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December 2009 Archives

"Yuletide Zeppelin I," Mojochronic (self-issued)

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I keep hearing folks going nuts over this, and Robert Drake just played it on WXPN-FM in Philly this afternoon, so I figured folks who don't find their way over to the old site might appreciate having it up front here today. There's a part two if you can't get enough from this one, by the way. If I don't post any more for the next couple of days, Merry Christmas from Mistletunes. (I will be back to posting soon though, so keep on coming back.)

A quick hit for a holiday parody legend

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I don't know how I managed to not know about these guys, but Bah and the Humbugs are a nearly quarter-century legend in the Philadelphia area. They're going to be playing live on Philly's alt-rock radio station, WXPN-FM, on Christmas Eve; check their page for more details. Looks like they've been making parody holiday songs in the vein of the Capitol Steps for quite a long time, so check them out. (I'm using this post as a sort of string around my finger to go back and do a more considered post on them at a later time.) UPDATE: Amy Guskin of Bah and the Humbugs says I should soft-pedal the parody angle; while they have done one or two such numbers, the emphasis is on original holiday material. Hopefully we'll have that expanded post I promised soon, as they're getting ready to mark their silver anniversary in 2010.

The Yule Logs, The Yule Logs (self-issued)

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YuleLogs.jpgThe self-proclaimed "hardest working band in snow business" from Chico, Calif., brings us an eponymous album of holiday tuneage. Can't quite run down when this was released; their MySpace page went up in 2005 but the publicity suggests this is new for 2009. It's your basic modern power-pop ensemble rocking out through a dozen tunes from the Christmas season. Most tunes are familiar but there are some originals, like "Walking With the Ghost of Christmas," "Christmastime Is Here (Again!)," "Christmas From Berlin," "Hanukkah Mambo" and "Christmas Is Lonely (When You're a Jew)." The chosen people do well on this album, Hanukkah Alert, with three tunes, including their own fancy-dance tempo version of "Hanukkah O Hanukkah." These guys know how to rock the holiday, with spontaneous-sounding performances that encourage dancing and acting out. The classic carols get jerked around a little bit, and "We Three Kings" has a mock-portentious delivery worthy of an old-school prog band. A surprising take on the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" turns it into a 50s ballad, and just so a certain blog knows, they cover "Last Christmas" as well. This album makes me wish I was in Chico for the holidays. Here, have a taste:

Not just another band from L.A., The Skandles work the music-comedy beat at DailyComedy.com and also on their own MySpace page. So what's up with this? Think Chipmunks go gangsta and you got it nailed. Lyrics available on MySpace as well. Expurgated and unexpurgated versions are out there, depending on who's on your mix disc list. But why make you wait? Check it out for yourself, NSFW:

X-Mas, Mia Sable (Moduristic)

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MiaSables.jpgMellow-voiced Mia likes her synths, as this 2009 EP demonstrates. She takes the poppy dance floor approach to a pair of classics, "Santa Baby," and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," the former having perhaps a bit too mellow approach vocally but the latter kicking things up a notch with just a light dusting of distorted guitar. The original "December 25 (New Love)" is more of a midtempo love ballad, not bad in total, with two mixes offered. 
lifechair.jpgHere's a young band from Santa Monica who chose to make their first album a Christmas album, thereby angling for the affection of Mistletunes readers, a small but influential group of people. I'd like to think they're Mistletunes readers themselves, because this is exactly the kind of album this website was created to promote -- irreverent rock 'n roll about the holiday, the good and the bad, balancing sentiment and snark, and you can dance to it too. (The band issues a preemptive mea culpa on their MySpace page: "Although most of the songs are fast, there are one or two lame slow ones. Sorry.") Three of the tunes are noted as "Explicit," including "Santa," the title of which thoughtfully leaves off the expletive preceding the jolly elf's name in the chorus of this song that rags him for not being cool and never showing up. "It's Christmas Again" depicts a lover's quarrel in which "just for tonight, I'll tolerate you." And when the singer shops for "A Gift As Nice As You," he ends up getting her a gift card. "Uke Medley" appears to be a couple of songs, one called "I'd Like To See You On Christmas," the other "Leave a Little Light On," performed on multiple ukeleles. And "Unwanted Guest" dispatches its topic with relief and glee. Great songs, rambunctious performances -- well, what are you waiting for?

the88s.jpgAnother rock band I hadn't heard about before, they apparently cut the theme song for NBC's new show "Community." Hope they get more out of that than The Rembrandts did for their more popular NBC comedy. Leaving that aside, they put up a single for download and it's a nice one, no relation to the Mariah Carey tune, a bit of a shuffle not too dissimilar to Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" with a bit of a 70s vibe to it. "Without you here, that shit don't mean a thing" is possibly Christmas quote of the year for 2009, by the way. This was free at iTunes; apologies if it isn't by the time you read this.
rockmoon.jpgI'm not familiar with these rocket guys, but this single on iTunes is a solid rock 'n roll version of the classic song that takes nothing from the Phil Spector version. Nice job, guys.

"White Christmas," Rockapella (self-issued)

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rockawite.jpgThis popular a cappella group is already on record with two Christmas albums, and this year they're attracting attention with a fresh (and free) rendition of "White Christmas." This is a bit glee club to my ears (can you tell I haven't been captivated by that new Fox TV show?) and the group has done much better stuff on its albums, but you can decide for yourself.
yulenog5.jpgYulenog collections have featured here at Mistletunes in past years, and sure enough 2009 brings us another one. The modus operandi is that Kuruna and friends, most of whom appear to be jazzers of one stripe or another, put together a collection of holiday novelties. Some of this year's better ideas on this collection include the hip-hop number "Santa, Do You Like Dat Booty," complete with auto-tune vocal; "Santa's In-Box (Spamta Claus)," a spoken-word recitation of e-mail come-ons with holiday overtones; "Virgin Mary," a grungy rocker featuring a supreme being's pickup lines; "Great White Surprise," an original with the flavor of Jesus & Mary Chain; "Chuck D's Christmas Carol," another rap Christmas take based on the Public Enemy blueprint; and from "Dreamgirls," a holiday takeoff, "And I Am Telling You I Am Still a Virgin." The performances of traditional carols are perfunctory, though, with the nadir being "The First Noel" done with a chorus of off-pitch pennywhistles. As usual, there are a lot of great ideas here, although you may do some skipping around to get to them.
No one's seen fit to make this terrific parody song available for use by the fraternity of Christmas disc mixers (everyone who has took it from a video cap of the show on which it originally ran, complete with audience laughter), but we can at least enjoy it this way.

altroot.jpgAlternate Root is a magazine dedicated to Americana, roots and alt-country performers, and for 2009 they issued a holiday compilation with a twist -- it's 25 songs contributed by the magazine's readers. Sort of a multimedia letters section for the magazine, if you will. It's a free download as well. Of course, many of the readers are pro musicians, so this isn't exactly the local high school production of "American Idol" we're dealing with. It's a lot more country than we normally get into at Mistletunes, but since it's free you can pick and choose the tunes as you will. Grub Dog Mitchell's "Rockin' In My Stockin'" is as advertised, a solid rootsy rocker; Carolyn Sills goes 60s girl-group on a tribute to "George Bailey"; Penny Jo Pullus contributes a new version of her "Silent Night, Lonely Night" she did with the Muddpuppies on the Here Comes Another Christmas: Greetings from the Salt City album from around a decade ago; and Lance Norris' "Santa Copped a 'Tude" is a Bob Dylan parody originally heard on the holiday disc by The Stools. Jaime Michaels goes a little more acoustic pop with his "Winter Song" and Steve Fisher puts a bluegrass backing to "Hoovertown," a Depression-era story of sharing strength and woe at Christmastime. Because country is a big part of this, we get cry-in-your-beer tunes like "Jon's Silent Night" by Jon Byrd and "Mommy, Why Was Santa Crying?" by T. Edwin Doss. A little more fun is available from Chief Greenbud's "Let's Get Blazed For the Holidaze," Cody Prevost's "Santa's Got a New Ride" and Candye Kane's "Put the X Back in Xmas," and she discovers "Santa Is a Swinger Now" to a Western swing backing. You'll want to at least sort through this collection, although if you're a regular Alternate Root reader you probably will love this without reservation.
gripweeds.jpgThis has actually been out before, on Hi-Fi Christmas Party Vol. 2, but the band has put it up for free download this holiday season. It's a strong power pop outing, somewhere between Revolver-era Beatles and early Cheap Trick in execution, helped by a catchy melody and lyrics that poke and prod the materialism that can infest the holiday. Waterstone Guitars hosts a direct link, but you can just go to the band's website and join their mailing list. UPDATE: Sorry, free download links have all gone the way of the passenger pigeon. But this song made their 2011 Christmas album, so not all's lost.
Yeah, I mentioned Jill earlier this month, but I just found this video of her version of Robert Earl Keen's funny Christmas song. A lot of folks insist Keen's version is better, but I prefer Jill's because it's, well, less country, not to mention that it benefits from Jill's winsome style of delivery as well. No offense to Keen; I like his version fine. He got a parody children's book out of the song, while Jill got this video, which she apparently didn't know was still out there, according to her blog. This video, by the way, is almost a forerunner of the "literal video" craze, to my eyes anyway.

Thanks to Howard Cogswell for bringing this to my attention. Sir Paul took his stadium tour to Cologne, Germany this week, and avid audience video bugs caught him in the act of reviving his 1979 holiday single. No doubt audiences in Dublin and London next week will be similarly regaled. No vouching for the quality, of course, but this seems to be the best of three versions of this on YouTube. UPDATE: Send an official Beatles e-card this year featuring a snippet from the 1966 fan club flexi-disc. Hat tip to Beatles Examiner.

"Santa Claus," Lee "Scratch" Perry (Narnack)

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scratch.jpgFrom his 2008 album Resistance, this holiday tune by the reggae legend appears to be at least as concerned with Mickey Mouse as the jolly elf. For that matter, this doesn't sound particularly reggae either, sounding more like a Jamaican take on hip-hop and electronica. But Perry was always a sonic innovator, so it's not surprising he's left the old ways behind.

"Little Drummer Boy," Mike Farris (INO)

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mikefars.jpgFor those of you with a strong taste for irony, here's a live acoustic performance of "Little Drummer Boy" in which nobody actually plays any sort of percussion instrument. Don't take that as a flip review, though, Mike's a good singer and guitarist and this is a neat performance. Available where you buy your downloads, or you can send it as an e-card as well.

Singing saws carve a Christmas niche

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We like our novelties here at Mistletunes, and I thought it was kismet that I acquired one singing saw holiday tune just as my e-mail brought news of a singing saw video. Go over to Stereogum.com and check out/download Julian Koster's "Let It Snow," a rather well produced pop take on the popular tune. Apparently, Julian has an entire disc, The Singing Saw at Christmastime, on Merge Records, but this tune isn't on it. Meanwhile, here's Natalia "The Saw Lady" Paruz, an actual classical harpist who also plays the saw, going unplugged to busk "Silent Night" in the New York City subway system. I note for the record that saw soloists tend to play covers; where are all the original composers for saw? Or socket sets, for that matter?

"We Three Kings," Blondie (self-issued)

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blondie2.jpgIf you're a fan of the band that cut across genres from girl-group to new wave to hip-hop, you'll want this free download of a traditional Christmas song that sounds like it could have been the flip side of "Hanging On the Telephone." So go on, what are you waiting for? Apparently this 2009 performance is a come-on to remember the band when it reunites for a new album in 2010. You'll need to give up an e-mail address for their mailing list, but this one's worth it too.
lauravne.jpgLaura Vane is a British singer (shout out to Brighton, y'all) whose band includes folks from the UK and Netherlands, and they've come together to sing and play old-school soul music. Without seeing the band, I tried to guess what obscure '60s band I was listening to. Now I know (with help from Martin Johns, who tipped me to this). The song in question is a free download for 2009, but you have to join the band's mailing list to get it. I don't think it's too much to ask for a great honkin' holiday noise like this one.
We highlighted these guys' cover of "Christmas Time (Sure Don't Feel Like)" not long ago, and it turns out they have an original holiday song of their own to feature for 2009. It's a nice mid-tempo pop number with slide guitar, and you can check it out right here:

subspraw.jpgI've been a little slow getting to this, and with good reason -- this is a free download album with 53 songs on it. Count 'em, 53. As a result, in my last few bouts of posting I kept telling myself, "Oh, I'll get to that when I have a little more time to deal." Well, you know how that goes. So I said it's time to get it posted. Suburban Sprawl is an alt-rock-indie label, and not a very big one, though one might assume the exact opposite with 53 artists involved. So I won't bother unpacking all of that and just get to the music, which in overall quality is pretty darn good across the entire collection. Things kick off with "Twas the Night Before Christmas" done to the tune of "Chopsticks" by The Barrettes and continue in fine style with such tunes as Love Axe's original "Baby, I Wish It Was Cold Outside," Panic & Sharon's electro-pop "Christmastime Is Here," ChrisMas' dance-floor-ready "S.A.N.T.A.," Daniel Zott's Claus lament "Look What You Did, You Little Jerk," Buffay's hip-hop takeoff "Merri Chrissmiss 2 My Dik," which requires a Parental Advisory (ya think?), Coach Mahler's "Hanukkah Blues," Bethlehem Girls Choir's unique medley of "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey and "Here Comes Your Man" by The Pixies, and so on through all 53 selections. Suburban Sprawl has done this for multiple years, and they're all at the free download site, so do a little discovering of your own.

pathetic.jpgThese guys are a pop-rock band from Worcester, MA, and this comic Christmas song isnt't too hard to penetrate in terms of meanings. (Think looking up at mistletoe, it'll come to you.) Unfortunately, they've only got up for listening on their MySpace page for now, but hopefully we'll have this to look forward to for next year.

"Macarena Christmas," Los Del Rio (BMG)

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You've no doubt heard of the cash-in sequel. This 1996 single is probably the most naked cash-grab going; they basically took the original song and superimposed girl singers doing short lines from classic Christmas carols in between the verses. I haven't been this jealous since I missed out on a chance to direct an episode of "Cops." Just in case you weren't one of the first six million or so people to buy the original "Macarena," the Bayside Boys Mix version is also on this single. Or you can just watch this, though I take no responsibility should anyone click on this and later pluck their eyes out:

cleveland.jpgFor those of you not down with "Family Guy," Cleveland is Peter's black friend, now the star of his very own spinoff half-hour on the Fox network. I'm guessing there's no need to explain who Earth Wind and Fire are, though this song is more from the "Family Guy" world than EWF's. I doubt there's much explanation needed of the title or lyrics to this song, but as obvious as it is it's also fairly entertaining, which now that I think of it is the appeal of the two TV shows mentioned here.

Merry Xmas From X, X (Anko)

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xxmas.jpgYes, L.A.'s finest came together in 2009 to record this single with two classic carols. "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" features what sounds like double-tracked Exene singing in a rather poppy style, but the instrumental track and the guitar solo are vintage X. "Jingle Bells" is John Doe and Exene duetting the vocal, again sounding like the band everybody knows and loves. Amazon has a listing for it but no way to purchase it, so head over to iTunes for a copy.

"Away in a Manger," Paul Westerberg (Dry Wood)

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westerbg.jpgWesterberg, once of the iconic Replacements, put out an EP called D.G.T. earlier in 2009 that includes the title song, a version of the country classic "Streets of Laredo," and this classic carol, done in an uptempo, Replacements-worthy arrangement. You have to download the whole EP to get the carol, but Amazon only charges 79 cents for it.
godsfire.jpgI don't know if Jack Black is Jewish -- there's a trivia nugget at IMDB.com that says he realized his acting talent while playing Freeze after a Passover seder -- but if he's heard about this 2009 album, he's probably kicking himself that he didn't think of it first. Gods of Fire are a working New York metal band that put together six original tunes and added two traditional songs to create a Hanukkah album -- one that sounds a lot like what a Hanukkah album by Tenacious D would sound like. Actually, I'm surprised there hasn't been more in the way of metal Hanukkah music, as the genre tends to gravitate toward material with epic storytelling potential, and Hanukkah does provide an epic story. The Gods are an excellent band in their genre, and their songs do a good job of depicting the story of the holiday, from disc opener "Eight Days of Victory" to closer "Taking the Temple." It's just that, well, metal is one of those genres that is rooted to a specific time period -- mid- to late-70s to mid-80s -- and seeing and hearing these guys is sort of like going to a Renaissance Faire set in that time period. A visit to their MySpace page reveals the band roster as "Prometheus (Vocals), DJ Blood Sacrifice (7 String Guitars, Keyboards), Saucy Jack (6 String Guitars), Helios (Drums), Evil Thunder (Bass)." And they address their blog posts to "Mortals." In the modern day, they would be well advised to shake off the cliches of the metal style and let the music speak for itself.
jourgens.jpgJourgensen, founder of industrial band Ministry, got together with Mark Thwaite of The Mission to create this almost pop Christmas rocker, though there's plenty of industrial drone in the background to keep folks from getting too comfortable. From 2009.

Punk Rawk Christmas, MxPx (Rock City)

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mxpxmas.jpgMxPx has long been known as a Christian punk band, though they've recorded a fair number of secular-sounding tunes along the way, including a surprising number of covers. They've also recorded a number of original Christmas songs over time, and for 2009 they've compiled them into an album for easier access. The title song kicks things off in the title spirit, kicks up a notch with "Christmas Day," which has been around for almost a decade, and they don't let up much in tempo for the entire 13-song playlist. Despite the punk readymades, they don't go in for "shocking" lyrics, and in fact their message across the disc is mostly positive and family-friendly. This is not to say they don't have a little fun, as in "Christmas Night of the Living Dead," in which the singer battles zombies, or the "Late Great Snowball Fight of 2006." They do jab at a recent Christmas classic in "So This Is Christmas?," though the message is one of doing the best with what you have. "You're the One I Miss (This Christmas)" is the requisite holiday love song, and "Christmas Party" celebrates the end of the preparations and the beginning of holiday fun. And they add a few lyrics of their own to disc-ender "Auld Lang Syne." All told, this is good fun to listen to all the way through, and it may keep Green Day from cutting a Christmas album anytime soon.

Strange Communion, Thea Gilmore (Rykodisc)

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theagilm.jpgThea, a British singer-songwriter with eight albums to her credit, decided 2009 was the year to release a Christmas album. She offers us eight original songs and a thought-provoking pair of covers: Yoko Ono's "Listen, the Snow is Falling," and Elvis Costello's "The St. Stephen's Day Murders." She renders each in versions similar to the original versions but manages to put her own stamp on them. Disc opener "Sol Invictus" is performed with a vocal choir, offering an almost foreboding welcome to winter, and "Thea Gilmore's Midwinter Toast" shakes off the regrets of the past year with a look forward to the new one. "Cold Coming" treads similar ground in a more uptempo way, with the lyrics to this song contributing the album's title. Here it should be noted that while Gilmore appears to be following the approach of Sting and Tori Amos toward a "winter" album, there are overt references to Christmas as well, starting with "This Is Christmas," the album's likely single, with wry lyrics including a first-verse shout-out to "Jona Lewie on the radio" along with a George Harrison-styled guitar break. "Book of Christmas" is an instrumental with that annoying vinyl record noise gimmick. "Drunken Angel" is a title borrowed from Lucinda Williams, but the thrust here is holiday-oriented, again looking back on past regrets and thankful for what blessings made it through. All told, a serious look at the holiday, but one with depth and humor.

"That Hat," Jill Sobule (self-issued)

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jillhat.jpgI didn't notice at the time, but Jill reissued her extended Xmas EP It's the Thought That Counts in 2005 and added this excellent little meditation on Christmas desire and shoplifting to the playlist. (She also subtracted some non-Christmas tunes.) The great thing about Jill is not that she can render these downtempo emotions with a crooked smile, but that you can hear her doing it on the record. Get her version of the backstory of this song here, and get our previous take on Jill's Christmas oeuvre here.

"Silent Night," House of Heroes (Gotee)

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houshero.jpgAnother Christian rock band (lots of 'em this year), this 2008 version of the classic carol is a fairly ordinary approach, though the counter-singing in the background is a nice touch. UPDATE: For 2009, the single becomes an EP, adding versions of "O Come Emanuel" and Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Good versions of both.

Maybe Next Year, The Layaways (self-issued)

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layaways.jpgThe Layaways are an indie-rock band from Chicago with a pop sensibility, and they started out in the Christmas realm with a three-song EP in 2006. For 2009, they added seven more tunes, including two originals, and fleshed it out into this album. Though these guys are pop-rockers, the whole tone of this album is mostly midtempo and pensive. The title song is a swaying original, and the other original, "Greeting Card," is an acoustic guitar ballad about a struggling relationship at the holiday. "O Christmas Tree" almost starts out like a Flight of the Conchords version with unadorned drums and guitars, and "Auld Lang Syne" has a similar approach. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," ironically, is a little dour-sounding. "Joy to the World," "Angels We Have Heard On High," "Silent Night," "Away in a Manger" and the reprise of "Joy" called "Repeat the Sounding Joy" are all instrumentals. A little more in the way of uptempo numbers would have helped this collection, but taken all together it's not a bad little album. You can download a couple of numbers free at the band's website, linked above.

A Family Christmas, various artists (Putumayo)

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putumayo.jpgI haven't been down with Putumayo's prodigious output of Christmas discs in the past, but they sent this one along and I noticed that most of the playlist has already been reviewed on this site, so I figured it was worth mentioning. Among the cuts from Mistletunes history are Leon Redbone's "Let It Snow," Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's version of "Zat You, Santa Claus," Brave Combo's "Jolly Old St. Nick," Christmas Jug Band's "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus," and Martin Sexton's "Holly Jolly Christmas." Add to that Johnny Bregar and his ukelele on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," Deana Carter's swingy "Winter Wonderland," Sam Bush taking a "Sleigh Ride" with banjo, Debbie Davis and Matt Perrine bringing back the ukelele and adding accordion to "Mele Kalikimaka," Kate Rusby's "Here We Come A-Wassailing," and Lars Edegran with Big Al Carson doing "Frosty the Snowman" Dixieland style. The emphasis is on American roots music on this collection, with a bias toward making the playlist kid-friendly, and on that score it succeeds. And while it's not exactly balls-out rock 'n roll, it does have that hint of irreverence we're looking for here.

ronnies.jpgThis track has been knocking around unreleased for years, but it finally turned up as a graft onto the first domestic release of Ronnie's Last of the Rock Stars album, originally out in 2006 overseas and just available in 2009 stateside. The song originated with Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and Ronnie gives it a vintage reading that would have been a strong rock ballad 50 years ago but today to most ears sounds just middle of the road. Nevertheless, Ronnie did a nice job on it, and she ought to chase down the folks who helped Darlene Love do her 2007 Christmas album and let them work their magic on a full Christmas disc by her. UPDATE: Martin Johns takes issue with "originated" in regard to the Frankie Lymon version; Frankie recorded the song in 1957, while Tommy Edwards recorded it in 1953. Thanks, Martin, don't be a stranger!

When Love First Cried, Sonicflood (Resonate)

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sonicfld.jpgSonicflood is a Christian contemporary rock band with a Christmas album for 2009, and where many of the Christian acts in recent years have made their religious side less overt (probably to keep from being the band kids' parents tell them they ought to like), these guys keep the testimony front and center. Some of these songs were already part of a previous Sonicflood disc, A Heart Like Yours, including the Christmas disc's title song, "This Is Christmas," "Noel (Glory To Your Name)" and "Ring the Bells." They add originals "The Gift of Love" and "Hope Has Kissed the Earth" along with "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "O Come Emmanuel," "O Holy Night" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." The approach is shiny happy modern chart-friendly pop-rock, with flourishes that will remind you of acts from U2 to Bon Jovi. But it's no accident that they chose only antique carols to go with their originals; those songs, like their own, are heavy on the Biblical story of Christmas. A slight nod to the secular aspects of the holiday might have given the album a bit more variety in tone and approach. Nevertheless, their fan base will go big for this.

Christmas Cheers, Straight No Chaser (Atlantic)

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straight2.jpgOne rightly looks askance when an act scores a holiday-related hit, rushes out an album, then rushes out a second album the following year -- especially when it includes the hit from the first album. Straight No Chaser isn't the first act to follow this blueprint, but they're the latest. The hit in question, their still-entertaining medley based on "12 Days of Christmas," reappears here in a studio version, as opposed to the live version that powered the group's multi-million-hit YouTube video. But we've all heard that by now, so what's next? How about something similar based on "Can-Can?" Kicking off the new album is "Christmas Can-Can," a fairly strong medley in the same vein as "12 Days," this time relying on holiday parody lyrics for the can-can part of the song while jamming in a number of other holiday tunes, and "The Dreidel Song" reappears here too. Their version of "We Three Kings" is based on the theme from "Mission: Impossible," "Let It Snow" gets a fresh funky take, they cover Brian Setzer's "Hey Santa" and apply some of the same approach to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," taking a few liberties with the lyrics and playing around with antique radio sounds. "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" sounds good in a capella, and they provide one original, "Who Spiked the Eggnog," a jazzy companion to "Hey Santa." The rest of the album, mostly classic carols, tracks a lot closer to glee club, but if you missed out on the "12 Days" craze last year, that and "Christmas Can-Can" are worth hearing. There's a special edition of the disc that adds a version of "Last Christmas," by the way.

A delightful Hanukkah Alert we have here from 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. Or you can just watch/listen to it here:


indiec2.jpgFresh off their first compilation from last year. the Indiecater label is back with a new collection of alt-indie-rock-pop Christmas tunes from acts on their roster and from elsewhere. Adam and Darcie kick things off with a dreamy "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," Allo Darlin', fresh off Cherryade's compilation, keep a candle burning for ukelele music with this solo strum of what is normally a duet song, "Baby It's Cold Outside," and Betty and the Cavaleros go lounge with "Hey! I'm Your Gift Today." Loxly gives us an unspeakably tragic take on the life of "Mrs. Kris Kringle," in which she shaves his beard in his sleep, unpacks the sleigh and burns the kids' letters. I Hate You Just Kidding pick up the duet baton from Allo Darlin' with their own "It's Fun To Do Bad Things" for Christmas, The Garlands grab a little of that Pet Sounds magic for their original "Christmas Song," and Candyclaws gins up a kind of slapdash wall of sound for their tune "Snowdrift Wish." The band Sweet Jane puts "Silent Night" to a Velvet Underground-like backing, and Standard Fare does a kind of talk-sing on "Tinsel Politics," in which the family battles about where to go and what to do on Christmas are aired out. Not a lot of uptempo stuff on this collection, but at least these folks are being mopey about some thought-provoking topics. Get it from Indiecater's website.
damaged.jpgThe Damaged Goods label remains a mainstay of the British punk scene, and their artists have had a fairly active Christmas life -- indeed, a number of the label's holiday works have featured on Mistletunes in the past. For those who haven't been following the Damaged saga, this collection, a paid download from the label's site, will bring you up to speed quickly -- and enjoyably. The site has previously reviewed such items as Holly Golightly's "Christmas Tree On Fire," Wild Billy Childish's "Christmas 1979," TV Smith's "Xmas, Bloody Xmas," Goldblade's "City of Christmas Ghosts" featuring Poly Styrene, and Severe's version of "Stop the Cavalry." Add to that the Singing Loins' "Ding Dong Merrily On High," an almost skiffle-like tune that cops from traditional carols; Helen Love's much poppier take on the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight)"; another Holly Golightly song, the sweet ballad "Little Stars," done with the Greenhornes; Cuckooland's punked-out "Silver Bells"; Monkhouse's thrashy "Guinness and Wine," necessary holiday beverages for many; and Buff Medways wraps things up with "Merry Christmas Fritz." Thee Headcoatees are billed as providing their version of the Sonics' "Santa Claus," but my copy came with a different song by the band that has X-rated lyrics and is not about Christmas. I've tipped the label.

Wish Upon a Star, Meaghan Smith (Sire)

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meaghan.jpgMeaghan's a Canadian singer-songwriter with a different bent than the typical alt-folk-pop female performer; she has a thing for the 40s that she weaves in among many other influences. This EP gives you a taste of this with her versions of three classics and her own "It Snowed," the latter a straight-up 40s homage to big-band girl singers. "Silver Bells" is the same version from the Gift-Wrapped compilation, "Christmas Time Is Here" is a more uptempo take on the "Peanuts" classic, and her "Little Drummer Boy" is an interesting take, lots of syncopation with bits of the Andrews Sisters and almost prog-rock fake-flute ensemble flourishes. She's been opening for kd laing recently, so that might be a signpost for her future trajectory.
tbfhep.jpgThis European band with the fourth-wall-breaking name is offering free downloads of their Christmas EP, four songs with a great iconic cover (which you'll have to see in all its glory at the download page). The four songs represent catchy independent pop-rock of a decidedly laid-back vibe, starting with "Joulupukki," which is the Finnish name for Santa Claus, though the lyrics don't say much about this version of Father Christmas unless he's the one who "drinks a lot of beer," as the lyrics say. "Riot in Wintertime" is actually a fairly laissez-faire approach to a potentially explosive subject, and "Santa Must Be Daddy" is a fresh look at this traditional holiday angle. That leaves "Optibits," an interesting bit of quasi-hip-hop and rap as envisioned by a bunch of really white guys, though its connection to the holiday isn't obvious. Good stuff, and hard to argue with free.

dedguin2.jpgDead Gwynne is a band that has a tradition of recording an original song for free distribution at Christmas time every year. This tradition was noted a couple of years ago but we lost track of them until they contacted us this year. They've provided a page with all their songs going back to 1995 for your listening convenience. The 2009 addition to the canon is "Christmas By the Light of the Moon," a pop-rocker about a nighttime holiday celebration. Collect the set and create the band's Christmas album for them.

Menorah Mashups, various artists (djBC)

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MenMash.jpgHearing from Mojochronic reminded me it was time to go hunting for another Santastic compilation, but apparently there's not going to be one for 2009. Bad news, or it would be if not for the fact that djBC, the compiler of the Santastic compilations, has instead compiled Menorah Mashups for 2009. And what's not to like, I ask you? Well, the liberal use of vinyl record surface noise on "Dreidl Bells" is a bit of a turnoff to my ears, but that's mostly because it's been a cliche ever since the CD era began -- Matthew Sweet used needle-drop noises on his Girlfriend album in 1990, for crying out loud. "O Chanukah Dubstep Bassline Remix" puts tons of bass on the traditional holiday song, "House of Klezmer" puts rap and hip-hop moves on the Yiddish folk music style, while "Dreidel All the Way" simply mashes up everything it can get its hands on, from The Simpsons and South Park to Adam Sandler to the actual "Dreidel Song" itself. The forehead-slapper from this collection is "Challahback Girl," in which Gwen Stefani meets "Hava Nagilah." Good stuff, and a free download besides.

A Motown Christmas mashup video

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This link to Vimeo.com had just this in the subject line: "Mistletunes potential." You bet. It's yet another epic Mojochronic mashup, this time of Motown hits overlaid with Christmas carols, but only those by Motown artists. The video is more than seven minutes, so strap yourself in if you click on this.

Had this up on the old site, but what the heck, let's see it again. The Philco Brothers are seen here covering this great tune originally by The Dogmatics, from the semi-legendary alt-indie-rock Christmas compilation Yuletunes.

This NY band's website hasn't been updated in a couple of years, but Kenn Rowell wrote in from England and told me I should have this on my site, and he's right. Don't know if this can actually be acquired at this point, but as long as YouTube has the video, we can all listen to, and watch, this cool 2004 song about a rock 'n roll landmark.

Unwrap Me, Chevonne (SendSpace)

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chevonne.jpgAs near as I can tell, this 2009 EP is this artist's first-ever musical release, and it's pretty entertaining; an r'nb-funk look at the holidays by a sexy, and sex-obsessed, singer. Hanukkah actually takes the lead here, if the single "My Menorah" is anything to go by. Plenty of single-entendres -- "I'll hot-oil you up and dance like a hora" -- and the chorus "My menorah, light me up for eight nights at a time," all done in a slow-jams tempo. "Single Bells" takes things to the dance floor, when she hangs "a disco ball on the Christmas tree," then she announces "I Hung a Mistletoe" in her cleavage. Topping off the collection is "Ball Drop," a New Year's tune with a bit of Cameo's "Word Up" in the tempo and a lot of exhibitionism in the lyrics. At her website, her bio namechecks Betty Davis as an influence, and you'll note I didn't link to the famous actress there -- the Betty referenced here was a former wife of Miles Davis who recorded risque tunes in the 70s. Check out "My Menorah" here:


ohhush2.jpgIt's the second time this very secretive act went to the Christmas well, and this time their misdirection extends to the size of this project -- it's an EP, just three tunes. But they're all originals and they're all winners. "I Have an Ugly Christmas Tree" starts things off uptempo, a pop-rock ode to those evergreen eyesores we occasionally stumble across, or forget to take down until summer, as these folks sing. "Disco Christmas" is a delightfully straightforward dance tune that is as advertised, and the two rockers bracket the mid-tempo ballad "Christmas With You," featuring a female vocal. I guess I have to scratch their disc title off the Mistletunes mix disc backup title list now.

Gift-Wrapped, various artists (Warner Bros.)

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giftwrap.jpgThe folks at Warner Bros. dipped into the vaults for a quickie compilation that is, according to their press release, a digital-only offering for 2009. It's wildly eclectic, comprising everything from Michael Buble to Randy Travis, but the 20 songs do include some entries of interest to Mistletunes denizens. The first-ever general market release of R.E.M.'s "Deck the Halls" is here, formerly a fan-club offering; it's kind of slapdash, but the mere fact that it's here to satisfy curious minds is probably enough.  My Chemical Romance's rendition of the Mariah Carey hit "All I Want For Christmas Is You" is on the playlist, billed as the 2005 version. The song appears a second time in the rather conventional pop-rock performance by country singer Whitney Duncan (remind me to do my what's up with country-that-isn't-country rant sometime). Some items on here previously reviewed at Mistletunes include Regina Spektor's "My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year)," Flaming Lips' "A Change At Christmas (Say It Isn't So)," Never Shout Never's "30 Days," Brian Setzer Orchestra's "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch," Relient K's "Merry Christmas, Here's to Many More" and Jeremy Lister's "Santa Lost His Mojo" from the Ten Out Of Tenn compilation. The Used show up with "Alone This Holiday," a hard rock ballad that you have to download the whole album to get, and Jack's Mannequin offers "The Lights and Buzz," a pensive rocker about Christmas in California. R'nb is represented by Nikki & Rich's "This Time of Year," a gospelly mid-tempo number with secular lyrics, and Meaghan Smith applies her retro-chic approach to "Silver Bells." Finally, we get a Hanukkah Alert from Melée, "(When Is) Hanukkah This Year?," a snarky power-pop number reminiscent of The Leevees. Feel free to download this one a la carte unless you want The Used.

"Snow Angel," Kate and After (self-issued)

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kateaftr.jpgThis Gotheborg, Sweden band hasn't been around for long, but they tell us the members have been playing together for a while They cite a number of influences, from Franz Ferdinand to fellow countrymen The Soundtrack of Our Lives, but you'll judge all that for yourself from this stately pop-rocker of love and longing on the holiday. Oh, it's free to download, but hardcopy versions (and T-shirts) can be purchased from the band.
cherry5.jpgBritain's Cherryade label keeps its Christmas streak alive at five for 2009, presenting acts from its label roster and elsewhere who keep poking and prodding at the various ways to express the sounds and emotions of the holiday through the medium of independent alternative rock 'n roll. School kicks things off with "Let Me Be the Fairy on Your Christmas Tree Tonight," a solid slice of girl-group pop-rock to get you in the spirit. Das Wonderlust takes a chamber-pop approach to "Someone to Pull Crackers With," an art-rocker with just a tiny taste of Sparks and a premise that I'm quite certain is an expression of romance among the Brits. I can just hear Barry White, rest his soul, saying, "Oooh, let's pull some crackers tonight baby...." Persil's "Dear Santa" is a nice bit of electro-pop meeting spaghetti Western guitar in a plea to the jolly elf: "I want you for Christmas...." Shrag plays things for laughs with a takeoff on Jona Lewie, "Stop the Revelry," in which the cavalry is ignored and the holiday fun is aggravating the singers. Mistletoe is a source of holiday intrigue, as The Gresham Flyers describe a "Mistletoe Misadventure" involving multiple lovers to horns, strings and acoustic guitars, while Doris and the Jumpers investigate via synths and drum machines the likely outcome, a "Murder Under the Mistletoe." The 10p Mixs worry about "too much carbon in the atmosphere," but vow not to let that bother their holiday in "Christmas Number One," which is not about Will Riker. 'Allo Darling whips out a ukelele and chimes to sing about a "Space Christmas," one achieved by the singer first seducing a rich man to pay for the sojourn (shades of "Indecent Proposal!"). Humousexual takes a page from Billy Bragg with "Come Take My Hand In Winter," Rebecca Wilmott's "A Christmas Echo" and Everett True's "A Christmas Tale" give a shout-out to the spoken word, and the obligatory New Year's wishes come from Detox Cute and the Beauty Junkies, who mope a bit, boy-girl style, about an "Unhappy New Year." Four tunes on this are repeats from previous discs in the series, but there's still 21 other tunes, all fresh for this year. Clicking on the album cover will take you to iTunes, but if Cherryade is just your flavor, you might want to follow this link to the label's website, where through the magic of international post you can get a special deal that will put hardcopy versions of all five Cherryade Christmas discs under your tree.
kilguad.jpgU2 may rule the rock 'n roll world, and Bruce Springsteen may be The Boss, but The Killers are Kings of Rock Christmas, offering up their fourth original holiday single in a row for 2009. They seem to be intent on spreading their fervor for the holiday, having recruited Elton John and Neil Tennant for last year's single and this year getting help from Wild Light and Mariachi El Bronx for this fun love song to a Latin temptress with a Dec. 25 birthday. Rock, pop, mariachi and other Latin influences meld for this distinctive tune, though some of the lyrics fall back on Yankee stereotypes. They throw in a spoken bridge, a dramatic device going back to "Leader of the Pack" or even earlier. The only question now is whether they'll keep this up till they have an elpee's worth of tunes, as the saying goes. As in the past, this benefits the AIDS-fighting charity Project (RED).

A pauper's version of the holiday

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Patrick Duff asks us about something he heard somewhere:


I've heard a Christmas song called "Christmas in the Workhouse" where a line in the middle of the song is "someone shouted balls!" I've found various poems online, but no actual songs. Do you know of any audio recordings for this song?

Don't remember ever hearing this either as a song or a poem. I did unearth a copy of what Patrick's talking about, however. The lyrics are correct, and it would make a heck of a song, perhaps as a Celtic stomp, maybe as a flat-out punk shouter. This website presents it without attribution; other sites say it was Rudyard Kipling, still others say it's never turned up with Kipling's name attached. It did appear in a TV movie, "The Gathering," in which an incomplete version was recited by Ed Asner. If anybody knows about this poem being set to music, let the rest of us know in comments or in an e-mail to the site.
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