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November 2010 Archives

A plea for a song identification

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Linda Boden wants to know what song this is. I'm stumped myself, so drop a line to the blog or just answer in comments.

I'm trying to figure out the artist who performs a particular Christmas song. I heard this song last year on the muzak at my part-time gig, Kmart, and they're playing it again this year. It sounds an awful lot like the band Cutting Crew, as the vocals are similar and it's that genre of music. I have Googled the discernable lyrics every possible way, and I come up with bupkis. Might you know this song? It's a male singer, slightly effeminate/breathy delivery. Begins with acoustic guitar, and the first two lines are:
"Holly, ho ho ho.
I'm bathing in the glow."
Remainder of the chorus is still a mystery to me, as it's a bit mumbly and it's hard to tell an entire big-box retail store to shush so I can listen. UPDATE: Answer's in comments. Thanks, Ken!
"So it's Christmaaaaas/
So it's Christmaaaaaaas,
Happy Holiday.
Why can't I feeeeeeel....
I realize this is probably not much to go on, but it's driving me nuts. I stumbled on your site in my searching, and thought it would not hurt to ask.
These folks have all the buzz of the season this year because of their Hyundai ads in which they perform either "Jingle Bells" or "Up On the Housetop." Needless to say, these songs aren't available anywhere unless you're happy listening to the 30 or so seconds available via the car ads, and since Hyundai doesn't have a blog affiliate program, I can't be bothered. UPDATE: Stubby's Christmas proves us wrong again, although you need to take part in an elaborate Christmas charity donation in order to get a 5-song Christmas EP featuring all the songs mentioned here plus a version of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." For now, what is generally available, and free from the band's website, is a download of the ancient carol mentioned in the title as done by this quirky pop chamber orchestra. They also have a video of this, as well as their original Christmas song, "Always In the Season," which also isn't available other than via the video. Enjoy.


giftwrap2.jpgLast year saw the first of Warners' download-only compilations under this title, and this is the second for 2010, this one done up as an "iTunes LP," a special format by that store that recreates the liner notes experience in a way that looks a lot like the special features screens on a movie DVD. This collection is 21 songs plus a video for $9.99, a reasonably good deal, although the entire package takes a lot longer to download than just a standard album's worth of tunes. The selections appear to be a troll through the vaults, although there's a fair number of tunes I haven't encountered before. The version of Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" done here by Oasis hasn't been widely available in the past, nor has Devo's "Merry Something To You," the video of which is included along with the separate song-only file. Tegan and Sara goof around with "The Chipmunk Song," Flaming Lips' "Little Drummer Boy" sounds like a soundcheck throwaway, House of Heroes' previously released "O Come Emanuel" is here, and an acoustic version of Goo Goo Dolls' "Better Days" is part of this package. Foxy Shazam's hard rocker "Heaven On Their Minds" is a good change of pace, and Franklin provides the Hanukkah Alert with a brief "Hanukkah O Hanukkah." MOR sensibilities are catered to with David Foster's "Carol of the Bells," Ben Keith's countrified "Les Trois Cloches" featuring Neil Young and his wife Pegi from Keith's long-ago album, and a duet by Kara DioGuardi and Jason Reeves, "Wintertime in New York." The Dirt Drifters put a country twang on "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," Rachel Yamagata offers the ballad "Baby Come Find Me at Christmas," American Bang's "Christmas Song" is an interesting midtempo rocker, as is Cavo's "Home For Christmas." Two tunes on here that didn't do much for me are Stardeath and White Dwarf's dirge-y "Last Christmas" and Regina Spektor's "December," which sounds like a homeless person declaiming in front of a piano store. (I may be overstating this a bit...) Pity, as I rather liked her New Year's song from a couple years ago. I suspect a lot of folks will graze this collection for just those songs they want.
augburn2.jpgThis Christian rock outfit from Lancaster, PA had a single of "O Come Emanuel" last year and are back with this hard rock instrumental for 2010. Heavy guitars take the lead while the drums play only their typical role in this slowed-down version of the carol. This will go down well with the band's fans, as well as those who prefer old-school hard rock crunch.

"In the Snow," The Rumbar Girls (Stroh)

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These Austrian Spice Girls are offering up this seasonal disco polka number as a free download for 2010. It'll put a smile on your face even as you ask yourselves, "Really? Really!?" As you watch the video, provided here for your amusement, you discover this is essentially an ad for an Austrian rum company. It certainly trumps this year's Train/Coca-Cola alliance for shameless hype.


Winter Night, Little and Ashley (self-issued)

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littleash.jpgThis LA actor-singer duo (each does both) notched some notice for scoring a Kindle ad recently, and they've put together an EP for 2010 featuring two songs of their own, "By Your Side" and "Winter Night," plus a cover of "Baby It's Cold Outside," a not unexpected cover for a boy-girl duo. It's a "Gray's Anatomy"-friendly vibe, so proceed at your own chosen speed. Downloadable only from Amazon, as far as I know.
mclars.jpgMC Lars previously addressed the Christmas season with "Gary the Green-Nosed Reindeer," an uproarious hip-hop-influenced takeoff on Rudolph, and for 2008 he (and Jaret Reddick) came out with this, a similar kind of humorous take on the holiday, only this time the green isn't just for contrast, it's all about Santa battling climate change while delivering on everybody's holiday wishes. Great number, part of an EP that includes three non-holiday tunes as well.

Bah Humbug, Destructors 666 (Rowdy Farrago)

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destructrs.jpgStumbled over this lately, a 2008 EP of punk rock Christmas verities, mostly original except for "Good King Wenceslas," short and to the point. This British band has its roots in the original 70s punk revolution, continued into the 1980s and reformed in 2006, grinding out a prolific number of albums and EPs over both stretches of their career. The songs here are mostly snarky and irreverent, in keeping with the style, and there's a nearly obligatory "F*&k Christmas," but everything is well played, and if you need a song with this collection's title or one called "Punk Rock Christmas Song" for your mix discs, here's where you'll turn. For those of you interested in occasion-based music for other holidays, their latest album is Helloween.
countbles.jpgThis young thrash-punk band from Waldorf, Md., threw together their own ode to the holiday for 2010. They seem to have a bit of ADD, as "Round Up the Christmas Tree" starts out with "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree," segues into "Silent Night," "O Come Emanuel" and back into rocking the tree all in three minutes. "Jingle Bell Stomp" used to have the word "rock" in it before these guys got hold of it, "A Nutty Christmas" thrashes up "The Christmas Song," then "Ode to Nutcracker" actually takes a serious stab at "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" with keyboards and other instruments, then it's back to thrashing "Too Much Eggnog," which is actually that "Grandma" song, and then "Two Front Teeth" is a punked-out version of that popular novelty. When it ends, a bunch of goofing around stretches the song from 2 to 15 minutes. The collection ends with the non-Christmas "When the Sun Comes Up." Never hurts to have a little fresh punk rock for the holidays, am I right?

Tree Party, That Band From Holland (self-issued)

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treeparty.jpgBecause the band's name is also a succinct description of who they are, it appears this 2010 EP's name has no alternate meanings pertinent to the U.S. political scene. Pity. Most of these seven songs are pretty short, almost musical Christmas haikus. The meditation on burning a plastic tree and its effect on climate change in "Plastic Trees" is a bit ambiguous. "Blinded" is about that old neighborhood standard, the excessive display of outdoor holiday lights and the accompanying noisy soundtrack -- ironic, as this entire EP is fairly mellow chamber-pop, at least until the oscillator solo kicks in on this particular track. "Don't" offers a brief list of things to avoid on the holiday, "Sinking More" should actually have been "Drinking More," as that as much the refrain of this bouncy little number as anything else. "Traces" worries that "if you eat too much you might explode," and "Girl With the X-Ray Eyes" is a foreboding conclusion to this collection. Download this free from the group's website starting Dec 1.

"The Blizzard," Camera Obscura (4AD)

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camobscur.jpgA contemplative folky ballad for 2009 from this Scottish band about braving the title weather event to get to a Christmas celebration, with a downbeat ending. They were giving it away last year, but the link I discovered only lets you stream it now, so it's off to the download stores we go. Nice work. I came across a reference to a "holiday version" of the song "My Maudlin Career," so if anybody has any info on that, drop the site a line or leave a comment.
famforc5.jpgThis was out in 2009 and the band, an Atlanta group that identifies as "Christian crunk rock," toured behind it that year and is set to emphasize this disc on a string of dates this December as well. This is a bunch of white guys playing hip-hop who do a decent job of it, while leaving the Parental Advisory sticker behind as well. There's not much in the way of rapping, other than on "The Night Before Christmas," which is a good vehicle for that sort of thing. Otherwise, this is all singing, lots of vocal distortion and auto-tune carrying the mostly familiar carols over some contemporary beats. They even emulate the R'nB convention of doing "My Favorite Things" as a Christmas song. Two originals are part of the proceedings, the ballad "It's Christmas Day" and "The Baby," which has just a slight taste of "Gangsta's Paradise" about it musically, but I don't think there's any guessing about which baby they're singing about. They wrap up by contemporizing Sir Paul's "Wonderful Christmastime." Some rock fans find hip-hop material a bit monochromatic, but I have no problem recommending this, it's an excellent piece of work.
bretdom.jpgBrett is a YouTube sensation, having come to attention for his goofy videos featuring him playing such things as "Beat It," Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" and his famous Justin Timberlake medley on stylophone and keytar. The Michael Jackson cover even got him featured on "Britain's Got Talent." He did this extended single for 2008, featuring two original songs and a remix of the title song, which is a well-produced upbeat pop-rock tune featuring his nerdlinger vocals. The flip side is "Hello Mistletoe," a piano ballad that features an even nerdier "rap" in the middle. Catch him doing the title song here:

"Wish List," Neon Trees (Island/Def Jam)

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neontree.jpgThis modern pop-rock outfit from Provo, Utah knocked out a sweet holiday rocker for 2010 about Christmas wishes and romance. Definite mix disc material here. Couldn't find out much more about this even from the band's own websites, but heck, how much more do you need to know? Check it out.

futfor2.jpgfutfor1.jpgFollowing a tip for Vol. 2 led me to Vol. 1, and so we'll just wrap up both in this single post. There isn't much to choose between the two EPs, it's the same band two years apart following the same Christian alt-pop-rock framework. All the songs on both collections are religious Christmas songs except "Little Drummer Boy" from Vol. 1 and the original from Vol. 2, "The Earth Stood Still," which both focus on the Nativity story as well. Accordingly, the tone across both collections is serious and reverent, less celebratory than anticipatory, and no lighter moments. But this is strong rock-flavored work from a musical standpoint. Vol 1 is from 2008 and Vol. 2 is new for 2010.

XO For the Holidays Vol. 3, various artists (XO)

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We've had XO compilations in the past, so we're happy this management company thought to gift us with the link to Vol. 3 for 2010, once again free to all comers (with convenient links to Vols. 1 & 2 as well). Among the mix disc candidates from this collection are Triggers' "A Very Triggers Christmas," a nice 80s pop-rocker that has just the slightest taste of Van Halen's "Jump" in the way guitars and keyboards are used; "Riptide-Yuletide" by  Prayer For Animals, a nice surf-rock instrumental workout for about two-thirds of its length, then it drops to midtempo with vocals the rest of the way; "McAdenville (Christmastown)" by The Winter Sounds takes a more 80s synth-rock tack to put across its nostalgic lyrics; Campfire OK provides a Hanukkah Alert with "The Dreidel Song," which is laid over another folk-rock song that I can't immediately identify, but it's a dramatic reworking nonetheless; and Piney Gir is represented twice here, with "A Cheery Christmas" and "Snow Snow Beautiful Snow," both old-school pop music workouts. Other cuts include "Holiday Song" by Captain Nowhere, an angular punk recitation; "Presents in June" by Pictures of Then, a slow holiday ballad; Paper Tongues' vocal rendition of "Carol of the Bells": and "A Christmas Stalking" by Transient Songs, another slow tune led by a mourning slow guitar and chanted vocals. An 11th song listed on the album art appears to have missed the cut for some reason; it wasn't in the zip file and it can't be played individually at the site any more. Oh well, can't sneeze at 10 free songs, can we? (More if you download all three volumes.)
pineygir.jpgAnother vinyl single from 2009 now available from iTunes. Damaged Goods is a punk/alternative label in England, and Piney Gir takes the alt-country approach to music. This song is a bit more vaudeville, with woodwinds taking the lead, and lyrics that are Christmas-agnostic, though they address the universal feelings of longing, belonging and caring for others that are a hallmark of most Christmas songs. The two tunes on the B-side are the old standard "I Wanna Be Like You" and a vocal / instrumental, "Brady's Bluff," non-holiday. They also have some holiday tunes on XO For the Holidays Vol. 3 as well.
paulsimon.jpgFor something that started out as a marketing tool of Starbucks, the Hear label has notched quite a few big stars for its roster -- Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney (and his lucrative solo back catalog) -- and now Paul Simon, whose 2010 Christmas song will appear on his next album. That's several months down the road, however, but in the meantime we have this, a mashup of the modern-day Simon with his idiosyncratic rhythmic sense and a 1941 speech about the holiday by the Rev. J.M. Gates, possibly the most prolific gospel recording star of the early days of the record industry. (You can download his original performances from Amazon, including his own original sermon with this same title.) The combination of Simon's writing and Gates' preaching creates a perfect artifact of these uncertain times, one you can still snap your fingers to as well. You can link to the paid download by clicking on the disc art, but the artist offers a free download as well.
itsaboutx2.jpgSeveral years back, this DIY label released Volume 1, and 2010 sees the second in the series featuring independent acts it distributes. The company works with artists from across genres, so like the first one there are country, folk, classical and jazz cuts among the 20 songs here, but the majority of songs are in the rock and pop realms. That said, there are three repeats from Volume 1 on here, "Santa's Bag" and "Glad To Be Home For Christmas" by Rick Bell of It's About Roy and "Sing For Christmas" by Andy Pratt, though if you didn't grab that volume they're still the good songs they were, particularly "Santa's Bag," a note-perfect Beach Boys homage. The latter-day version of The Buckinghams, the 60s band with hits like "Kind of a Drag," "Susan" and a vocal version of "Mercy Mercy Mercy," show up here with the midtempo "Christmas 12 Months a Year." Greg Roz goes R'nB ballad speed with "First Real Christmas," Michael Sembello (the very same) does a straight pop ballad, "I Really Don't Want Much For Christmas," now-defunct Harrisburg, Pa. band Bravetheday offers a folky "O Come Emanuel," and Pittsburgh's B.E. Taylor puts down a rocking "Feel the Love of Christmas," propelled equally by horns and accordion. Cleveland's long-running Michael Stanley Band hard-rocks "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," Ben Arnold plays an easy-going "Reindeer Game," Jake Holmes brings us a sillly "Chinese Christmas," and more ballads issue from Brian McDade with "The Christmas Snow and Tricia O'Keefe's "Christmas With You." Those with a low tolerance for Fox News-derived verities will want to dodge James Cain's "Christ Out of Christmas," a country complaint about issues that were mostly adjudicated 40 years ago. A reasonably good compilation like the first one, and since it's downloadable you can pick and choose songs if you feel it's necessary.
dapkings.jpgThis was out as a vinyl single for 2009 and has since become available from the usual download stores. Sharon and the band apply their patented 60's soul approach to a 60s style protest lament about making poor children's Christmases merry, very much in the tradition of James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight To the Ghetto." Nice work. Binky Griptite does a holiday rap over the instrumental track to this song on the B-side.

"Presents," Stratocruiser (self-issued)

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presents.jpgYet another free holiday tune from this Midwest power-pop band for 2010 about buying and getting presents. It's a nice midtempo rocker, although I personally think the kid obnoxiously listing what he wants for Christmas could be toned down a bit. You might find this endearing, though, and so you to yours. Stratocruiser has also for 2010 made an EP available that includes all their previous holiday songs, but not this one. We've covered those previously, but if you're a power pop person you won't want to miss them if you have so far. Click on the album cover to check it out.

Best Christmas Ever, Ronnie Spector (Bad Girl)

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ronniesp.jpgAs I tipped you a few months back, the former lead Ronette pulled together a five-song EP for 2010, featuring "It's Christmas Once Again," which appeared on an earlier album of Ronnie's. The other four songs, newly recorded for this project, include "My Christmas Wish," originally written by Johnny Colla of Huey Lewis and the News and performed by him in a rare 1993 solo outing; "Best Christmas Ever," from Universal Honey's 2003 holiday album, well regarded by your humble proprietor; and "It's the Time (Happy Holidays)" and "Light a Candle," about which I don't know much. A little mellow for Ronnie, who sounds better rocking out, as compared to her Phil Spector stablemate Darlene Love, whose voice is a bit more versatile. But it's still worthwhile for fans of Wall-of-Sound-era music.

Christmas Cornucopia, Annie Lennox (Decca)

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Well, I didn't exactly call it; I predicted this would be a sedate pop outing, and while that isn't quite right, it definitely isn't anywhere in the rock neighborhood either. What this 2010 recording is can be compared to Sting's album, or Blackmore's Night, in that it is primarily concerned with the antique carols in period-appropriate arrangements, although Annie allows a number of contemporary touches into the proceedings -- even a touch of auto-tune occasionally. The faux-antique art of the cover is a pointer to the music within. The final song on the album, "Universal Child," breaks from the album concept, in that it's a non-Christmas Annie original done as you would hear it on one of her previous albums. This particular song's proceeds will benefit African children's charities through the Annie Lennox Foundation. Lyrically, it supports its intended mission. This is a fine album for those who like an old-fashioned European Christmas ("Il Est Ne" is sung in French), but there's no rock 'n roll to be found here.
foundsound.jpgHere's another free album of mashups for 2010. FSO is an Australian outfit, if I'm reading the tip e-mail correctly, and this collection of sample-mongering knits together a wide selection of rock and non-rock, Christmas and non-Christmas material into nine fairly listenable songs that obsessives can pick apart to identify their constituent parts, or can just play in the background at a Christmas party. In fact, the almost mellow results FSO gets here stand in contrast to the more in-your-face mashups constructed by the DJs and musicians on the Santastic collections. As a result, you may have trouble identifying particular numbers from this for your mix discs. Nevertheless, this is a good example of the current state of the mashup art. I especially like how old middle-of-the-road music gets spruced up when it's laid over 70s era R'nB beats on many of the songs here. Download it from the website.

Fresh Cuts, various artists (Rumblefish)

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freshcuts.jpgRumblefish is a music licensing company, and this 2007 collection features indie artists they've contracted to have their music placed in video productions, TV shows, and so on. It's fairly listenable in an eclectic alt-indie way. Things kick off with "Christmas on the Moon" by Slink Moss Explosion, a country-inflected rocker about actually celebrating on the moon. Mike Schmid offers "Full House," a midtempo reflection on having all the relatives and friends over that will fit. Hot Tin Roof's "A Christmas Wish" rocks things up nicely, and then Josh Jesty does a mash-up style arrangement of "Silent Night" in which the typical slow rendition is dressed up with various bits of electronic soundscaping. "I Saw Three Ships" gets a folk-rock arrangement from Rye Hollow, and "We Three Kings" is done in an electro-pop arrangement by Heathersong. Jeff Saltzman does a spaghetti-Western instrumental version of "Jingle Bells," and then Supersuckers rock the house with "Call It Christmas Time," and Ron Rogers and Deborah Giles go 60s pop with "Hey Santa Claus." Trashcan Joe caps things off with a novelty, a bunch of little kids telling Santa to "Bring Me Some Bling."
shoostar.jpgThree British songwriters collaborated to write and produce this perfectly enjoyable 70s-sounding holiday song for 2009. The Stars are Mike Read, Elliot Frisby and Roy Wood -- yes, the author of "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day," going for the Christmas market one more time, this time in service to the Shooting Star Children's Hospice, for which this single was released as a fund-raiser. I couldn't get my hands on it last year, but it appears to have migrated to the usual download sites this year. While Roy isn't singing lead on this, you can hear a little of his musical approach in the arrangement. Elliot Frisby solos on the B-side's acoustic ballad "Christmas Day."

seasonal3.jpgFans of the Double Crown label are already up to speed with the first two volumes, so here's another one for 2010. As in the past, the artists featured are from the label, mostly in the early 60's guitar combo sound that stretches from Duane Eddy to the surf music scene. Much of this is instrumentals, kicking off with The Razorblades' "Morgen Kinder Wirds Was Geben," as you might expect from a German band. The Excelsiors take a lot of delightful liberties with "Good King Wenceslas" and The Frankie Handwax Experience superimposes "We Three Kings" over Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression." Previously released items from the label show up here, like "Greensleeves" from King of Hawaii's Chrismas disc and The Barbary Coasters' "Secret Santa." Burt Rocket gets a little Joe Meek/Telestar on us with "Santa's Hot Rod," The Balboas throw in a vocal with "This Is Santa Claus," and also resorting to the microphone are The Polkaholics with "Sausage and Sauerkraut For Santa," a rock/polka hybrid. Tiki Joe's Ocean goes exotica on us with their version of "Jingle Bells," and OJ Watson and the Ludlow Ramblers do "We'll Be Home With Bells On," which is straight old-school country, and Peter Curry and Dick Chiclet wrap things up with a twangy "Old Anxiety," better known as "Auld Lang Syne." This is right in line with the previous two collections, and if you grab it from the mothership (assuming your local record store doesn't have the hard copy, that's the only place online that has it) there's an additional song downloadable from the site, "Silent Night Twist" by The Beechwoods, which is just a little sedate for twisting but more uptempo than the song is usually performed. The Balboas did a video, like to see it? Here we go:

ahleluiah.jpgDonnie is a Pittsburgh-area stalwart of the rock music scene who had a hit in 1970 with the Jaggerz ("The Rapper") and struck again in 1980 with his current group via the song this 2010 album puns from ("Ah! Leah!"). His other big hit was "Love Is Like a Rock," from 1982. He's continued to perform and record since his salad days, and this year it looks like he decided to take the Christmas plunge. It's an ambitious disc, available mainly from his website at this time, although I imagine Western Pennsylvania and Ohio fans might be able to pick up a hardcopy at a local store or three. My initial impression from listening to the disc all the way through once was that Donnie wants to be Trans-Siberian Orchestra, owing to the several antique carols done in versions that owe more to church ensembles and pops symphonies than rock, topped off by a "Hallelujah Chorus" that features 81 Donnies, in the words of producer and liner notes author Mark Avsec. Those looking for more rock 'n roll attitude shouldn't be put off, though, starting with the second cut, "Angels We Have Heard On High," which is classic Cruisers with some progressive rock chops added, stretching the song to nearly six minutes. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is done in a hand-clapping arrangement led by piano, "Blue Christmas" is pretty much the Elvis arrangement with lots of steel guitar, "Emmanuel" is more of a hard rock arrangement, and what should be a single from this album is "This Child," a reimagining of "What Child Is This" written by Avsec that is a strong power pop outing. "Alleluyah Sasa! (He Is Born)" is something different, a Swahili carol driven by African percussion. The obligatory "Auld Lang Syne" rocks along nicely with an autotuned Donnie singing, followed by an acoustic guitar-led "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in ballad tempo and a slow "Silent Night" featuring pedal steel once more. I imagine this album could do really well if it caught the ears of the general public, though for my taste the disc could do with less classical influence and more from Little Steven's Underground Garage.

I promised last year more info about this entertaining holiday collective based in Philadelphia, and it turns out that 2010 is the group's 25th anniversary of creating self-penned Christmas tunes of the off-kilter and satirical variety. To celebrate, they've released a double-disc set of what they consider the greatest hits of their fine, fine, superfine career. But with a twist: these are re-recordings, with the idea that such a long-running act should, by now, have attracted a fan base among other musical acts, and so this is a Bah and the Humbugs "tribute" album in which the band impersonates 25 fictional bands doing "covers" of the Humbug oeuvre. They're serious about this humorous effort: the website features capsule bios and album covers by each of the 25 "acts" taking part in this project. I guarantee hours of semi-obsessive fun for the serious music followers as they determine who is being satirized here. I have the press release with all the answers, so no fair me giving away the game, although I doubt anybody could miss "Mr. Big Christmas" as an ELO parody or Area 25's "Here Come the Christmas Zombies" as a B-52s homage. There's even a mashup, "Currier vs. Ives (christmashup)." Lest you think this is all inside jokes for the insufferable music snobs among us, the project could stand just on straight piano and guitar readings of the songs themselves, with such titles as "Frostbite (The Flesh-Eating Snowman)," "Titanic Tannenbaum," "Jesus' Funky Christmas," "Attack of the 50-Foot Santa," and more, although the genre exercises unquestionably enhance the songs. Meanwhile, the entire history of the act, including previous releases, is available at the website, with a generous selection of downloads of their previous work on display as well, and even a few tastes of this record. The band is also in the habit of issuing Christmas Eve podcasts, which are available through iTunes as well as directly from the site. Their albums, including this one, are available direct from the group, and proceeds from this album will benefit the United Nations World Food Programme. So if you're just hearing about Bah and the Humbugs for the first time, get on over to see them -- there's a lot of catching up to do. Check out "Here Come the Christmas Zombies":

happyxmas5.jpgThis 2010 release is fifth in the series of Christmas collections of Christian-market rock groups that started at BEC Recordings and has since migrated to Tooth & Nail. As in the past, rock fans can choose to be cheerfully oblivious to the religious aspect, as there's no overt proselytizing here, just strong performances of Christmas-oriented songs. (No Hanukkah Alerts, though.) The majority of these performances are uptempo hard rock workouts, though Hawk Nelson's "Chipmunk Song" throws in some ska rhythms, Emery takes the ballad tack to their "Jesus Gave Us Christmas," Bon Voyage does "The Little Christmas Tree" Phil Spector-style, FM Static does a pop-rock "Snow Miser" with orchestral touches, and Surrogate does a slow, swingy semi-acoustic version of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." August Burns Red and Family Force 5 contribute tunes they've previously released, and Copeland does a solo piano version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Oh, by the way, if you've missed out on the previous installments of the Happy Christmas series, volumes 1-3 are now packaged together for 2010. 
rathumb.jpgThis is the second release from The December People, a project led by longtime prog-rocker Robert Berry. The previous disc was more of a look at the holiday through the progressive rock prism; this 2010 release combines popular carols with the approaches of classic rock stalwarts. Here, Berry and friends imagine "What Child Is This" as done by U2, a medley of "Joy to the World/Jingle Bells" if the Who had recorded it, "We Three Kings" via Sting, and a medley of "Up On the Rooftop/Feliz Navidad" as played from the Woodstock stage during Santana's set, ending with a takeoff on the guitarist's big recent hit "Smooth." I should leave the rest of it to your own discovery, but I can't leave without tipping you to the Led Zeppelin version of "The Night Before Christmas." This is a good concept well executed.
superions.jpgThe B-52s never recorded a Christmas album, but there have been a few attempts to emulate them on novelty holiday records. But if the B's never get around to making one of their own, their singer Fred Schneider has, with his new side project The Superions. This group is more a synth-pop act, but Fred is, well, Fred, so certain similarities are going to creep in, particularly when they recruit female singers as they did on "Santa's Disco." The lyrical approach is what you'd expect, with songs like "Fruitcake," a recitation of a fruitcake recipe; "Laughter at Christmas," in which laughter is constantly in the background; "Christmas Tears," an exasperated holiday medley; "Teddy and Betty Yeti," who capture and eat everybody in Santa's compound; and "Crummy Christmas Tree," in which a Charlie Brown-like tree gets thrown on the bonfire. Topping things off is "Santa Je' T'aime," a holiday tribute to the widely banned Serge Gainsbourg song of the late 1960s. The overall sound of this 2010 album is a little monochromatic, and folks may be inclined to pick and choose tracks for download, but B-52s lovers will likely be satisfied.
setzlive.jpgBrian seems to have made a specialty out of Christmas, and his winter tours regularly go up against the likes of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller for the holiday entertainment buck. Although all of these acts are nominally considered to include various flavors of rock, Brian's the only one who exhibits real rock 'n roll attitude, so a live album would definitely be worth anyone's while, especially if you've never picked up any BSO before this. No surprises in song selection other than the non-holiday "Fishnet Stockings" and a medley of "Stray Cat Strut/You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch"; the other 13 selections on this 2010 collection are right off his studio albums, only done live. Of course, if you have those, you may not feel you need this; depends mainly upon how you feel about live albums in general.
wilphil.jpgNot quite one-hit wonders from the early 90s, but pretty much done after a couple of albums, the group came back together to cut a Christmas disc for 2010. And if you remember their original recordings, well, this is pretty much that with a Christmas overlay. No surprise, since it was produced by hitmaker Glen Ballard, who was responsible for the group's original success. The sunny California pop that's in this group's DNA (their fathers were the leaders of the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas, in case you've forgotten) is even a little sunnier given that they're working with mostly familiar holiday tunes. There are three originals, the uptempo "Warm Lovin' Christmastime" and "Christmastime" and the ballad "Joy," and for Beach Boys obsessives, Brian Wilson led the girls in a performance of "Our Prayer" from Smile to close the album. I'm giving the group extra points for covering the Roy Wood classic "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day," although I favor the grittier sound of the original. Barnes and Noble puts four additional songs on their version, though three of them are "singalong" versions of songs from the album, with the fourth being "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." More pop than rock, but who didn't know that going in?

Merry Christmas II You, Mariah Carey (Island)

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mariah2.jpgSomebody asked me why Mariah has gone to the Christmas well a second time, and my flip answer was that maybe she had a balloon payment due on something she bought on time. More likely, it was the fact that her original holiday disc was on her former label Columbia; now that she's on Island, I would guess the suits there wanted a piece of the Christmas action. Turns out she's also got a network holiday special planned, so new music apparently was called for there. Of course, Elvis did two distinct Christmas albums back in the day, separated in time by about the same amount that this 2010 disc is separated from her first one. So what is there to say about this one? Well, Mariah is a known quantity after all these years, a well-liked soul singer with great pipes and a decent ear for good songs. The single from this collection, "Oh Santa," is a good example, a nice uptempo romp you'll be singing along with before you finish hearing it for the first time. Her original holiday hit, "All I Want For Christmas," is here as well, a new performance with a hammy orchestrated intro, and my guess is that its presence will help encourage buyers to grab this album instead of the 1994 disc where this song originated. She also recycles the first album's "O Holy Night," combining it with a live performance, medleys "Linus and Lucy" with "Christmas Time Is Here" from "A Charlie Brown Christmas," brings her opera-singing mom in for "O Come All Ye Faithful / Hallelujah Chorus," and brings in other originals like the slow jam "When Christmas Comes" and the ballad "Christmas Time Is In the Air Again." All told, it's what you'd expect, but in the style of the entertainment magazines, I have no problem recommending you download "Oh Santa" whether you're a Mariah fan or not.
trekkyork.jpgI went looking for this thinking it was going to be some kind of Star Trek-related novelty (yes, I know the "true" fans like to be called "Trekkers"; in my world a Trekky is somebody who insists on being called a Trekker) but no, Trekky is a record label of indy folk-pop-rockers based in Chapel Hill, N.C., and this is a Christmas record made by what appears to have been the label's entire roster as of this album's 2006 release. It's 12 familiar songs and carols done in a sort of chamber-pop setting with a few inventive touches to the arrangements and a certain spontaneity of performance. It's not bad, but there's not much in the way of rock 'n roll attitude here, other than a nicely rocked-up version of Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You." If I had to do the Venn diagram, I'd put Bright Eyes to one side, Polyphonic Spree to the other, and overlay these guys a little toward the Bright Eyes side. A visit to the website shows that the Orchestra plays gigs in the label's hometown region at Christmas time, so this album does serve as a souvenir for the folks who encounter them live.

Candidate for this site's theme song?

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Or is it just this humble author's theme song? Mark Jeffery sent in the link to this video, which is by Mojochronic, the guy who brought us "Yuletide Zeppelin." I'm open to the possibility, take a look and see what you think:

Looks like curating Christmas collections agrees with Ken Kessler, longtime friend of this site. His first collection, Volume 1, appeared on this site last year, and for 2010 he's back again with Volume 2. This year's collection is intended to benefit Sweet Relief, the charity that helps working musicians cover their medical bills (I should add American musicians, owing to this country's history of offering only the shabbiest of safety nets to its citizens, particularly the ones who don't work for Fortune 500 companies or in government). Like Volume 1, the collection casts a wide net for listeners, with lots of ballads in the early going, but this year's collection has more rock 'n roll moments. Many of these songs have been out before, but only in limited editions or for fans. Vertical Horizon's version of "I Believe in Father Christmas" makes a fresh appearance here, Belinda Carlisle contributes her 80s version of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," Deep Blue Something contribute an unreleased version of "Little Drummer Boy," and the modern-day version of 60s party band the Swingin' Medallions does a Christmas update on the old Bruce Channel song with "Hey, Hey Santa." Ken also snagged cuts released only last year by Bootlegger ("Coming Home For Christmas") and Sleeping At Last ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"), along with what is likely to be a cut from Dave Stewart's long-promised Christmas album ("White Christmas") and the North Pole All-Stars, made up of regulars from Little Feat, with their "Santa Gotta Get Some," a song that was recorded to help pay down the medical debt following the death of band member Richie Hayward last year. Kathy Sledge, who with her sisters did "We Are Family," pops up here with her version of "The Christmas Waltz," and Chase Stevens contributes an original, "First Christmas Apart." There's more, which Ken helpfully lays out for you at his MySpace page. All told, a good album for a good cause, with plenty of possible mix disc choices.
jpchrissie.jpgYou need the deluxe version of the group's 2010 album Fidelity! to grab this, as it's one of the bonus cuts. It's a great tune, a rootsier version of the Pretenders with a guy singing lead -- no surprise, since that's what this whole album is, Chrissie Hynde and JP Jones celebrating their relationship with an album of original songs. It's a very good album, which will make it worthwhile to grab the deluxe version for this excellent upbeat holiday tune, both musically and lyrically. It's an original take on joy and redemption that will also cause an outbreak of dancing at your Christmas parties. UPDATE: The duo's website shows a cover for a single of this Christmas song, and if you're sneaky Amazon will let you download it all alone.

"Shake Up Christmas," Train (Columbia)

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This is a relentlessly commercial midtempo rock ballad from this popular rock band for 2010. When I say "relentlessly commercial," I mean it literally; the band is working guitar-in-glove with Coca-Cola's upcoming holiday advertising push. So this is available as a single and it's also on the "Golden Gate Edition" of their new album Save Me San Francisco. As I've called attention to Christmas songs that were soundtracks to advertising in the past, I'm certainly not one of those naïve children yelling "sell-out" at the top of my lungs, but the fact that the band is actually part of the ad campaign, rather than just the provider of an agreeable soundtrack, definitely takes a little of the shine off what is, in the end, a strong rocking original Christmas song.

Merry Christmas, Shelby Lynne (Everso-Fontana)

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shelbylyn.jpgNominally considered a country artist, Shelby has been willfully independent throughout her career, with the turning point being her now 10-year-old album I Am Shelby Lynne, which brought her before a rock/Americana audience. Nevertheless, a Christmas album tends to bring the country out in a girl or guy brought up below the Mason-Dixon line, so I approached this 2010 release with some trepidation. My conclusion is that, in a perfect world, I should call this a country album and be done with it, but in the 21st century, "country" music is no longer a distinct musical genre, but is more of a personal identity thing. Much so-called country music today is either warmed-over rock or warmed-over pop music featuring people singing in pronounced Southern accents along with the occasional fiddle or steel guitar lick. Declaring you're a country fan nowadays seems to be more in line with declaring you're a Prius driver than in simply identifying what kind of music you like. In that world, there's no way this is a country album. Shelby wears her Southern influences like a favorite Christmas sweater, but there's touches of folk, swing, blues and light rock here as well. It is on the mellow side for the Mistletunes audience, but it's made with a complete lack of artifice, which is another reason why you'll never hear it on your local country station. Shelby sticks mostly with obvious song choices from the canon, but she makes room for two originals, "Ain't Nothin' Like Christmas," a nice swingy hand-clapper, and "Xmas," a bluesy ballad led by a wah-wah guitar figure and Dave Koz sax solo that talks about the struggles of putting presents under the tree for the kids. I absolutely guarantee you this song is the only time you'll ever hear a nominally country artist mention a "ghetto blaster" in the lyrics. Too bad she couldn't find a way to get her more humorous Christmas original, "Squat," onto this album. (Once again, thanks to Hip Christmas for the link.)

Holly Happy Days, Indigo Girls (Vanguard)

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indigogrl.jpgI was concerned about Shelby Lynne's Christmas album being too country, and then I put on this 2010 release and the very first cut, "I Feel the Christmas Spirit," is full-on bluegrass/gospel. I suppose I expected this to be a bit more boisterous and pop-rock-ish, in the style of this duo's earliest albums, but they've chosen to take the more reverent approach to the holiday, and given the input of folks like Alison Brown and Lloyd Maines, a more country approach. The song selection, at least, is outside the usual mode, starting with Emily Saliers' original "Your Holiday Song," which has more of that Indigo Girls flavor as well as strong bass work from Victor Krauss; Amy Ray's "Mistletoe," a ballad, and "The Wonder Song," a more bluegrass outing; Chely Wright's "It Really Is (A Wonderful Life)"; Beth Nielsen Chapman and Melissa Manchester's "There's Still My Joy"; traditional tunes "Angels We Have Heard On High," "Peace Child" and "In the Bleak Midwinter," and Hanukkah alert, Woody Guthrie's "Happy Joyous Hanukkah." I imagine the band's fans will eat this up, and it's certainly a well-made disc, but not one that would get this site's rock 'n roll seal of approval. Oh, and the rubber-cemented ribbon around the physical disc package is going to fall off and get lost if you play this more than once.

yulelog2.jpgWe just discovered these guys, the pride of Chico, Calif., in 2009 with their first all-Christmas album, and they're already back for 2010 with another full playlist of rockin' Christmas tuneage. The boys were thrilled with our positive review of the previous disc and gave Mistletunes an early preview of this new disc, so I don't quite have a release date nailed down yet. UPDATE: It's out now at CD Baby, or click the art to get it from Amazon. Like the previous one, it's a mix of originals, classics and parodies played with panache. "Christmas Lights" would be a natural single for this set, a pop-rock ode to holiday displays that can be "seen from space." "Hey Jake It's Christmas" name-checks the guy who always takes the partying to the nth degree, "That Girl (For Christmas)" identifies what (or who) the singer wants to see under the tree, and they take a stab at recalling the "First Christmas For Baby Jesus." I don't think there were any honey-baked hams or gingerbread men in the manger, but then I haven't read the Wikipedia entry lately, so what do I know? Among the cover tunes are "El Senor Frosty," in which the snowman sashays to a Latin beat and medleys "Feliz Navidad," then returns to the Frosty song in Spanish; "Runaround Rudolph" brings Dion and the Belmonts together with William Howard Taft (?), Dick Nixon (??) and Elvis Presley on the famous reindeer's theme song; a positively Beatles-esque "Winter Wonderland"; "Northpole 4-5789," a holiday takeoff on the Marvelettes' song; a rocked-up "In the Bleak Midwinter" that's not so bleak; and a nice take on "Sha La La," the Cathy Harrington song from the Chris Stamey Christmas album. Another great outing by a great holiday band. UPDATE: Deleted a reference to another cover/parody, as the original publishers are withholding permission for the band to release it. Here's a live acoustic version of "Northpole 4-5789":

chifood.jpgIt's the old joke about what Jews do on Christmas day, which is clog the movie theaters and Oriental restaurants, according to urban legend. Brandon does a nice earnest-nerdy take on this piano-led novelty from 2008. (Brandon's bio on his website traces the song a bit farther back to 2006, when he made a video of it.) This gets a kind of backhanded Hannukah alert. Oh, and take a look for yourselves:
isobelmrk.jpgFrom the duo's 2010 album Hawk, this is not a Zombies cover but Campbell's own reflection on this particular season. She and Lanegan sing together in unison like Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, but in a near-whisper that recalls Campbell's work with Belle & Sebastian. Holiday spirit and lost love battle for the spotlight in this nostalgic arrangement.
kingsalm.jpgThis bunch of retro-rockers from Wurstville, UK, put out this single in 2009, a Sixties-style instrumental called "Black Santa" and a strong cover of Bob Seger's "Sock It To Me Santa." They shout more than sing on both sides of the record, but that's by no means a bad thing.

Rock 'n Roll Xmas, The Refreshments (Darrow)

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refresh.jpgThis popped up while I was searching for something else entirely. There are two bands called The Refreshments; this one is from Sweden and is probably less known in the USA, though they have a connection to the much-loved Rockpile in that Billy Bremner produced two albums for them and actually played in the band for a while. They also backed Rockpiler Dave Edmunds on a live album. There is no relationship to the other band by the same name from Arizona that recorded the theme to "King of the Hill." For those of you who think Sweden = Abba, this is a hard-working pub-rock band with a taste for honky-tonk, and they put out this full Christmas album in 2003. It's mostly standard rock and country tunes like "Run Rudolph Run," "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," "Blue Christmas," "Jingle Bell Rock," "Pretty Paper," "White Christmas," adding Mickey Jupp"s "It's Not Christmas In My House" and Jerry Lee Lewis' "I Can't Have a Merry Christmas" to the roster of covers. No surprises in style given the previous description, and indeed the Jerry Lee tune is done just the way he would have. But band member Joakim Arnell wrote some originals for this outing, including the shuffling title song, the Chuck Berry-inspired "I'm the Real Santa," the mildly Bo Diddley-like "The Billy Goat" that throws in a bit of fiddle on the chorus, and the fully countrified midtempo ballad "The Time I Needed You the Most." Good stuff, rather like the Tractors' work. Just noticed before I hit the publish button on this piece that the album has been reissued for 2010 with a different array of songs, including "Christmas Wishes" (title song for the new collection), "X-mas Race," "What A Merry Christmas This Could Be,""Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy," "Merry X-Mas Everybody," "Christmas Must Be Tonight," "She's In Love WIth Santa," and "Santa's Gonna Rock." Missing from the new collection are "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Pretty Paper," and "It's Not Christmas (In My House)." Also lurking about is a single from 2007 with "Silent Night" and "On Christmas Day."
3doorsdn.jpgI had this 2009 EP last year and completely forgot about it until now. A nice midtempo ballad of love 'n thanksgiving, presented in full-band and acoustic arrangements along with acoustic versions of six songs previously released by the band. You can choose to download just the version you like, as I believe this was a digital-only release.

"Christmas Lights," The Hi-Risers (Munster)

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hirisers.jpgHailing from Rochester, N.Y., these guys keep the early-60s rock band flame burning on these two almost perfect Christmas songs from a 2009 single. The A-side, "Christmas Lights," is an uptempo pop rocker with a Crickets-like sound about getting ready for the holiday and "What Christmas Time Means To Me" is a surf band workout. This was a vinyl single and is near the end of its availability, according to the band, though they point folks to a European source.

Xmas Songs, The Fray (self-issued)

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This was a free download in 2009 and seems to have migrated to file-sharing sites since (thanks to Martin Johns for hooking me up). The catch was that, as in many cases lately, you had to join the online fan club to get the link. What you got was five standard carols, one acoustic guitar and one voice, performing "O Come Emanuel," "Silent Night," "Noel," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Away In a Manger." A bit of a departure for a band known for leading its songs with piano, as they did with their 2006 live cover of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Performances are fine if a bit unremarkable. The official link has gone away, but who knows, this might become available again some way or other.

damato.jpgThis son of a preacher man and surfer boy put together this soulful little holiday strut for 2009, a self-penned tune as near as I can tell. It's got a nice little midtempo lilt and Jason sings it like he learned it in church.

"White Xmas," Boy George (BGM)

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boygeorg.jpgThe 80s icon and sometime DJ in the modern age layered the classic carol over a combination of dancehall and ska with a nice corny jazz trumpet playing through the whole song. If "Karma Chameleon" still features in your iPod's playlist, you'll want this 2009 song. It's on an EP with two non-holiday tunes, but you've got the option to just download this song.
thiscent.jpgI'm remiss in getting this 2009 tune to you from this Tempe, Ariz. pop-rock band, a sharp uptempo rocker led by piano and strong vocals with a great lyrical sentiment. I just dug this out of my out-of-control iTunes playlist and I'm loving it all over again. At the same time I found this, I also found this band's "Dream of Christmas," a nice ballad from 2008. I'll have to watch to see if these guys plan to make a habit of doing Christmas singles. (While checking up on them, I saw they recently did a cover of "Paper Planes" by M.I.A. as well, currently on their MySpace playlist. Not Christmas of course, but I like it when rock bands cover hip-hop tunes.)

"Merry ChristmaSSS," SSS (Earache)

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sssxmas.jpgThis Liverpool punk-thrash band put this out there for 2009, and there's not much to say after describing the band -- this goes by at the speed of sound, a minute and a half of cynical sentiment about the holiday. You can listen to it on their MySpace page, and they even link you to a free download from the blog page. So go crazy.

theesat.jpgThe self-described jazz-psychedelic-rap act from Seattle put this EP out for Christmas 2009. It's just six songs, none over two minutes, and they use their influences to deconstruct a handful of Christmas readymades, from "The Christmas Song" to Sir Paul's carol on "Simply Cracking." It's an interesting melange of influences -- in addition to their own self-description, they throw in a bit of soundtrack and showtune influence, all frosted with a bit of garage electropop. The title song is fully original, kind of cute, and it could have been part of the Flaming Lips' movie "Christmas On Mars." It's all pretty experimental, but since it's so short it avoids the main pitfall of this kind of music -- it doesn't wear out its welcome. You can stream it and download a couple of the cuts from this link.

reospeed.jpgThis band was one of the mainstays of the old album-oriented rock radio format right up through the 80s, when they managed to steal a march on progress by offering one of the first rock concert albums for home video -- an achievement that got them early and frequent play on the original MTV. You know, the one that used to play music videos.... OK, tired old joke deployed, onto the latter-day REO, whose sound hasn't changed much from their early 80s salad days, judging from their 2009 Christmas album. This collection follows a typical holiday blueprint for classic-rock-era bands, consisting mainly of old standby carols played with that 70s-era crunch, though cleaned up with a little 80s studio sheen. The only non-traditional song on the album is a version of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," one that, unfortunately, is heavy on the drama and light on the rock. Not to be too negative, however, the album starts with a brief slice of "The First Noel" that segues quickly into a blues-boogie take on "Winter Wonderland," and "Deck the Halls" rocks things up nicely, though I could have done without the kids-on-Christmas-morning intro to that one. The semi-title song "Silent Night" gets a slow gospel treatment, and they go back to church for "Children Go Where I Send Thee" in a faster tempo. Considering this band had a hits compilation called The Ballads, fans of that approach will enjoy "The White Snows of Winter," "I'll Be Home For Christmas," and, for that matter, a slower and more dramatic "Little Drummer Boy." They take the country approach to "Blue Christmas" and end on an up note with "Joy to the World." REO fans should be ecstatic, and classic rock fans will find much to like here. UPDATE: Reissued for 2010 with three additional songs, "Sleigh Ride," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "I Believe in Santa Claus." Amazon is offering both versions side by side for now, so if you want the additional songs you want the red cover, not the blue shown above. They even offer the new one with a Yule Log DVD, which appears to be the latest trend at Sony Music as I've seen a couple of other of their Christmas albums so packaged.

Welcome an old friend to the Yulelogosphere

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I always wondered why friend of this site Martin Johns didn't have his own site, as he was always a step ahead of all the other Christmas music sites (including this one) in knowing what was new and wonderful. He did maintain a shadowy presence at a couple of sites, and his tips and corrections have always been welcome here. Now, finally, it's his pseudonym on the shingle at Stubby's Christmas and if you like this place, you should definitely bookmark his as well. It's only been up a short time, but he already seems to have the hang of blogging. (I'd also like to mention that, although I haven't tried it myself, the Web platform Stubby's is built on, Weebly, looks pretty cool, if you'd like to build a site of your own and don't feel like spending the next two years at a tech school learning how to code.) UPDATE: On the topic of new websites, Nice Guy Eddie likes him some rock 'n roll Xmas as long as it's on vinyl. Stop by his place and check out the goodies.
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