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November 2011 Archives

killerkowboy.jpgI was all set to say half a dozen puts them halfway to an album, but it turns out for 2011 the Killers and Product (RED) are using this year's new holiday tune as a come-on to buy all six as The (RED) Christmas EP. We've covered the other five tunes year by year, so we'll concentrate on the new one. It's a bit of cow-punching silliness tied to the holiday, a sort of sequel to "Rocky Raccoon" in its comically clueless evocation of Western life tied to a Christmas ball. But it's great fun to listen to, just as its predecessors are. If you've been keeping up with the series, you can just download "Cowboys," or if you haven't, go ahead and grab the whole EP, as it benefits the fight against AIDS. Right now it's only on iTunes (click the art), though I've heard there may be hardcopy versions of the EP at some point.

aimeepaul.jpgAimee's Christmas cred is beyond question at this point, with several holiday releases preceding her full Christmas album, and she's made live Christmas shows a permanent part of her performance schedule. This live cut is slight, but it's good for giggles, a Hanukkah Alert, and it's free from her website.
12bands11.jpgThis is an ongoing campaign to raise funds to fight pediatric cancer by compiling holiday songs performed by alt-rock-Americana performers. This is the 2011 version, and almost every band represented here has composed a song for the occasion. The buzz cut from this collection is definitely the Unmentionables' "Santa Looks a Lot Like Billly Gibbons," a ZZ Top tribute that has a rockin' Santa in a Model A hotrod sleigh who looks like, well, you know. Fried Goat kicks things off in rocking style with "Barn," an inventory of the manger scene, and Jaycee Ward follows with the countrified "It's Christmas Everywhere." The Vellotones stay in the Americana groove with "Best Things About Christmas," which are the usual: family, friends and love, things that are free. Sibling String asks you to "Smile For Me," and the Livingroom Legends muster a kind of Tom Petty groove on "The Christmas Men." Five's A Crowd want to just stay home with you on "Christmas Love," Radar Cinema get a little noisy on "Christmas Melody 5," and Third Shift breaks out the horns to fete a "Funky Santa." Joy Krueger supports the troops with the ballad "Soldier's Lullaby," The Wombats offer the pensive "Shadows and Whispers," and Jim Perkins' "Somebody Like You" is more of a conventional love song with no Christmas trappings. This is a decent collection by less familiar artists that could easily become your favorites, and all for a good cause.
burnette2.jpgThe descendant of rock 'n roll originators Dorsey & Johnny Burnette and former member of the latter-day Fleetwood Mac is an interpreter of classic rock, particularly rockabilly, and now you know what this 2011 single sounds like. If you're a fan of Billy's, then you know it's a tinselization of his 2011 song "Rock and Roll With It," which isn't a bad thing; more artists could get a Christmas song this way. Anyway, this sounds great, authentic playing with a modern sound to it. We previously posted his cousin Rocky's version of "Pretty Paper," and Billy's Christmas heritage goes back a ways, according to Wikipedia: "At the age of 7, Billy, under the name Billy Beau, made his record debut recording the Christmas song 'Hey Daddy (I'm Gonna Tell Santa On You).'"

The Christmas EP, Richard Marx (TourDForce)

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richmarx.jpgSongwriter and 80s hitmaker Marx is back for 2011 with a holiday collection, four familiar carols and an original, "Christmas Spirit," co-written with Fee Waybill of the Tubes. Really. If that co-write credit has you thinking something wild, crazy and Mistletunes-oriented, well, don't. This is straight-up pop music fit for the Hallmark Channel promo it currently is being used for. Same for the versions of "O Holy Night," "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Eve" and the "Silent Night" duet with Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek. "Alleluia" is an a cappella performance with Richard's sons and is well done, but don't get your rock 'n roll shoes out for this one. According to Richard's website, this will likely be extended into a full album in 2012.

bigman.jpgThe mainstay of the E Street Band's passing this year was a real rock 'n roll tragedy, and this 2011 release is likely to draw fans wanting something to remember him by. It's a straight traditional pop performance however, featuring only his singing voice and an orchestra, no sax break. For his signature sound, you go to the double flip side, short and long instrumental versions of the Mel Torme "Christmas Song." For me, the best remembrances are his work for the Boss, but your mileage may vary.
littleredamb.jpgThis 2011 single is a bit on the sappy side, especially the beginning, with lyrics that sound like Lou Reed if he worked for Hallmark instead of Pickwick once upon a time. Once the rhythm section kicks in, things get a little better for this seasonal love song that also name-checks Valentine's Day. I'd give it a listen before clicking on download. They're on Bandcamp too, where you can get a better idea of what they sound like.

Winterland, The Jigsaw Seen (Vibro-phonic)

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jigsawwin.jpgThis long-time garage-rock band may be best known for its clever take on "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" performed as a mashup with "Paint It Black." That was originally done around 1989 or so. In recent years they've returned to the Christmas well occasionally with a song or three, and now for 2011 they've cut a full album of holiday goodness, all original except for a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Circle of Steel." The band calls this a "winter" album, and now I have to eat my words about winter albums that appear in the Kate Bush review. All the band's previous holiday tunes are here except "God Rest Ye," but the additional tunes sound all of a piece with the older songs like "What About Christmas," "December" and "Candy Cane." Given that I've identified them as a garage-rock band, imagine the sound here as a more mature version of that, a sort of "Rubber Soul" or "Revolver" level of production, playing, arranging and writing. The best thing I can say is that it reminds of that period of music without actually sounding like anybody familiar. "Snow Angels of Pigtown" is a tribute of sorts to Baltimore, according to the band. "Woman Loves the Season" is an interesting ballad about one person's dreams, "Christmas Behind Me" is where the singer has put the holiday, and "First Day of the Holiday" takes us into the New Year. An excellent album that won't sound out of place at the height of summer, either.

Christmas, Hawk Nelson (BEC Recordings)

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hawknels.jpgThis popular Christian rock band has done Christmas tunes before on the Happy Christmas series of CD anthologies, like "Last Christmas" and "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)." They also had a 2006 EP, Gloria, with the title song, "Alleluia," "I Heard the Bells" and "Last Christmas," still available as a download. This extended EP for 2011 includes none of those songs, just a hard rockin' romp through seven classic carols. (Actually eight, as "O Come All Ye Faithful" is medleyed with the opening track, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing.") "The Holly and the Ivy" is a mid-tempo approach and "Silent Night" is the usual slow-tempo arrangement, but "Wassail Song," "Joy To the World," "Up on the Housetop" and "I Saw Three Ships" lope along at fast tempos to juice up your holiday parties.
plainwhite.jpgThe popular Chicago band takes a fast-tempo approach that is equal parts pop and punk on this 2011 version of the 1950s novelty song. The Mannequin People's Clash-infused version from the Onion A/V Club is better, to my ears, but this one is almost as good and it's actually available to buy. It's part of a Disney holiday special, "Prep & Landing," about an elite group of elves. Grace Potter's previously mentioned tune is on this show as well. In the past, these guys were on the album Taste of Christmas with "Season of a Lifetime," they had an original, "Christmas Just Won't Be the Same," on a Target compilation a couple of years ago, and something I missed out on entirely, an out-of-print EP from 2004, I'm Dreaming of a Plain White Christmas, with four songs, "Merry Christmas To You," "That Christmas Feeling." "Do You Hear What I Hear," and "Santa, Can You Hear Me?"
onerepub.jpgHere's a nice original rock ballad approach from OneRepublic, name-checking the other holidays while missing the love of your life. Good stuff. From 2011. Only at iTunes as of this writing, click the cover to get it.
emmygreat.jpgEmmy the Great is one of those names that kept popping up just outside my peripheral vision, and I can't say I've been a follower of Ash, from whence Tim Wheeler comes. The Intertubes tell me the two are a romantic pair, however, and for 2011 they've collaborated on what may be the best Christmas album of the year, especially if you like old-school pop rock that wears its influences on its sleeve. Things kick off promisingly with the Phil Spector arrangement of "Marshmallow World," but that's where the covers end; Emmy and Tim wrote everything else, putting their own stamp on the holiday for many seasons to come. "(Don't Call Me) Mrs. Christmas" is a holiday breakup song complete with girl-group style spoken interludes and "Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing)" is self-explanatory and still great fun for all that, evoking the Beach Boys and the Ramones in equal measure. And who wouldn't cower in fear (and laughter) when they hear "Zombie Christmas," with its horror-show guitar breaks and lyrics that poke and prod at the dark side of the holiday. "Sleigh Me" is a great holiday love song, "Jesus the Reindeer" is an ode to that little-known 10th reindeer (the famous snowman gets insulted in the song's coda), "Snowflakes" hide the singer's tears over lost love, and "Christmas Moon" is an early 60s-style ballad about holiday betrayal. Things wrap up, too soon, with "See You Next Year," which Christmas music fans might hope they mean literally. 
mindless.jpgI hadn't heard of these folks, but they appear to be a kind of hip-hop Jackson 5ive for the modern age. This 2011 Christmas jam is good fun, and though the title plays off a previous hit "My Girl," the two songs have little in common. Too bad; I was hoping to see a revival of sequel /answer songs here. I guess Roxanne killed that musical meme for good.
gracepotter.jpgThe popular roots-rock band takes on Charles Brown's "Please Come Home For Christmas" on this 2011 single and they do a credible job. Flip side is "Naughty Naughty Children (Better Start Actin' Nice)," a smart revisitation of "Run Rudolph Run" that concentrates on what happens when you're a bad little boy or girl. And it rocks. UPDATE: The latter song is part of a Disney TV special, "Prep & Landing," about an elite group of elves.

Oh For Joy, David Crowder Band (Sixsteps/Sparrow)

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crowderband.jpgHere we have a radio-friendly hard-rock sound applied to eight standard religious carols by a Christian band. If that sounds like it could describe a lot of such outfits, well, it can. Though it's a common formula, the David Crowder Band sounds good executing it on this 2011 release. They depart from the formula most noticeably on the hoedown stomp of "Angels We Have Heard On High," the brooding electronic soundscapes behind a slower tempo version of "Go Tell It On the Mountain," and the countrified "Silent Night." They wrap up with a live version of "Carol of the Bells/Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" that hews closely to the TSO version. The album is strong on execution, but nothing here really sticks out from the crowd. Should note that as I prepare this post, their home page announces the band is winding down to an eventual breakup in the coming year.

Updated link to a friend of the site

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Nice Guy Eddie has converted his Christmas rock blog into Rotten Christmas, with a focus on punk rock holiday records. Judging by his screen shots he's pushing stuff he has or has found on vinyl. And he's definitely found some holes in our coverage here, so check him out once more.
warmdec2.jpgThis, as you can tell, is the second collection of alt-folk-pop-rockers from Brushfire Records, new for 2011. Led by surfin' singer-songwriter Jack Johnson, this collection benefits 1% For the Planet, which collects money for environmental protection causes. Jack provides two songs this time around, both originals, "In the Morning" and "Angel (Holiday)," the latter a re-do of a previous Johnson original. G.Love is back with two songs, "Christmas Blues," a blues outing with a debt to Charles Brown's "Please Come Home For Christmas," and "Christmas Cookies," an uptempo shuffle for those with a sweet tooth. ALO also pays tribute to Brown with its original "Let It Ride," which evokes, without copying, "Merry Christmas Baby." Zach Gill of ALO contributes a solo number, "Party Hard," which is actually pretty sedate for its title. Rogue Wave does a mellow "Jingle Bell Rock" and Bahamas covers the Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight." Zee Avi was on the previous collection and is back with her version of "Frosty the Snowman, which has a minor-key approach that suggests an Eastern European vibe -- interesting choice for a woman born in Malaysia. Paula Fuga offers "Winter Swell Blues," which is as advertised. Money Mark's "Make Time" manages to evoke both Randy Newman and 70s white-boy funk, at least on the intro for the latter influence. Wrapping things up are Matt Costa with "I Bet on Flying High" and Neil Halstead with "Home For the Season." Not quite as good as the first volume, but eminently listenable.

Nativity Set, Seven Octaves (KMT)

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NativitySet.jpgThese folks shipped this to me back in the summer and I almost forgot I had it. This 2011 EP is straight-up electro-pop, three classics, "Coventry Carol," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Deck the Halls," the Spanish song "Si me dan pasteles" and an original, "Incarnate." Easily sampled and downloaded at their site and the usual download suspects. A nice effort, worth your time.

50 Words For Snow, Kate Bush (Fish People/Anti-)

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"Winter" music (as opposed to Christmas music) is becoming something of a trend lately, with Sting and Tori Amos having tread that path, and there's a fair number of indy artists who have gone in that direction as well. Add Kate Bush to the list for 2011. The reclusive diva went years without a disc and now this is her second album of this year, after Director's Cut, a reimagining of her past work. Unfortunately, it's beginning to look like you should run for the hills with your hand over your wallet any time a big-name rock/pop star advertises a "winter" album. I dinged the previous two artists' efforts in the past for having wrung most of the joy out of the season, and Kate seemingly double-dog-dares you to have any fun with this release. There are seven songs, running times from 6:49 to 13:32, for a total run time of 66 minutes, mostly slow-tempo daydreams set to bleak soundscapes, except "Wild Man" and the title song. Even the guest appearances of Elton John on "Snowed In at Wheeler Street" or Stephen Fry on the title song don't lighten things up much. There are probably listening rewards for those who fancy themselves on Kate's wavelength, but there's nothing here to rock your Christmas playlists.

Black Friday is Record Store Day

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Just happened upon a mention of Record Store Day while tiptoeing around Facebook (as my legal self, haven't set up a Facebook page for Rudolph, at least not yet) and the event, normally in mid-April, has added a Black Friday edition this year. As usual, there's a list of releases only available at indy record stores, and you should peruse it to see if your favorites are taking part with anything special. For the readership, there are two vinyl entries dedicated to the holiday: Fear, with a 45 version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," b-side "Another Christmas Beer"; and acoustic duo The Civil Wars have a 4-song 10-inch EP with two holiday songs, one of which is "Tracks in the Snow," also the title song of the mini-collection. (Unless there's another way of getting them, I won't be posting them here, as I'm getting out of the vinyl business personally.) Guys, frighten your significant others and tell 'em you wanna go shopping on Black Friday. Gals, well, you were going out anyway, right?
The Onion's A/V Club has a "Holiday Undercover" feature with up-and-coming bands doing Christmas songs. Mannequin Men do a very Clash-sounding version of this old favorite in 2011. (Hope there's a version of this for sale somewhere.)

"Cowbell For Christmas," V.D. King (Garageland)

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V.D. King, of Jersey City rockabilly band Better Off Dead and impresario of the Katrina benefit disc A King Family Christmas, sent us a video of his song "Christmas Time" last year, and for this year we get another treat, although sadly Will Ferrell is nowhere to be seen. Click the play button, that's what it's there for.

yulelogs3.jpgFor the third straight year, this Chico, CA band demands to be named the holiday's house band with a fresh set of familiar tunes and originals in a strong power-pop style. This 2011 collection kicks off with a nicely rocking "Sleigh Ride" that borrows a little from the Phil Spector arrangement, swinging into "Wishlist," an original based on our roster of desired Christmas gifts. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" substitutes Ziggy Stardust for figgy pudding, which is good, as every time I hear the song taken that far into the original lyrics I yell, "Get your own damn figgy pudding!" Other familiar tunes are a rocking "Here Comes Santa Claus" and a typically slow take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." "Rock of Ages" is not something I recognize -- certainly not the familiar hymn or the Def Leppard song -- but the biblical nature of the lyrics suggests an adaptation from somewhere over a stomping rock beat. (UPDATE: Our pal Stubby reminds me that this is the Hebrew "Rock of Ages," or "Maoz Tzur." Which I should have remembered from the version on this album.) The guys get nostalgic with a "Wrestlemania Christmas," harkening back to the late 80s to meld the singer's two favorite celebrations while name-dropping a few wrestling stars along the way. In "Atheist Serf Holiday," belief in particular Christmas icons takes a beating over quotes from "Wipe Out." "Bad Boy Christmas" takes inspiration (and a riff or two) from "You Really Got a Hold On Me" while explaining why the singer is deserving only of coal for Christmas, and a Hanukkah Alert goes to "Latke Man," a Creedence-sounding nod to the Festival of Lights. Another great irreverent rocking album from this crew, and if you live in their region of the country you can check 'em live as well. Currently streamed and sold on Bandcamp only, though their previous albums are on Amazon and iTunes now. UPDATE: Now at Amazon and iTunes, click the jacket to grab it.

"Santa Brother," James Follette (Basquiat Beats)

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follette.jpgThis was actually out in 2010 but the artist's label just hipped me to it the other week. James is a UK singer preparing to break into the US market with an album sometime next year, but in the meantime his management had him cut this, a gender reversal on Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby." It's a bit more uptempo than the original, with a more contemporary beat, and updated lyrics including a "Gucci suit" instead of the "sable" sought in the original first verse. One suspects a gay take on the song from that description (not that there's anything wrong with that), but that ain't necessarily so. Stream it at Soundcloud or grab it from iTunes (click the art) and eMusic.
weiland.jpgWell, I can't say I wasn't warned. Scott himself said he was looking to create something in the traditional vein for the holidays, and this 2011 album is it. Those of you who immediately think "Stone Temple Pilots" when Scott's name is brought up better leave that association aside for this disc -- there's not a trace of rock on it. This is crooner music of the Bing Crosby-Andy Williams variety for the most part. As I've mentioned numerous times in the past, this is the kind of music that got me started collecting rock Christmas tunes -- so I wouldn't have to listen to the other kind. The only contemporary analogue I can think of in regard to this collection is the Billy Idol Christmas album, which was a similar stylistic break from the music that made the singer famous. Take comfort from the fact that Scott actually has the pipes to carry this off -- it doesn't sound bad at all, and he certainly doesn't sound as if he's trying on somebody else's ill-fitting shoes by attempting such a different style of music. Highlights are his self-duet version of the Bing-Bowie medley "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy" (apparently Leonard Cohen was supposed to play Bing but it fell through), a nice reggae version of "O Holy Night" and his syncopated Latin jazz "Silent Night." The rest, while not terrible, is indistinguishable from any number of bargain holiday crooner collections.

sumfiction.jpgThese folks are from Philly and include former members of The Swimmers, who posted a free Christmas song a few years ago. This 2011 effort is a nice pop-rock ballad with the singer reaching out to a sweetheart for a memorable night before Xmas. Go to Bandcamp and grab this for yourself toute de suite.
ohhush4.jpgThe pseudonymous popster is back for a third year with a Christmas song, this one free of charge. This 2011 song is a bit of a disappointment compared to previous efforts by Oh, Hush!, a bit too heavily aimed at the pop charts production-wise, right down to the overtly auto-tuned vocal. Indeed, you could hear The Beeb doing this, though that's not meant to be insulting -- hey, my bank account could use an insult or two like that one. It's still a nice song and free, so take that into consideration. (Can we give the in-your-face version of auto-tuning vocals a gold watch and a ticket to Boca, by the way?)

summats.jpgAnother British songwriting team cuts loose with a Christmas song. This was actually out in 2010, but I just found out about it from the band. This is your basic 70s take on a rockin' pop Christmas, complete with horns, bells and a kid's voice on the very end. A nice piece of work, as is the video. Click the jacket art to grab it from Amazon.

Plimptons.jpgYour Christmas gift from this British band for 2011 is this three-song downloadable EP, free of charge from their website. The title song starts out sounding like it's going to be a cover of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," but it quickly jumps up to speed as a kind of mashup of Madness and The Buzzcocks. The latter band's influence dominates on both "Xmas In Motherwell" and "Christmas Is Over," the latter rocking a kazoo solo. Great energy here, and you can't argue with the price.

Chicago3.jpgThe title references the number of times these Sixties-Seventies chart mainstays have cut a Christmas album, but it's a bit misleading. The second album was actually the first album with some additional songs, so it was actually number one and a half; this 2011 disc is therefore more accurately 2 1/2. Now that we've gotten the OCD portion of the program over with, on to this entirely new collection of songs. Previous holiday entries by this classic rock semi-orchestra were noted around these parts as sounding very much like the band in its salad days, particularly on vocals and horns. The newest release still has those features, but the band has also adapted its rhythmic approach; this go-round, they sound very much influenced by modern R'nB. Another difference is that this time, they bring in some guest performers. They kick off the album with a cover of Sir Paul's "Wonderful Christmastime" featuring duet partner Dolly Parton, and let's say it's an interesting experience to hear Dolly singing over R'nB rhythms. Bebe Winans steps in to sing the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling" as a soul ballad, Steve Cropper helps rock up "Rockin' and Rollin' On Christmas Day," and America teams up with Chicago for "I Saw Three Ships," combining acoustic guitars with the home team's famous horn section. They also cover N'Sync's "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays," copying their feel but adding the Chicago sound to the proceedings. New Year's gets double love with a rocked-out "On the Last Night of the Year" and the usual ballad treatment of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve," and like an increasing number of artists they've decided "My Favorite Things" is a Christmas song. They go out with a medley of "Here Comes Santa Claus/Joy to the World," in which the second song drags in the mandatory kiddie chorus, though over top of an R'nB rhythm section. There's plenty of energy in this second-and-a-half go-round, though I believe it will be most successful with existing Chicago fans.

Anybody recognize this song?

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Ronnie stopped by and placed this question in comments. I figured it might not be noticed there, so I promoted it to its own post. You can respond in the comments to this post or by the e-mail link at the right. Not sure if the reference to "Oh What a Night" is the Four Seasons tune or not -- my trip into Google didn't turn up anything that looked like it was.

Please help me identify a Christmas song: It is a male voice in the genre of "Oh Holy Night" but with a male/female twist. He wants this to be a night to remember as he sings "Oh, What A Night." It has a great saxophone in the middle of the song. It has a shuffle beat and is a great dance tune. Help! It was played several times over a Miami station this weekend -- but never identified. UPDATE: Howard Cogswell thinks you're actually talking about the very famous tune of that title by the Dells -- which is why nobody here came up with anything sooner, because it's not a Christmas song. (I just played "Oh What a Night" before I wrote this, and Ronnie has described it to a T.)

"All I want for Christmas is your heart"

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Caity Karczewski complimented us for providing Robin Farren with a forum, and now she'd like a little help with two songs she keeps hearing from the speakers overhead. I thought the second sounded like Colbie Caillat but I played that one and it wasn't even close. And no, I wasn't familiar with "Wizard Rock" either, but it sounds like a cousin to "filking," in which folk singers do sci-fi song parodies. Add your guesses to comments or you can e-mail the site.

1. The first sounds like an early 2000s low-fi band, a few young male vocalists singing "Christmas is my favorite holiday" in a sort of off-key, upbeat pop/rock sound. (I don't know if you are familiar with 'Wizard Rock' [bands whose music is based off of the Harry Potter series] but they sound like the wizard rock band Gred & Forge.) Their chorus is simply a repeated "Christmas is my favorite holiday."

2. The second song is a sugary female vocal, and she sings, "Meet me tonight by the mistletoe" then she says something like "move in fast and kiss me slow," and then: "I'll make this clear right from the start, all I want for Christmas is your heart." It is really catchy and I'd love to get a hold of it. I would be ever so grateful if you knew who these artists were. UPDATE: Credit Howard Cogswell with the answer to this one. It's by Cheryl Aranda, and you can buy it on Bandcamp for $1. You can stream it first, of course.

Hey Linley, check this out

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I've often been amazed at the things that gather the most interest at this site -- and how some things posted long ago suddenly attract interest from someone. Several years ago Linley Logan wrote to the site asking for some information about an old jazz and blues Christmas compilation on Stash Records, a label that started sometime in the 70s and specialized in antique blues and jazz. The company ceased to exist before the CD era, but hobbyists interested in that kind of music still consider the label's reissues as touchstones.

As you no doubt expect, I don't know much about that era of music, but I posted the question and gathered some information that I posted as an answer to the letter. Today, all these years later, Vinessa writes in with the full roster off the vinyl album. As Bob Bailey originally noted, the cassette version had a version of "Silent Night" as a bonus track, but no info has popped up about that song.

  1. Merry Christmas: Lightning Hopkins (voc. el g); Donald Cooks (b); Connie Kroll (d). 29 July 1953
  2. Santa Claus Blues: Clarence Williams' Blue Five; Louis Armstrong (c); Charlie Irvis (tb); Don Redman (cl); Sidney Bechet or Buster Bailey (sop); Clarence Williams (p); Buddy Christian (bj); Eva Taylor (voc). 8 October 1928
  3. Santa Claus, Bring My Man Back: Ozie Ware with Duke Ellington's Hot Five: unknown (t); Barney Bigard (cl); Ellington (p); Billy Taylor (b); Ozie Ware (voc). 30 October 1928
  4. Santa Claus Came In The Spring: Putney Dandridge and His Swing Band: Red Allen (t); Ben Webster or Teddy McRae (ts); Teddy Wilson (p); Lawrence Lucie (g); John Kirby (b); Walter Johnson (d); Putney Dandridge (voc). 2 August 1935
  5. Santa Claus is Coming to Town: Harry Reser and His Orchestra: unknown personnel, except for Tom Stacks (d, voc). 24 October 1934
  6. Christmas Night in Harlem: Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra: Don Goldie, Charlie Teagarden (t); Jack Teagarden, Jack Fulton (tb); Benny Nonacio, John Cordaro, Chales Strickfadden, Frank Trumbauer (reeds); Roy Bargy (p); Mike Pignatore (bj, g); Art Miller (b); Herb Quigley (d). 17 April 1934
  7. Winter Wonderland: Ted Weems and His Orchestra: Art Weems, Andy Secrest (t); ete Beilamn (tb); Dick Cunlifee, Rosy McHargue, Parker Gibbs, Red Ingle (reeds); Jack O'Brien (p); Cliff Covert (g, vn); Country Washburn (b); Ormand Downes (d); Gibbs (voc). 11 November 1934
  8. Jingle Bells: Benny Goodman and His Orchestra/The Rhythmakers: Pee Wee Erwin, Nate Kasebier, Jerry Neary (t); Red Ballard, Jack Lacey (tb); Toots Mondello, Hymie Schertzer, Art Rollini, Dick Clark, Benny Goodman (reeds); Frank Foeba (p); Allan Reuss (g); Harry Goodman (b); Gene Krupa (d). 6 June 1935
  1. Swingin' Them Jingle Bells: Fats Waller and His Rhythm: Herman Autrey (t); Gene Sedric (ts); Fats Waller (p, voc); Al Casey (g); Charles Turner (b); Slick Jones (d). 29 November 1936
  2. Merry Christmas Baby: Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra: Walter Williams, Bennie Bailey, Duke Garrette, Ed Mullins, Leo Sheppard (t); Al Grey, Bennie Powell, Jimmy Cleveland, Lee Higaki (tb); Bobby Plater (as, arr); Jerome Richardson (as); John Board, Custis Lowe, Lonnie Shaw (ts); Ben Kyard (bar s); Milt Buckner (p); William Mackel (g); Roy Johnson (b); Ellis Bartee (d); Sonny Parker (voc). 27 October 1950
  3. Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney: Ella Fitzgerald: instrumental and vocal group backing including Charlie Shavers (t); Hank Jones (p); John Collins (g); Roy Brown (b); Charlie Smith (d). 26 October 1950
  4. Cool Yule: Louis Armstrong and the Commanders: Louis Armstrong (t, voc); Billy Butterfield, Andy Ferretti, Carl Poole (t); Lou McGarrity, Cutty Cutshaw, Phil Giardina, Jack Satterfield (tb); Hymie Schertzer, Al Klink (reeds); Bernie Leighton (p); Carmen Mastren (g); Sandy Block (b); Ed Grady (d); Camarata (arr, dir). 22 October 1953
  5. 'Zat You, Santa Claus: same as above
  6. Christmas in New Orleans: Louis Armstrong with Benny Carter's Orchestra: Louis (t, voc); Manny Klein, Pete Candoli, Vito Mangano (t); Trummy Young, Si Zentner (tb); Skeets Herfurt, Harry Klee (as): Babe Russin, Don Ruffel (ts); Billy Kyle (p); Arvell Shaw (b): Barrett Deams (d); Benny Carter (arr, dir). 8 September 1955
  7. The Night Before Christmas (A Poem): Louis Armstrong, a capella, 1971.
meshugga.jpgWell, the title surely dispenses with the need for a Hanukkah alert. These guys (and a gal) have been a going concern in the southern California region, playing traditional Jewish songs in the surf music style. (I love that the bass player's name is Steve Bacon, by the way.) For 2011 they tighten the focus of their schtick to the eight crazy nights of light, although a cursory look at their discography suggests they've put "Hava Nagila" on every one of their albums, including this one. They even slip a bit of it into "Shleppin' and Kvetchin'," which features a guest appearance by Duane Eddy (it's really his "Moovin' & Groovin") on those big low strings. Now I'm not Jewish, so I don't have a deep knowledge of the traditional Hebrew folk song repertoire, but I'm guessing that a number of the songs on here are either originals or have been renamed for entertainment's sake. For example, I doubt that "Czech Mate" is a traditional Yiddish song, at least under that name. Info at the website is a bit sketchy in regard to songwriting credits. But I'm pretty sure the title song is an original, which treads a little closer to the Beach Boys/Standells realm than the rest of the album, which is more like the kind of stuff Dick Dale does. Probably due to it being the only tune with vocals, unless you count the Jewish mother bit at the front of "Bubbie's Kitchen." And there's little doubt about the provenance of "Oh Hanukkah" or "Dreidel Dreidel." Eighteen songs may be a bit much for what is a one-joke concept, but there's plenty to like here.

jarsmore.jpgThe long-popular Christian rockers have had previous EPs and a full album of Christmas songs, and for 2011 they turn loose another EP with an original ballad, "Almost Christmas," and two covers. The evergreen "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" shows a lighter touch, led with ukeleles, though the vocal approach and arrangement sound very much like U2's version of the Darlene Love/Phil Spector classic. And "Someday At Christmas" is a very nice version of Stevie Wonder's song, close to the writer's arrangement. The original song is a bit on the earnest side, but taken all together you've almost certainly done worse things with $3 than this.

"Anytown USA," Stratocruiser (self-issued)

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stratusa.jpgThis North Carolina band has made itself an annual visitor by coming up with a new holiday tune every year, and for 2011 they keep the string going. This year's tune is about a soldier away from family and friends on the holiday and yearning for home. A nice mid-tempo rocker with power pop trappings, you'll want a copy of this, and because it's up on Bandcamp you can get it for free. The band also has a new CD collection of all their past seven holiday tunes, including this one. Click on the cover art to buy it from Amazon or visit the band here to buy a copy.
birdsfly.jpgThis Merseyside songwriting duo caught the holiday bug for 2011 and put together this perfect power pop Christmas gem, in which they seek to make this Christmas rock while pushing all the nostalgic buttons by invoking Santa, Rudolph, Frosty and Herman Cain*. And it's a nice galloping beat with plenty of Christmas bells and a strong vocal by Ellie Carroll. Best of all, you can just go grab it free of charge and drop it into your holiday queue. (* = Sorry, they do NOT sing about Herman Cain.)
xocover4.jpgAnother holiday tradition appears to be XO Publicity's Christmas album featuring artists on its management roster. Number four turns up for 2011 with the usual selection of interesting alt-pop-rockers, though only a few bands in common with previous editions. Piney Gir kicks things off with "Christmas Time," a nice original bit of baroque pop about preparing for the holiday, and Climber gives us some electro-pop with shades of 8-bit video games in the instrumental "Holiday Hoopla." Pictures of Then throw a few doomy electronic trappings over "I Believe In Father Christmas," and the downtempo sounds continue with Magnuson's "O Come Emanuel." Rags & Ribbons get positively bombastic with their version of "Greensleeves"; TSO anybody? The Winter Sounds go 60s pop rock with their breezy "Stranded In Snowville," Jessie Torrisi takes the David Lynch approach with her ballad "I Lose a Little Bit of You," and Kulewa takes to the lounge for the standard "I'll Be Home For Christmas." That leaves Beneath Wind and Waves with holiday love song "The Gift" and Bradley Wik and the Charlatans to conclude with the bluesy ballad "Midwest Winters." Like all the previous years' volumes, this is a free download, but it would be worth paying for if you had to.

waddles.jpgIt seems like the novelty recording sector has suffered more from the Internet than the rest of the recording industry. When every wise guy with a webcam can throw together some parody lyrics, pick up a guitar and make a video, which then goes on YouTube, you pretty much have to be Weird Al if you want to eventually be compensated for your efforts. And if you do go the full hardcopy route, the expectations are going to be high. Which brings us to The Waddles, a quartet of "ducks" performing 10 popular Christmas standards and one original, which of course is the title song of this 2011 album. They've tucked into the battle with a running series of videos at their webbed-feet-site that set up the "band" back story, including the escapades of their former drummer Pete Worst (get it?). Another feather in the band's collective cap is the attractive packaging of the physical disc, the art for which also looks good in an iTunes cameo. The title song is a reasonably good novelty tune with sentimental lyrics, and the other songs on the disc are familiar Christmas tunes as sung by a quartet of ducks. To get the most out of this, you'll want to check out the videos, which cover ground that isn't represented on the disc. This will probably go over best with young kids, though we typically don't cover the kids' music sector here at Mistletunes. Click on the disc to grab it from Amazon; they'll put it on your bill.

rycooder.jpgThe guitar virtuoso and roots-rocker has in recent years become more of a storyteller, and his 2011 album Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down directly addresses the weak economy of current times with an album's worth of protest songs. All but one were written by Ry himself, making a pretty good claim to being a soundtrack for #Occupy Wall Street. "Christmas Time This Year" addresses the holiday from the view of a wounded veteran who felt his choices were limited to joblessness or a hitch in the service. It's all rendered in a sprightly Tex-Mex beat with the help of famed accordionist Flaco Jimanez and strikes a nice antiwar note. Some will debate whether the negative reference to the previous president's role in creating war is a bit behind the times; perhaps as the song ages it will seem truer.

jerseyboys.jpgI went back and forth on whether to include this one in the Mistletunes rundown because, as I previously wrote on this site, what once was rock 'n roll now becomes adult contemporary. In this case, it became show tunes. Now I can't come down too hard on the various squads of Jersey Boys from different cities, Broadway and the national touring company because, as I noted when reviewing the original 4 Seasons Christmas Album, the group didn't really sound much like itself for the preponderance of that album either. So what I'll do here is note where the actors did honor the memory of the original group on this 2011 release. The "Santa Medley" features the actual 4 Seasons arrangement of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." "Joy To the World" quotes "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Come On Marianne," "White Christmas" is based on the Drifters' classic arrangement, "Auld Lang Syne" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" actually do sound like the 4 Seasons without any direct quotes, and "Jingle Bell Rock" is a fairly straight vintage rock reading. "Angels From the Realms of Glory" sounds like it belongs on a TSO collection, and the rest wavers from show tunes to adult contemporary. Should note that there's a 2006 version of "O Holy Night" by the Broadway cast, a different version than the one on this album, done for a benefit album for Broadway-based charities, but I haven't heard it.

Christmas in Diverse City, TobyMac (Forefront)

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tobymac.jpgNot being a Christian pop music fan, I had to look this guy up to discover he's sort of the white Kanye West of Christian music, a former member of DC Talk, solo artist and founder of Gotee Records. His fans already are aware that the album title is a play on his previous solo album Welcome To Diverse City, which means that, like the earlier disc, TobyMac brings in other artists to perform songs without him on the Diverse City part of this 2011 album. Toby's six songs kick off with "Christmas This Year," a strong hip-pop original that keeps the preaching to a miniumum and features Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer. The hip-hop touches continue on versions of "First Noel," "Little Drummer Boy," "Mary's Boy Child" and "O Come All Ye Faithful," the latter with a rap section. "This Christmas (Father of the Fatherless)" is an all-rap story about adopting an orphan with plenty of gospel talk and a pastiche of familiar carols in between verses. Crossing over to Diverse City, we get "Carol of the Kings" from Maj, Gabe Real and Liquid, a rap number mashed into "Carol of the Bells" and "We Three Kings." Superherose offer "Birth of Love," an uptempo R'nB number dedicated to Mother Mary, Arch Nemesiz does an almost straight soul ballad reading of "What Child Is This," and Nirva Ready does the same with "Angels We Have Heard On High." Tim Rosenau breaks form with a straight-up holiday rocker, "It Snowed," a nice piece of work. Toddiefunk gives up the funk with "Santa'scomin'baka'round!" and Byron "Mr. Talkbox" Chambers wraps things up with the slow jam "Christmas Time," which is seductive enough that you may not notice you're being preached to. This is a strong collection of hip-hop holiday tunes with at least a few entries that could break out to a wider market.

This Is Christmas, Kutless (BEC)

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kutless.jpgThis hard-rock Christian band offers half a dozen holiday tunes on this new CD EP for 2011. The title song, an original, is a straight recitation of the reason for the season, the birth of the Christ child, with a "Gloria" quote on the bridge. "Beautiful" is another original, also about the baby Jesus, and "Breath of Heaven" is an Amy Grant cover. "Mary Did You Know," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and "O Holy Night" all get the modern rock power ballad treatment. The whole disc has that same overly earnest sound that U2 has had to distance itself from for years, but that doesn't make it bad, just a bit monochromatic for the wider audience outside the Christian rock crowd.

A Very She & Him Christmas, She & Him (Merge)

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she&him.jpgBy now we all know that She is doe-eyed actress Zooey Deschanel and Him is indie-bard M. Ward, and they've already got two albums of shoegaze folk-pop to their credit. Indeed, I could be heard saying of their first album (in my non-Christmas moments) that it could have been the Tapestry of the Aughts if today's teens were as drawn to clearly played and simply presented music as their hippie parents (or grandparents) were. So you probably already know what this 2011 disc sounds like, especially if you've heard one or both of their previous albums. Zooey is already on the Christmas tip with her duet of "Baby It's Cold Outside" done with Leon Redbone for the "Elf" movie. That song returns to the playlist in a newly performed version with her current duet partner. No original tunes for the duo this go-round, mostly standards with a few rock-era selections. They tap the Beach Boys for two songs, "Christmas Day" and "Little St. Nick," gentle renditions featuring clouds of overdubbed Zooeys handling the Wilson brothers' parts. They do a nice job with NRBQ's "Christmas Wish," although the gentle approach just won't do for "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." They actually fare a little better with the American songbook selections like "Christmas Waltz," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Sleigh Ride" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas." The intimate feel probably stems, at least in part, from the fact that the duo plays and sings all the parts except drums, which are outsourced to the great Jim Keltner. Part of the proceeds from this disc will benefit 826 National, an organization that helps children learn self-expression through writing. This album's not exactly a rocker, but it's a nice change of pace for your holiday playlist.

Under the Mistletoe, Justin Bieber (Island)

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bieber.jpgJust to prove what an old man I am, I used to prowl the import sections of my favorite record stores for releases on the then-only-British Island label, from Sparks and Robert Palmer to Brian Eno and Bob Marley. This is about as far from those days as you can get. Yeah, we insufferable music snobs are supposed to get our noses out of joint over teen idols like The Beeb, but hey, if we're all about the music, shouldn't our opinion stand or fall on that? So here it is: this is your basic modern R'nB workout, which is the basis for many of today's top pop chart songs. I can't claim to be an expert on whether Justin really has the pipes or whether he's been autotuned and ProTooled to a fare-thee-well -- the real tell for me is the fact that you seldom hear him singing by himself, other than on "Silent Night." If your thing is chart music circa 2011, this stands up -- in part because a big contingent of chart stars make guest appearances here. Usher duets on "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," Busta Rhymes raps "Drummer Boy," Boyz II Men sing "Fa La La," The Band Perry adds the country touch on "Home This Christmas," and, the big get, Mariah Carey shows up for a rendition of her mega-holiday-smash "All I Want For Christmas Is You." The lead single, "Mistletoe," is a nice piece of work, although our pal Stubby notes it sounds kinda like a Jason Mraz song was plagiarized for the cause, and I tend to agree. The disc comes in standard and enhanced versions with four extra songs and video content, although only the standard edition is downloadable. Can't leave without mentioning that Justin plans to donate proceeds from this album to a number of popular charities, listed at his website. Not exactly what this site's readers are looking for, but I'm sure some of them have teenaged sisters and daughters.

A Holiday Carole, Carole King (Hear Music)

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caroleking.jpgGet it? The title pun? Yeah, yeah. Many of us remember her magnum opus Tapestry, the mega-seller of the 1970s that was in the record collection of every woman over 14 in the English-speaking world from 1971 onward, at least until we were well into the Madonna era anyway. Carole is a rock 'n roll totem for her co-writes with Gerry Goffin, which turn up in the repertoires of everyone from the Beatles and Monkees to Ben E. King and Isaac Hayes to Linda Ronstadt and Amy Winehouse, not to mention her co-writes with everybody from her ex-spouse to Mariah Carey and Elvis Costello. But as has been the case with original rock era stars recording in the modern day, there's not much rock 'n roll to be had here. Indeed, this 2011 collection might be considered the holiday edition of Tapestry, as Carole's voice, piano playing and whole approach is similar here. The differences: No original songwriting from the star of the show, although producer-daughter Louise Goffin contributes three co-writes, "Christmas in the Air," "Christmas Paradise" and "New Year's Day," which aren't bad but make you wish Carole had whipped out her pen for a few more selections. And the stripped-down intimate sound of Tapestry, which made so many female listeners feel like Carole was singing just for them, gets augmented with more orchestral touches here. There are some good choices of covers, like the Stax hit "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday" and Donnie Hathaway's "This Christmas," and Carole brings her daughter and grandson together for, Hanukkah Alert, "Chanukkah Prayer." A lot of women my age will love this, but regular Mistletunes readers will want something with a bit more roughage.

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