiveJournal and Vox in addition to Movable Type and TypePad. I've heard it's possible to set this blog up to enable Facebook logins as well, but I'll have to do some research on that point. Anyway, here's a little something to inspire comment, our pal Lord Weatherby's "Santa Claus Is Freaking Me Out": 

aquateen.jpgI've never seen more than a few minutes of the actual TV show, so apologies if I overlook anything about this 2009 album that's crucial to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force backstory. If Wikipedia's right, though, continuity isn't this Cartoon Network franchise's strong suit. Indeed, the characters -- and the plot, come to that -- are, shall we say, easily distracted, with "Twas the Night Before Jesus" being Exhibit A. What starts out as the story of the Nativity is quickly embellished with a bearded baby that can shoot lasers out of his eyes while his parents are killed and he's forced to attend wizard college... and this is only about a quarter of the way into the song. Things kick off with a version of "Feliz Navidad" in which a character asks, two lines in, whether they can sing it in English, which leads to them singing "meat navi-wad" and rattling off numerous fast-food specialities. An attempt to render "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" as a hip-hop anthem is similarly distracted with Boxy Brown's disquistion on a new Scott Stapp album and whether Jesus was black. In the "things that make you go hmm" department, "Santa Left a Booger In My Stocking" is a duet between Meatwad and Neko Case. Yes, that Neko Case. Also landing in the original tune department is "I Sure Hope I Don't Have to Beat Your Ass This Christmas," a misanthropic affirmation of the holiday's virtues. Then there's "Frosty the Red-Nosed Snowman," a tribute to Meatwad's easily distracted persona. I laughed a lot at this record and I'm not even familiar with the show, so I imagine this will have some entertainment value beyond the show's fan base.

Winter Songs, Halford (Metal God)

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halford.jpgThe former Judas Priest singer has carved out a strong solo career for himself, and for 2009 he's now decided it's time to bring his brand of metal to Christmas, assembling a half-dozen covers to go along with four original tunes. The opener, "Get Into the Spirit," is not explicitly about Christmas but is holiday-friendly, as well as a bombastic opener with a fast shuffle beat and shredding guitars. "Christmas For Everyone" is more of a holiday anthem, with an almost Slade-like feel; it's clearly this set's single. "I Don't Care" is a Christmas road song, your basic uptempo get-me-home-for-the-holidays song. "Light of the World" is more of a love song, with the star in the east as a symbol for the singer's lover. Add five traditional carols, starting with "We Three Kings" with a speed-metal approach, "Oh Come Oh Come Emanuel" done at a fist-punching-the-air tempo, and "What Child Is This," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Oh Holy Night" done in suitably dramatic settings. The real surprise is Halford's choice of "Winter Song" by Sara Barreilles from last year's Hotel Cafe compilation -- and a fairly faithful cover at that. Could Halford end up on this year's holiday episode of "Grey's Anatomy?"
barnes2.jpgI was surprised to stumble upon this after all these years -- it's from 1986 -- as I assumed I knew everything there was to know about the purveyors of the historic, Dr. Demento-approved novelty smash "Fish Heads." It's gay-friendly, silly, and still likely to outrage listeners in this supposedly modern day. From their album Sicks.

"The Christmas Song," David Banner (Universal)

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banner.jpgHulk smashed this one out way back in 2003, a rap take on "Good King Wenceslas" with this refrain: "It's Christmas time and we're broke again." Unemployment plays into this lack of holiday joy, which makes it even more pertinent again this year. Parental advisory plays into this one, too. From the album MTA2 -- Baptized in Dirty Water.

"Ghetto Christmas," Big Smo (Yayoda)

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bigsmo.jpgBig Smo rolled this joint for his 2007 album The True South, a hip-hop holiday shopping list with a brief guest shot from his own home-made chipmunks singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Gotta love somebody who only wants his "six gold teeth" for Christmas, right? Parental advisory called for on this one.
jughiway.jpgThe long-running acoustic-folk-swing-rockabillly-Dixieland-Americana and yes, jug band combo made up of well-known San Franciscan musicians is back for 2009 with an album recorded live over the past couple of seasons, compiling parody songs, some originals, and a fair amount of jug band jamming. In other words, the same M.O. exhibited over their four other albums. Things kick off with the instrumental "Shoot 'Em In the Pants," swinging into some originals, including "Carolin'," "This Christmas Night" and "Santa's Going Crazy This Year." "Jolly Ol' Soul" features Dan Hicks taking off on "My Blue Heaven," and later "Santa, the Man," based on "Song For My Father." Tim Eschliman gets into the act with "High Stack o' Presents" based on "High Blood Pressure," plus "Santa's on the Mainline," from the song originally about Jesus. Country Joe McDonald stops by with "Dirty Claus Rag," and the crew brings us a blues boogie, "Christmas in the Bottle," about an alcoholic holiday. As an antidote, they also bring us "Xmas Anonymous." All told, another light-hearted romp from some West Coast experts in old-school American music.
allstarx.jpg"The most eclectic Christmas album ever!" shouts the cover blurb, and if that's not strictly true, it is fair to say this 2009 collection is a reasonably varied version of a rock 'n roll Christmas. It's two discs' worth (30 tunes) of rockin' Christmas goodies at a pretty cheap price, though it becomes clear that the price is dependent on the fact that few of the familiar rock classic titles on here are by the original artists. Apparently, Iggy Pop's version of "White Christmas" was recorded for this collection, and it's right in keeping with the style he's established for himself in his latter solo years. Some of the other selections that are unique to this release include Doors axeman Robbie Krieger's "Little Drummer Boy," which distinguishes itself with Krieger's Eastern-influenced guitar parts; Dweezil Zappa's version of "Wonderful Christmastime" -- yes, the Macca tune, which he plays straight, adding some fairly tasteful guitar heroics in the middle; and a couple of numbers from Dokken/Lynch Mob guitarist George Lynch, "Wizards In Winter" and a cover of Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas/Sarajevo 12/24." Several surprises surface here, including "Christmas Time Is Here Again" by the Flirtations -- actually the original B-side of their 60s megahit "Nothing But a Heartache"; Spanky and Our Gang's "Sleigh Bells," which sounds like it was recorded in the latter days of their existence; Musical Youth's cover of the Boney M medley "Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord"; and the Motels doing Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas is You." James Brown is represented with two numbers, "Clean For Christmas" and "Funky Christmas," as is 70s country singer Donna Fargo (unnecessarily, in my opinion) with "Jingle Bells" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Other notable tracks include John Wetton's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," Bay City Rollers' "Cuz It's Christmas," Leif Garrett covering Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody," tribute band T.Rextasy contributing a second, Marc Bolan-ized version of "White Christmas," Tommy Tutone's retinseled "867-5309 (Christmas version)" and guitar hero Steve Morse covering U2's "New Year's Day." Price-wise it's hard to go wrong, especially at Amazon's download price, and there's enough unique stuff here to make it worthwhile.

ensemble.jpgDon't know much about these folks except they're from Seattle and they apparently recorded this in 2007. It's apparently done with good intentions -- some of the proceeds are earmarked for homeless aid charities in their home city -- but as a novelty/comedy take on the holiday, the laughs are few and far between. A casual listen reveals a mostly instrumental large soul band take on some Christmas tunes, well performed, but much of what's intended to be humorous is either too obvious or way too obscure. A double dose of David Rose's "The Stripper" is supposed to be mashed up with Christmas songs, but you have to listen with both ears and a copy of the score to pick them out. Then there's the medley of "Holly Jolly Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock" in which the hook is that it's being sung by "Elf-ish Presley and his Elves," a bad pun on the band name and a run-of-the-mill Elvis impression. There are some high points here, however. The most inspired number is "Jesus Super Freak," a slowed-down gospelly takeoff on the Rick James tune whose punchline takes a moment to sink in. "Carol of the Tubular Bells" mashes up the carol with the Mike Oldfield tune that served as theme to "The Exorcist." "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" gets a Santo & Johnny arrangement, "Tiffany Sequence M.22" jams "Deck the Halls" into some sort of 70s TV ad theme (sounded a bit like "Music To Watch Girls By") and "Out of Presents" plays the old Marketts surf tune "Out of Limits" over "Up On the Housetop." Kind of uneven from a novelty standpoint, its best use is as background music.
diamond.jpgI've stayed away from Neil Diamond's Christmas output because I deemed it closer to middle-of-the-road pop than rock. It was a reasonable decision; from about Jonathan Livingston Seagull onward, he's been far more crooner than rocker, though his live shows continued to feature his earlier rock 'n roll hits. Recently, he's gotten the Rick Rubin late-career tuneup that did so much for Johnny Cash, and his last two albums have gotten good reviews in the rock press. For 2009, he let a little of that rock overhaul catch up to his Christmas output -- not a lot, though, as the majority of the songs on this third Christmas album are previously released, either on The Christmas Album or The Christmas Album Vol. 2. Those repeats are all Christmas standards, but Neil did find time to add five new tunes, including three originals. The new collection's title song, unfortunately, is a ballad in which Neil throws in some references to his early hits, not a retinseling of "Cherry Cherry" as a Christmas song as I had originally thought. It's not bad, but it's strictly croonerville. "Christmas Dream" is another holiday ballad with contemplative lyrics, and "Meditation on a Winter Night" is a brief instrumental. "Amazing Grace" joins the lineup, and while it's growing in popularity as a Christmas song I still don't see the connection. The final new song is Neil's cover of Adam Sandler's "The Chanukkah Song," in which Neil takes the song perhaps a little more seriously than it deserves -- but that's what makes this a classic Neil Diamond performance. As for the repeats, there are a few rocking moments among them, but not enough to make this a Mistletunes pick.

Winter Comes Again, Keri Noble (Telarc)

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keriwint.jpgKeri Noble is your typical "Grey's Anatomy"-friendly pop-rock singer-songwriter with three albums to her credit, but she's pretty reticent about her holiday side; a visit to her various Web spaces reveal nothing about her 2004 single "This Christmas Time" or this 2008 EP. Someone should let her know that it does no good to keep your light hidden under a bushel; I'm guessing that the title song, "Santa You Owe Me" and "Everything I Want For Christmas" are originals. "Santa" is a poppy bid to the jolly elf to pick her up and take her away from her lonely life, the title song a pensive ballad and "Everything" the closest thing to a single here. There's also a faithful cover of Joni Mitchell's "River," a downbeat "I Wonder as I Wander" and a solo acapella rendition of "Auld Lang Syne." A good effort, too bad it doesn't include "This Christmas Time" as well.

A Kindie Christmas, The Hipwaders (Hip Kid)

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kindies.jpgNot everybody who pitches music to the site has read every word generated in the past, yet I'm occasionally surprised when something arrives here that isn't quite within the Mistletunes parameters. In this case, I've noted in the past that we don't do much with kids' music. Of course, kid music has over the past decade or so become a genre unto itself, as a wide-ranging cast of musicians discovers targeting the little ones can be lucrative. So when The Hipwaders sent me their 2009 Christmas disc without specifically telling me they were a kiddie band, I was a bit concerned, at least until I listened to it. Considering I've enjoyed kid-themed albums by bands like Barenaked Ladies and They Might Be Giants, I've established that the dividing line should be whether adults would be embarrassed to listen to the music on their own, and on this disc, The Hipwaders manage to land on the right side of the not-embarrassing line. Some of their gags, like "Santasploitation," are, after all, a bit over the heads of anybody who wasn't alive in the 1970s. I could see parents getting a little sick of this if they let their kids play it over and over, as it's relentlessly upbeat. Nevertheless, there's plenty of rock/pop crunch on such things as "Wake Up," "Yes, It's Christmas" and "Tinsel and Lights." "It's Wintertime" lays down some white-boy soul grooves, "Santa's Train" is an old-school country train song without the angst, and "Christmas Vicuna" has a slightly tropical groove set to a story of a vicuna that takes Rudolph's place at the head of the reindeer team. Good work, and the kids should dig it too.

Oh Blue Christmas, A Fine Frenzy (Virgin)

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finefren.jpgA Fine Frenzy is singer-songwriter Alison Sudol and her band, and while she's been rocking things up with her Bomb In a Birdcage album, this six-song EP -- a Target exclusive in hardcopy but also downloadable from iTunes and Amazon -- is more ethereal and folky, lots of fingerpicked guitar and piano with Alison going to the whisper-sing frequently. The approach is made for "Christmas Time Is Here," while it's a bit of a mold-breaker for "Blue Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland." Alison writes three songs for this project, the more uptempo "Winter White" and the contemplative "Wish You Well," which confronts mixed family feelings, and "Red Ribbon Foxes," which contrasts the things that cost money vs. the things that are priceless. Frenzy fans will want this 2009 disc under the tree, and it's a good introduction to the band as well.

Make Sure You're Home For Christmas, Joe (Kedar)

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joexmas.jpgJoe, who drops his surname Thomas for his recording career, has been around for quite a while, with a number of R'nB hits to his name like "Don't Want to Be a Player" and "All the Things Your Man Won't Do." He's dueted with Mariah Carey and he's also pals with the Wayans family, which has resulted in a number of his songs being placed in their movies. This EP, billed as a Target exclusive for 2009, features half a dozen tunes, including two Joe originals, "It Ain't Christmas" and the title tune. The approach throughout is balladry, with jazz-influenced arrangements, well done but with no real surprises and no uptempo interludes to liven things up. Along with Joe's originals we get his versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" and David Foster's "Grown Up Christmas List." UPDATE: Apparently Joe's not sticking with Target this year; this same disc, extended to 10 songs, is being issued on iTunes as Home Is the Essence of Christmas. The additional songs are "Christmas in New York," "Christmas Time Here," "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and an instrumental of "Have Yourself."
homeless.jpgThis charity compilation from 2006 originated in Omaha, Neb., with acts from that city's music scene. Proceeds from the sale of this CD help support the Siena Francis House which provides food, shelter, and other necessities to homeless people in the Omaha area. Mostly original songs are offered in this independent rock collection. The album opens strongly with "Alone For Christmas" by Anonymous American, a bluesy ballad that puts homelessness in the listener's mind. "Christmas Scar" by Icares is a melodic 70s-sounding rocker with strong ensemble vocals. Kill Bosby's "Whim" is less about Christmas than runaway teens, but it's a strong ballad in that vein. Supervirgin's "I Hope You Get What You Want For Christmas" is a kind of folky chant with a bit of an outsider vibe, while Scott Severin and Band's "Xmas B&E" is more of a bar-band workout featuring slide guitar that's about breaking and entering -- by Santa, of course. Shinyville offers "Santa's Rap (2002)," a synth-heavy talk-sing that highlights Santa's grumpy side, and Vago's "By the Tree" shows a much mellower Santa "rollin' up a great big doob" while Mrs. Santa works the pole. Covers are offered by The Government, who do a serviceable version of "Merry Christmas From the Family," and Richard Schultz and the Miracle Men do a round-the-campfire version of "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas." These folks apparently plan another disc next year, and aficionados of Midwest bands might want to mark their calendars.

"Digital Dreidel," olkovikas (self-issued)

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digdreid.jpgThis is a fairly minimal-sounding bit of electronica dedicated to the notion of the title toy. So minimal that only the word "dreidel" and a bit of the melody suggests anything related to Hanukkah. Nevertheless, it's a neat-sounding bit of dance floor business. Found this on iTunes. From 2009.

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