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February 2010 Archives

Welcome to the reimagined Mistletunes

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This redesign of our much-loved Christmas rock music site is a work in progress -- much of the original content remains at the old site, so if you can't find what you like here, go over there and sniff around. Read more about the changes in the extended entry. 
remembr.jpgThis 1998 album is a pastiche of previously released performances and new ones. Among the more widely available cuts are the Smithereens with "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "A Song of Christmas" by Lowen and Navarro, and the Alarm's version of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Former Bongo James Mastro and Jill Sobule do some session work on several cuts, including their own "The Saddest Day of the Year" sung by Jill. Although there are some reliable rock credentials at work here, folky and mid-tempo is the order of the day for the most part. Exceptions are the Smithereens and Alarm as well as Pawnshop's "Little Drummer Boy," Lo-Watt's "Christmas Time" and Health and Happiness Show's "Jesus Christ," the Alex Chilton cover featuring Mastro and Sobule. Other tunes include Ian Moore's "It Just Doesn't Seem Like Christmas," Michael Malone's "Feels Like Christmas," Todd Thibaud's "Christmas Without You," Jesse Valenzuela's "Christmas Time," Neal Casal's "Cora Jones" and Natalie Farr's "Ave Maria." Was out of print for a number of years owing to Velvel's demise, but it has been reissued in hard copy and download versions.

mpgod2.jpgThis New Jersey alt-rock label is already on record with a Christmas record from a few years ago, which we gave a lukewarm review. This one's a little better, but there still aren't that many really catchy numbers on this one. Different batch of artists this time around too. This 2001 album kicks off with probably the best cut, Emperor Penguin's "Erotic Xmas (Home for the Holograms)," a kind of electronica piece with the keyboarded vocal thing Cher does on "Believe." Neutrino does a guitar-crunch instrumental medley of "Island of Misfit Toys/Little Drummer Boy" as do Del Ray on the "Nutcracker Overture/Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," the latter playing the melody on the bass. Joshua Falken Trio's "Ornament" is an interesting song, as is Port Vale's "The Snowmen," and Beau Grumpus goBEAUlins have a kind of hockey rink anthem in "Candy Your Cane." Rebecca Gates does a New Year's type of beatbox-folkie music called "12:31," and Drums and Tuba wrap up with a drums and tuba version of "Auld Lang Syne." Remains available from Amazon in disc and download formats.
mypalgod.jpgAlternative-type folks from all over the map on a compilation from 1998, though the songs go back as far as 1981 in the case of "What Did Santa Claus Bring You For Christmas" by Boston's The Law, a group that later morphed into Scruffy the Cat. Many tunes are covers, although only a few of these are particularly interesting, like "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)" by Sean Na NA (great name) from the John Denver catalog. Sarge's "Last Christmas" is serviceable, C-Clamp's "2000 Miles" is draggy and Sweep the Leg Johnny & All Stars don't even bother to get the chords right on Band Aid's "Feed the World." Atom & His Package perform "What WE Do On Christmas," a tune that makes fun of anti-Semitism, and The Goblins get a Hanukkah Alert for "Ha-Ha Hanukkah." The Wine Chuggers get a few giggles for "(I Was) Drunk (On Christmas)" and Crucial Youth contribute a pair of thrashers, "X-Mastime for the Skins" and "Santa Claus is Coming (And You're On His List)." Overall, an average compilation. It remains available for download from Amazon, and hard copies show up there from 3rd parties as well.
happyx.jpgBEC Recordings is a Christian rock music label (UPDATE: now folded in with Tooth & Nail), but they do a fairly good job of evangelizing the music instead of The Message; I had to go to their Web page to make sure these bands really considered themselves Christian acts. If you can get past the self-classification, this 1998 compilation contains a pretty good batch of tunes. The emphasis is on traditional carols done in contemporary arrangements, although there are some originals that manage to get their points across without excessive proselytizing. The O.C. Supertones do "Joy To The World" as ska, Bon Voyage stick with the country roots of "Holly Jolly Christmas," Joy Electric's "Winter Wonderland" is an electronic popscape similar to Cocteau Twins' version, but more upbeat, and "Do You Hear What I Hear" by House of Wires also goes electronica on us. One Eighty does a Hawaiian thrash version of "Mele Kalkikimaka" and The Dingees do a faintly reggae "We Three Kings," although that's becoming a common way to perform it. Among the originals, "You Gotta Get Up" by Five Iron Frenzy, Sarah Masen's ballad "Heaven's Got a Baby" and Huntington's mildly Ramones-ish "It's Always Christmas At My House" are keepers for the mix tape. This was first in a series that progressed to a volume 5, and it remains available, both separately and in a box set with volumes 2 and 3.
happyxv2.jpgThe folks at BEC let no grass grow under their feet; coming off 1998's Happy Christmas, they penciled in Vol. 2 for 1999. Many of these young quasi-alternative acts are licensed from other labels, but they're here all the same. MxPx's original "Christmas Day" is a rockin' album opener, Joy Electric drags out all the old analog synths for "Lollipop Parade" and Lost Dogs gives us one of the few covers of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," a mostly in-jokey one at that. Viva Voce heavy-metals "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Hangnail hard-rocks "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and Flight 180 starts out the same way with "O Come All Ye Faithful," but they swing into a melange of styles from ska to boogie with a touch of Andrews Sisters in the vocals. The Normals medley their own "Peace Child" with "O Come Emmanuel" in an effective folky arrangement, while Norway does an electronica "White Christmas" that you almost expect to hear Cher step in and finish. If there's a disappointment, it's Sixpence None The Richer, who just aren't equipped to really sell "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch." Remains in print, alone and in a box with vols. 1 & 3.
happyxv3.jpgIn keeping with the previous volumes in this series, this is modern rock-pop from a bunch of bands best known in the Christian rock realm. But as with the previous volumes, this 2001 collection has plenty to offer the less Christian, or at least the less observant Christians, among us. O.C. Supertones start off by covering Sarah Masen's "Heaven's Got a Baby," which she performed on Vol. 1 of this series in a ballad version, but the O.C.s rock it up a bit more. Relient K contribute a track from their own Christmas album, "Santa Claus is Thumbing to Town." Joy Electric makes it three volumes in a row with the oldie "Mrs. Santa Claus" in that band's electro-pop style. Earthsuit do Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" in a version that sounds a lot like the original remixed and beat-boxed to death, but that's a good thing. "O Come O Come Emanuel" gets a rockish treatment from Kendall Payne and Hangnail thrashes up "Do You See What I See." Skyline Drive simply does a U2 on "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," and Matthew Thiessen and the Earthquakes take us out on a downtempo note with "I Hate Christmas Parties." Formerly on the BEC label, Tooth and Nail now distributes this as part of a 3-disc set with volumes 1 and 2, Happy Christmas Redux. But the single disc still remains available via Amazon, click the cover.
No sooner did I post my wildly belated review of Happy Christmas Vol. 3 than I discovered 2005 would bring us a Vol. 4, although the franchise has moved from BEC Recordings to Tooth & Nail this year. Nevertheless, the concept remains the same: Christian rockers and their best Christmas tunes compiled in one place, with the preachiness kept to a minimum. Emery brings Santa Claus into the equation with "(Ho Ho Hey) A Way For Santa's Sleigh," Anberlin puts a little crunch into the Spector classic "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," Relient K lends "I Celebrate the Day" from their own Christmas CD, Starflyer 59 throw in electronic bleeps and bloops on "Christmas Time Is Here" but otherwise keep the standard ballad arrangement. Aaron Gillespie and Kenny Vasoli combine for an original, "Yule Be Sorry," a hard rocker. Copeland's "Do You Hear What I Hear" makes another appearance here, Hawk Nelson covers Wham's "Last Christmas" and Mae does your basic hard rock version of "Carol of the Bells." Two religious-themed tunes wrap up the album, Number One Gun's "Of Two Bearded Men" and John Davis' India-influenced "God is Real (Jesus is Alive)," although the latter forgets to squeeze in the holiday. Another strong entry in this series.
swingcat.jpgThis 2002 release appears to be an amalgamation of several acts with similar lineups featuring Danny B. Harvey, Gary Twinn and former Stray Cats Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom. Indeed, the Honeydippers, Harvey and Twinn, released a Christmas CD in 1997, 12 Days of Christmas, and I'm guessing the tunes on here credited to that act are from that album. The whole CD is perfectly authentic rockabilly versions of Christmas carols performed well, along with four originals, and as 50s rock continues to recede into history you might want to be reminded of those days without having to resort to the sappiness of "Happy Days" or "Grease." The Fifties version of "Hepcat Holiday (Night Before Christmas)" is good, though this kind of thing has been done before. Some of the attempts at variety fall a little flat, though, like straight instrumental readings of "Jingle Bell Rock" and "We Three Kings," along with a conventional reading of "I'll Be Home For Christmas." And I still don't get why people think "My Favorite Things" is a Christmas song. Still, a worthwhile followup in your CD carousel right after the Elvis holiday CDs.
classrok.jpgAs advertised, staple artists of the former album-oriented rock radio format kick out the jams for Christmas. It's a partial benefit album, in that "portions" of the proceeds will go to the Port Authority World Trade Disaster Survivors Fund and the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame Education Fund. Fans of the format will enjoy this 2002 disc, and they'll eat up the liner notes written by the artists for each song. There's not a lot of uptempo stuff here, mostly ballads, with some exceptions. The Eddie Money/Ronnie Spector duet "Everybody Loves Christmas" is on this, along with what appears to be Greg Lake's third remake of "I Believe in Father Christmas," this one dominated by a full orchestra. His buddy Keith Emerson, surprisingly, goes gospel on "Silent Night." Styx's "All I Want" is a lot more relaxed than a lot of their stuff, leading in with a bit of Gary Glitter and copping just a smidge of Beach Boys on the bridge. Father Guido Sarducci's "Santa's Lament" makes another appearance here. REO Speedwagon's "I Believe in Santa Claus" actually sounds like a Michael Jackson impersonator in spots. John Waite's "All I Want for Christmas" has the now-dated simile, "The snow fell like cocaine...." Tommy Shaw of Damn Yankees and Night Ranger's Jack Blades duet on "12 Days of Christmas," and there are other entries from Felix Cavaliere and Survivor. Click to grab from Amazon as disc or download.
lalalala.jpgA compilation of D.C.-area rock bands from 1994 take a variety of approaches to Christmas music on this independent collection. Red Henry, formerly the Noise Boys, kicks off the album strongly with their own uptempo rocker "X-mas Time." Biohio do a straight rock arrangement of "The Christmas Song," which is OK but not distinguished. "Silver Star" by Emmet Swimming is fairly interesting if downtempo, Envelope Throat's "Christmas Wishes" is classic 80s hard rock with a touch of synth in the one-man band format, and Kevin M. Rucker takes the same approach to a rocked-up "Deck the Halls." Atticus Finch, aka Shane Hines, goes unplugged with "Today Is Christmas" and Chris Gantzer plays an acoustic guitar instrumental, "I Heard the Children..." Triggerfish, formerly Naked Blowfish, also provide an original in "A Christmas Apart." A sprightly rock "Here We Come A-Wassailing" is provided by The Wassailairs while Egypt takes the electric blues approach to "The First Noel," with duet vocals from Kristin Ashbury. Michael Sheppard goes more traditional on "O Holy Night," as do Hearsay with "Silent Night," featuring a music box all the way through. Can't find a trace of this anywhere on the Internet, no doubt because the difficult-to-search album title and the 90s release date; if anybody sees anything more pertaining to this CD and its availability, post a comment or e-mail Rudolph.

yohumbug.jpgThis is an interesting 2000 collection, although I'm not familiar with any of the artists on it. But it's a good stop for a change of pace, as the theme all these artists have in common is roots music, though maybe all from different gardens. Jr. James & The Late Guitar pops out with "Christmas Adam," looking for a Christmas Eve, in a kind of pop-country mode; The Carpenter Ants go full rockabilly on "Go Where I Send Thee," and Mandorico gives us a "12 Days of Christmas" that mixes up Caribbean rhythms like reggae and even merengue. Tyler Ramsey does a folk "Go Tell It on the Mountain," Wayne Kirby jazzes "The Little Drummer Boy" and Eastern Standard Time does "The Return of the Prophet" in reggae, all instrumentals. For your Kwanzaa listening, Samba Ngo does "Zizi Kumbele." The Blue Rags "Carol of the Bells" is kind of annoying, though. Two unlisted bonus tracks, apparently done by groups of the participants, are a reggae "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and an electronica "Silent Night." UPDATE: Jr. James, sans The Late Guitar, is the artist on those last two cuts.
excels1.jpgHeavy-duty, doomy goth approaches to the holiday, highlighted by a fair amount of electronic processing laid over a folk-progressive base, come together in this 1995 package. Two performances of "Carol of the Bells" couldn't be more different, the one by The Ascension a more recognizable rendition while the one by Arcanta is nearly all vocal drone with very little relationship to the melody. Love Spirals Downward takes "Welcome Christmas" from the "Grinch" TV show downtempo, which is not a bad variation, while FuchiKachis Ethu takes a traditional tack to "O Come All Ye Faithful," even alternating the Latin lyrics ("Adeste Fidelis") with the English ones. Given the CD's approach, you won't be surprised by Area's rendition of "O Come Emanuel," a minor-key reproach that lends itself perfectly to this album. The same can be said for Baldersas & Osborn's instrumental "What Child is This," not to mention Lycia / The Unquiet Void's "We Three Kings." Thanatos makes a horror movie out of "The First Noel," and Lovesliescrushing perform "Jingle Bells (Snowblower)" that in fact sounds like somebody trying to drown out carolers with the title's device. A Hanukkah alert goes to Black Tape for a Blue Girl's "Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah," a mostly vocal dirge that obscures the lyrics. You can probably imagine what a band called Sorrow might do with "Little Drummer Boy." Eva O turns "O Holy Night" into a six-minute oratorio driven by pipe organ. Faith and the Muse put their own spin on the traditional English carol "A Winter Wassail," the album's only acoustic performance and only traditional one. Two versions of "Silent Night" close out the album, Autopsia's German-language version starting at a literal whisper and building to midnight mass levels, complete with pipe organ, and Attrition's going all industrial. This remains available through Amazon and the label's website, by itself and as part of a 3-disc set including its two successors. As noted in the entry just linked, Projekt named a 2007 single-disc compilation of the three volumes Dark Noel as well, so don't confuse the two.
excelsis.jpg"A collection of ethereal/gothic/industrial bands" is how the overline squib on this album describes its participants, as well as those who contributed to volume one in this series. The liner notes also tell us this 1999 effort exhibits "a lighter perspective" than the 1995 original. Ethereal is the best word for this CD; they go for the solemn, the spiritual and the antique, best examples being El Duende's "Gaudete, Gaudete," Siddal's "In the Bleak Midwinter" and The Machine in the Garden's "Coventry Carol." Rhea's Obsession does an Arab-folky "We Three Kings" and returns later in the album with the "Huron Indian Carol," which veers more toward the Deep Forest side of things. There is a modern sheen to these performances that comes mostly from being recorded mostly in 1999, except for Human Drama's "I Believe in Father Christmas," the ELP standard that appeared on Stuff This In Your Stocking nearly a decade earlier. I don't know what the Shaker song "Lord of the Dance" by Unto Ashes has to do with Christmas. The Cruxshadows do a Depeche Mode-sounding "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," and London After Midnight contribute an original "Christmas Song." Faith & Disease do "Silver and Gold" from the famous "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" special of 1964. Hanukkah alert goes to Sofia Run's version of "Nerotai Hazarurim (Little Candles)." There was a Vol. 3 in 2001, Excelsis 3: A Prelude, featuring nine songs by Lovespirals, Audra, Lowsunday, Frolic, Faith & Disease, Mirabilis, Unto Ashes, and two by Lynn Canfield. The same year, the first three were packaged in a box set. And in 2007, a single-disc compilation of all three, A Dark Noel, was released. All except the box set remain freshly available from Amazon, but the box is still for sale at a discount from Projekt's website. The company returned to the Christmas scene in 2012 with Ornaments, a double-disc set.

A Christmas Record, various artists (Ze)

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zexmas.jpgA very New York bohemian compilation from 1981. Ze specialized in post-disco dance music and post-apocalyptic world views, a style known at the time as "no wave," though not all the label's artists fit this classification. Some of the cuts on here are Christmas carols you can slash your wrists by, especially Cristina's "Things Fall Apart." Also represented are August Darnell of Kid Creole and the Coconuts with "Christmas on Riverside Drive," the band Suicide with "Hey Lord" and Suicide member Alan Vega with "No More Christmas Blues," Was (Not Was) with "Christmas Time In the Motor City" (they also backed Cristina), Material with Nona Hendryx doing "It's a Holiday" and the first appearance of The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," a holiday staple for the young and single. Terrific cover artwork belies the downtempo content. By the way, in case you're confused, I like this album. Passport reissued it on CD at some point, fattening it up with a cut by The Three Courgettes and James White and the Blacks' "Christmas With Satan," which makes the rest of the album sound like a Bing Crosby Christmas special. There's a French import from 2004, ZE Christmas Record Reloaded, with additional songs. In 2008 Ze was reactivated and this album re-released with 14 tracks, the highest number yet, although it appears all the original eight songs remain available. Hardcopies on vinyl and CD get serious collector prices, but both versions mentioned here are downloadable from Amazon.

trltrash.jpgThis is where marketing overtakes music making, as most of these tunes are previously released. Still, like Rhino's Bummed Out Christmas, you have to admit it's a great idea. It couldn't hurt that there's an actual band called Trailer Trash from Minneapolis-St. Paul with two cuts on this 1999 album, "Don't Believe in Xmas," the Sonics classic that borrows heavily from "Too Much Monkey Business," and "Daddy's Drinkin' Up Our Christmas," a suitably country lament. The New Duncan Imperials provide us with "Santa Claus Is a Lie," complete with a children's chorus, and The Blue Moon Boys do "Santabilly Boogie," which is, not surprisingly, rockabilly. "Christ, It's Christmas Again" comes courtesy of the Geisels, a drum-less rocker. From the previously released pile, there are a couple of cuts by Leroy and Big People from Yuletunes, Mack Rice's "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'," John Prine's "Christmas in Prison" and Mojo Nixon's "Trim Yo' Tree." UPDATE: An interesting pair of digressions popped up when I moved this over from the old site. This album, same cover, was also released as Redneck Christmas Party in 1999. Also, the band Trailer Trash had an album of their own in 2005, All Lit-Up For Christmas, although it appears, based on an Amazon listener review, that it's erroneously listed as a various artists compendium. It has a variation of the same cover as the other two, tinted a greenish yellow instead of blue. There's 11 songs, including the two from Trailer Trash Christmas. Trailer Trash apparently have a Twin Cities reputation for rowdy Christmas parties, and this latter album is a souvenir of that. Of the three albums mentioned, Lit-Up is the only one actually available new; the other two show up only via 3rd parties at Amazon.
satan.jpgCute idea for a title, and the liner notes run down the humorous "comparisons." This is your basic hard rock band compilation, no shortage of rocking out here. Musicianship, however, takes a back seat; most of these tunes sound like the bands are just learning them before our very ears. There is some variety of approach here, although Welt's "Blue Christmas," Splintr's "Here Comes Santa Claus" and Crash Kills Four's "Santa's Elves" all go speed-metal and there's a lot of sludgy mid-tempo metal on tunes like Cisco Poison's "Silent Night" and D.I.'s "Mr. Grinch." Tiny Lights goes for the lounge approach on "Frosty the Snowman" and the Tiki Tones take the surf music route on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." The Grabbers do one of the few original tunes here, "Santa's on the Nod." Not great, but I got it cheap. From 1998. UPDATE: Out of print, check 3rd parties at Amazon.

Yuletide Soiree, various artists (Rhino)

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yule.jpgHaving almost completely conquered the field of must-have reissues, Rhino has created a new genre: the coffee-table box set. Combine a bunch of smartly-compiled tunes on a particular theme, throw in party games and lyrics, and invite everybody over for a party. The two CDs in this 1998 holiday set feature few surprises; how are you going to have a Christmas party without "Jingle Bell Rock," "Run Rudolph Run," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" or "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch"? Rhino also commissioned five newly recorded holiday songs in both vocal and instrumental versions for those who want to do Christmas karaoke. Also included are recipes, decorating tips, invitation samples, and more. Not for the Christmas rock fetishist, but not a bad gift to give, especially a few days in advance of the holiday. UPDATE: Out of print now, but third parties at Amazon have copies; since this is an elaborate package, caution is warranted that you might end up with an incomplete copy.
irs.jpgThis album languished in promo-only obscurity for a number of years, according to a club DJ I once knew, before finally being released in 1990. It features artists from the IRS recording and management roster performing a mix of original and traditional tunes, from Squeeze's "Christmas Day" to Wall of Voodoo's "Shouldn't Have Given Him a Gun For Christmas," the latter an instant holiday classic. Also on hand are the late lamented dB's with their own "Home For the Holidays," Police-man Stewart Copeland in his Klark Kent alter ego with "Yo Ho Ho," Timbuk 3 with "All I Want For Christmas (Is World Peace)" and Dread Zeppelin with "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth." Other performers include Rebel Pebbles with "Cool Yule," the Reckless Sleepers' cover of "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday," Deborah Holland's "It Only Comes Once a Year," Steve Hunter's "We Three Kings," Kennedy Rose's "More Than One Night a Year" and Torch Song's "Hark." A great slice of the mid-late 80s alt scene and a near-classic holiday collection. Out of print, natch, but 3rd parties appear to have this well stocked at reasonable prices via Amazon. 

The mega-monolith Universal record company saw that its competitor Warner was making good scratch and getting good press with its Rhino subsidiary and threw together the Hip-O imprint for creating its own compilations of previously released material, although with far less forethought and wit. Nearly all of this stuff comes from some corner of the far-flung Universal universe, so you're likely to have at least some of this stuff on other albums. But some of these tunes are just obscure enough that you may want this 2000 collection anyway. More familiar tunes include the Smithereens' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Spinal Tap's "Christmas With the Devil," Beck's "Little Drum Machine Boy," and Sonic Youth's version of "Santa Doesn't Cop Out on Dope." Less than Jake give us a punk-thrash "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," Goldfinger reggaes up "White Christmas" and a couple of novelties earn the Parental Advisory sticker, like Red Peters' "You Ain't Getting Shit For Christmas" and The Little Stinkers' "I Farted on Santa's Lap." Out of print, so click the cover to check 3rd-party sellers at Amazon, prices vary from reasonable to collector's level.

excels.jpgExcelsior is a low-priced line of CDs you often see bins of in stores at tempting prices, like between $5 and $8, and their secret is getting material licensed to them as cheaply as possible. Nevertheless, the approach works if they manage to dig up stuff somebody might want, and they did a pretty good job with this one from 1994. Although items like Elton John's "Step Into Christmas," George Thorogood's "Rock and Roll Christmas," the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" and the Kinks' "Father Christmas" turn up on a lot of other compilations, they did manage to scare up Bob Seger's "Sock It To Me Santa" and another Jon Bon Jovi item not on the first two Special Olympics albums, "I Wish Every Day Could Be Like Christmas." Also here is the Emerson, Lake and Palmer version of "I Believe in Father Christmas," Billy Squier's "Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You," Elvin Bishop's gospel take of "Silent Night," the Moody Blues with a traditional reading of "What Child Is This," and Chuck Berry's "Merry Christmas Baby" -- the license holder probably wanted too much money for "Run Rudolph Run." Amazingly, this remains in print.
diffkind.jpgSony's old budget label Risky Business used to throw together some neat theme compilations at discount prices, and considering the budgetary constraints of such a project, this 1994 album came out pretty well. Standout cuts are "The Christmas Twist" by Syd Straw, "Space Christmas" by Shonen Knife and "Mele Kalikimaka" by Poi Dog Pondering with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The dB's and Timbuk 3's tunes are from the IRS Christmas album and Dave Edmunds' "Run Rudolph Run" has been on a number of albums. NRBQ contributes its original "Christmas Wish," T-Bone Burnette and Bruce Cockburn offer traditional acoustic fare and Shawn Colvin does a jazzy take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Another Sony budget compilation from 1995, A Christmas Happening, recycles the Cockburn and Fishbone cuts from this album but adds Roy Orbison's "Pretty Paper," the Hooters, New Kids on the Block, Eddie Money, Judy Collins and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Thanks to Jeff Patterson for correcting the title of this album for me. Needless to say, both albums are out of print, but I've linked to third parties on Amazon.

stufthis.jpgThis 1990 compilation of indie alternative artists was a collaboration between two labels on opposite coasts and the individual songs were recorded between L.A. and London. I wasn't familiar with most of these artists, but there are some good moments on this disc. Some well-chosen covers include Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" by the French Lemon Santas, Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas" by Human Drama and the Kinks' "Father Christmas" by The Leonards. Jigsaw Seen gets points for remaking "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" as "Paint It Black," and Emma Vine and the Emotionals do a pretty solid Debbie Harry impression on "Oh Santa." Sixties mavens might be amazed to discover Kenny Laguna producing his own "Home for Christmas" for the Characters here, and even more amazed to find Sky Saxon of the Seeds, here with Firewall, doing "Christmas in the Courtroom" with the help of Mars Bonfire, writer of "Born to be Wild." Bonfire also contributes keyboards and co-writing to "It's Christmas (And I Love You)" by The Electric Shoes. Out of print, posted a link to 3rd-party sellers at Amazon, where only two copies are available at this writing.

finally.jpgMore alternative holly jollies on this 1994 compilation. There's not much in the way of liner notes on this album except for a Christmas message from the president of the record label. So I'm guessing at whether some of these tunes are originals. Most of these tunes suffer from that alternative concept that playing in tune is for sissies, but there are exceptions. Poison Idea takes a good stab at Elvis Presley's "Santa Claus is Back in Town," The Violets' version of Jackson Browne's "Rebel Jesus" is nice and gritty, and Swoon 23's "Merry Christmas to Me" and legendary folkies Ray & Glover's "I'm Mad at the Fatman" are good fun. New Bad Things' "Shoplifting You Something for Christmas" is a great idea, but the performance almost sinks it. There are 19 tunes, but apparently nobody compared notes before the album went to the mastering plant; there are two covers each of "Little Drummer Boy" by Hitting Birth and the Dandy Warhols, and "Mr. Grinch" by the Whirlees and Caveman Shoestore. Hanukkah alert: Calamity Jane does an instrumental of "The Hanukkah Song." Out of print, though 3rd-party sellers at Amazon have copies at fire-sale prices, both new and used.
itsrockn.jpgThis regional compilation from 1994 features rockabilly bands from the middle Atlantic coast, roughly the Washington D.C. region. Most of the tunes are originals, too, although "Run Rudolph Run," "Mr. Grinch," and Buck Owens' "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy" turn up here, along with a Bo Diddley-flavored "Jungle Bells" and, Hanukkah alert, "She's a Yamakah Mama (At Hanukkah Time)" by the Ubangis. Sharp performances abound here, and future contenders for classic status include Wendy Michele and her Boyfriends on "Christmas Party Hop," The Maxitones' "Devil in My Eggnog" and Blue Chunks' "Santa Wants a Chevy." And Out Behind the Barn gives us a "New Year's Resolution." This one's a keeper, if you can find it; it's long out of print and doesn't show up at all in Amazon. But Google indicates a number of rockabilly radio shows and fan sites are well aware of this disc.
holicd.jpgThis is a promo CD I got about 1995 or so, and it's not strictly a Christmas album. In fact, I'm not even sure what it's promo-ing; all the artists are on different, unaffiliated labels. There are only three Christmas tunes on here, but I list them so you can track them down one way or another: Better Than Ezra's "Merry Christmas Eve," a mostly acoustic number; "A Coventry Christmas" by 22 Brides, available on A Christmas Present For You on Zero Hour; and The Screaming Santas take on Big Star's "Jesus Christ," from a three-song EP called Trim the Tree. Copies of the Santas' EP and this album show up from 3rd parties on Amazon.
zerohr.jpgMore indie-alternative angst from 1995, about half original, half covers. The Dirt Merchants do a kickin' arrangement of "Jingle Bells," very high octane, but Grover with Kevin Salem settle for a straight cover of the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York," complete with Shane MacGowan impression. Nicole Blackman kills with a piece of performance art called "What I Want For Christmas," 22 Brides does a doomy "Coventry Carol" and Boyracer does a rare "Boxing Day" song, a fairly downtempo one at that. Best title on the album goes to Cucumbers' "Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum," in which Santa meets Terry and the Pirates, or something like that. The Black Watch put "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" to a very Cure-like arrangement, but without the vocal gymnastics. Kind of uneven, but I'd buy it again just for the Nicole Blackman piece. Long out of print, but 3rd parties at Amazon have really cheap copies of it if you're interested.

Christmas, various artists (Loud Mouth)

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chrloud.jpgThis 1995 collection of alternative artists in a Christmas mood appears to be centered around the Washington, DC area. No big stars, but rock fans from Bethesda to Fairfax probably recognize the names. Two renditions of "Angels We Have Heard On High" share unorthodox introductions; Quintessence kicks off with a Beach Boys impression and swings, literally, into several flavors of jazz while the Pest Strips quote Harry Belafonte before kicking into an alternative arrangement. Other covers that pretty much hew to the alternative party line include "Winter Wonderland," "Do You Hear What I Hear" and "What Child Is This." "Nutcracker" by The Shit (no misprint) rocks out on "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," Kevin Rucker's "The Night Before Christmas" floats the familiar poem on top of the old surf instrumental "Pipeline," and Ed Lawson goes a capella on "O Come O Come Emmanuel." Babyfat raps "The Man's Birthday," an original, as are Hoopla's "It's Christmas Time," Boomslang's "Christmastime" and the Drowners' "Merry Christmas Debbie Gibson," the best title on the album, with one scary line -- the one where the vocalist claims to own her box set. As is often the case with regional releases, this is long gone from print and I can't even find a mention of it online, except here.

Merry Axemas, various artists (Epic)

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axemas.jpgThe cult of the electric guitar hero has never really gone away since the days when Hendrix and Cream ruled the concert halls. But how often, aside from items like Jimi's once-bootlegged "Little Drummer Boy," do you get to hear a bonafide guitar gunslinger shred a Christmas carol or two? Not very, unless you have Gary Hoey's albums. Well, that same notion was gnawing at Steve Vai, former stunt guitarist for Frank Zappa, who organized this six-string romp through the Christmas catalog with 10 other certified axe-kickers. Steve himself takes on Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time is Here," Aerosmith's Joe Perry puts on his pinky slider for "Blue Christmas," Brian Setzer solos instead of singing his Orchestra's "Jingle Bells", Jeff Beck joins a growing list of people who are convinced "Amazing Grace" is a Christmas song, Joe Satriani gives us a "Silent Night/Holy Night Jam," and Richie Sambora contributes his second Christmas performance this season with "Cantique De Noel (O Holy Night)." Considering these guys are rock guitar virtuosos soloing their butts off on strictly instrumental performances, there manages to be a fair amount of variation among the cuts. Also on hand are Alex Lifeson, Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Steve Morse and Japanese guitar sensation Hotei. This 1997 album has given birth to a sequel. Merry Axemas II, in 1998, again with Steve Vai at the helm and featuring Steve Stevens, Ted Nugent, Robin Trower, Steve Lukather, Zakk Wylde, John Sykes, Stu Hamm, Neal Schon, Trevor Rabin and Al Di Meola. Both remain in print and are even downloadable at Amazon.
edgexmas.jpgEvery once in a while, a record label will tiptoe through the vaults looking for a quick cash infusion from some inert stack of tapes or other. In this case, the folks at Oglio struck paydirt with this 1995 collection. The 12 songs are from between 1981 and 1993, featuring everyone from Bing and Bowie to Queen to Cocteau Twins with "Winter Wonderland." Dave Edmunds' faithful cover of "Run Run Rudolph" is paired with the Smithereens' swinging "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in the Cadillacs' arrangement, and the Waitresses' classic "Christmas Wrapping" is here along with the Pretenders, Pat Benatar, the Ramones, Payolas, and the Pogues with Kirsty MacColl. A top-notch collection you can play all the way through. There's an earlier volume called Coolest Christmas from 1994 that fills some of the space with Dean Martin and Guy Lombardo and repeats a few songs here but throws in The Alarm doing the Lennons' "Merry Xmas (War Is Over)," the Cocteaus' "Frosty the Snowman," the Beach Boys, the Temptations, Eartha Kitt and George Thorogood.
cherryx.jpgAnother Rod McKuen-produced Christmas compilation for budget label Laserlight, with a combination of the famous and forgotten. At the very top of the forgotten list, for me anyway, is Boney M's "Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord." Boney M was big in Europe and its mastermind, Frank Farian, later was responsible for Milli Vanilli. The rest of this album is fairly high profile by comparison, with Brenda Lee doing "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "A Marshmallow World," "Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms, Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run," Ray Charles' "Christmas Time," Otis Redding with "White Christmas" and for the jazzbos out there, Dinah Washington's "Make Me a Present of You." The Everly Brothers do "Deck the Halls" with a boys' choir, Booker T. and the MGs work out on "Jingle Bells," the Drifters do "The Christmas Song" and The Moonglows offer "Just a Lonely Christmas." Long out of print and commanding collector prices from 3rd parties at Amazon.

metalx.jpgThis 1996 collection seems to have no other purpose except to be something cheap to sell at Christmas time; my copy was only $4. Apparently, this was issued at full price a few years earlier. Although the artists' names are prominently featured, only a few are anyone I've heard of. I don't recall Denny Laine, former Moody Blue and Wing, as having any particular heavy metal connection. And would you know Carlos Creator was "Spain's No. 1 Rock Guitarist" if you hadn't read it off the cover of this album? The performances here pretty much explain why the heavy metal genre went away in the first place, all samey-samey arrangements and thudding rhythms. Ray Callcut does get some points for setting the entire "A Visit from St. Nicholas" to music as "Was the Night," although the novelty wears off long before the song is over. UPDATE: Astoundingly, to me anyway, this disc is commanding collector's prices from 3rd-party sellers at Amazon.
peanuts.jpgIt's four decades since the "Peanuts" characters jumped off the pages of the comics and into our Christmas memories, this 2005 compilation reminds us. Who'da thunk? As the original soundtrack for the special is remembered for the compositions of late jazzer Vince Guaraldi, it's no surprise this anniversary album is also mainly jazz, the snippet of Beethoven notwithstanding, given the cast of characters that includes the Rippingtons, Vanessa Williams, Dave Koz and producer David Benoit. I had some hopes that the presence of folks like Brian McKnight, Toni Braxton and Chaka Khan would put at least a little R'nB crunch into the proceedings, but no, this is smooth jazz from start to finish.

idolatry.jpgI'm trying harder to be a bit more complete, so that explains why I'm shooting a few ducks in a barrel here. I hate to be a Scrooge, since so many folks love the Idols, but I'm really not disclosing any state secrets by saying this 2003 disc is more about the benjamins than it is about the holiday. Heck, a Christmas album is likely to be the only way any of us will remember five years from now the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Justin Guarini, Ruben Studdard or the rest of the "American Idol Ensemble," as the crew is billed on a couple of cuts here. (UPDATE: Well, Clarkson still is on the hit parade, but I feel justified that the others, and many subsequent Idols, are all waiting in VH1's green room for their turn on the eventual "I Love The Aughts.") "The Great Holiday Classics" is a smart conceit to cover up the fact that writing a few original tunes or putting any more thought into the endeavor might have made them miss their marketing deadlines. As for the performances, there just isn't anything here that's noticeably better than you could have gotten by sticking your fist at random into a pile of CDs at Wal-Mart or Borders. Despite the fact that the Idols are a youth market move for the record company, this is pretty middle of the road, nothing faster than midtempo. It's not that the Idols are untalented; it's just that they're no more special than the thousands of working musicians who play in coffeehouses and bars and release CDs without waiting to see whether they'll make the cut on a flavor-of-the-month TV show that probably wouldn't let them audition anyway.

santast3.jpgThe label is also the artist in this case, who compiled, and in some cases masterminded some of, this collection of mashups and parodies for 2007. This is the third year and the third collection in this vein, but I'm just catching up now. "You Shook Me All Noel" by djBC starts out with some "Peanuts" clips but segues quickly into a killer mashup of AC/DC and Sarah MacLachlan. He also takes on the classical "Four Seasons" in three parts, featuring Lauren Hill, Wyclef Jean and Jay Z's mom at various times. "Elvis' Christmas Turkey" by Go Home Productions lays the King over a reggae backing for "White Christmas," and Elvis returns with Atom for "Santa's Pre-Boarding Announcement," which features a litany of goodies layered in over Elvis' "Here Comes Santa Claus." Divide and Kreate's "Velvet Santa" combines Michael Jackson with some heavy Lou Reed riffing on "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." "Brave Bells of Scotland" by Martinn gives us some latter-day Chipmunks action with Frank Sinatra, a Celtic rock band and bagpipe tunes all doubletimed over "Jingle Bells." Andy Williams meets the Yellow Magic Orchestra in Apollo Zero's "Do You Hear Rainbows I Hear," Mojochronic's pair of "Yuletide Zeppelin" cuts turn up here, and A Plus D Christmases up the "SNL" classic bit as "Xmas Dick in a Box." Two Hanukkah Alerts are included here too, with Voicedude stealing the Three Weissmans' "Jingle Bells," Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song," the "Dreidel Song," Allan Sherman and South Park to make "Dreidel All the Way," and DJ Flack gives us "Hanukkah-In-Dub," a cut-and-paste of various appropriate original sources over a Matisyahu performance. "Safety Bells" by DJ Earlybird mashes Smokey Robinson with Men Without Hats, David Hasselhoff is fodder for "Alala Falala Hasselhoff" by DJ Freddy King of Pants, "Last Christmas Twist" by Fettdog puts some hard-rock crunch on top of the Wham tune, and Voicedude returns to "Imagine Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" with John Lennon on top of the familiar carol. Projects like this have a tendency towards excess, but I think a lot of folks not familiar with the mashup world could listen to this all the way through and enjoy it. While you're at the site downloading this, click on the Give link and remember a fine charity in exchange for the music.
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