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October 2012 Archives

CeeLo's Magic Moment, CeeLo Green (Elektra)

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Once of Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley, more recently solo ("Forget You") and now a big old TV star thanks to his role as a judge on "The Voice," one would assume Cee-Lo's first Christmas album in 2012 would be a move for the mainstream rather than something more hip-hop informed, and one would be right. Nevertheless, this disc is a solid modern soul/R'nB production, augmented with guest stars who contribute but don't take the spotlight off the star of the show. Good covers of Stevie Wonder's "What Christmas Means to Me" and Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" are two of the three first songs, broken up by a duet with fellow "Voice" judge Christina Aguilera on "Baby It's Cold Outside," in the usual jazz ballad arrangement this song typically gets. Straight No Chaser helps CeeLo ham it up on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and Rod Stewart and Trombone Shorty step in on an uptempo version of the classic "Merry Christmas, Baby." (Which appears on Rod's new Christmas disc as well.) An original, "All I Need Is Love," is a bit of theater featuring The Muppets, "Run Rudolph Run" is a big band take that is otherwise fairly faithful to the Chuck Berry version, and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" appears in a modern slow-jam arrangement. Other ballads on the disc include "Mary Did You Know" and Joni Mitchell's "River," ending with a bombastic "Silent Night." It's entirely possible this will get crammed in your ear by TV and radio between now and Christmas, but that doesn't interfere with the fact that this is a good soul record, and that reducing the playlist by a few of the more show-bizzy sounding songs would transform this into a great soul record.

Merry Christmas, Baby, Rod Stewart (Verve)

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rodstew.jpgRod has been a lounge lizard for a lot more years than he was a credible star of the classic rock era, but I gotta tell you I still love those old Faces records as well as those Rod solo discs from his Mercury Records era. It is for that reason Mistletunes takes up the question of this 2012 recording. Won't keep you in suspense; the song roster, with only a couple of exceptions, is mid-20th century holiday standards and classic carols, and the fact that this is on Verve Records confirms without listening that this is an extension of his American Songbook series of crooner records. The title song featuring Cee-Lo and Trombone Shorty (also on Cee-Lo's new disc) is a nice uptempo blues of the kind Rod used to lunge for. Mary J. Blige steps in to belt along with Rod on "We Three Kings," putting a taste of gospel into the proceedings. And there's one new original song, "Red-Suited Super Man," also featuring Trombone Shorty, which could have been a strong rocker but instead gets the crooner treatment, bringing it more in line with the other songs on here. The same thing happens to "Blue Christmas," with orchestra overwhelming the steel guitar. Dave Koz gets a sax solo on "Let It Snow," Michael Buble duets on "Winter Wonderland," and the project indulges in a little audio necrophilia with a "duet" between Rod and Ella Fitzgerald on "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" Fans of the crooners, and Rod fans, are well served here, but there's hardly any rock to speak of. Too bad we'll never hear Christmas as it might have been celebrated on Gasoline Alley.

I was holding back when I heard that Sufjan Stevens had a Christmas box set pencilled in for 2012; I assumed it was a reissue of his 2006 Christmas box set. How many Christmas box sets can an artist have in him, after all. Well, the link to this video was posted to my Facebook feed by Mrs. Rudolph, and sure enough, it's an entirely new project, available as vinyl and download in addition to CD. Street date is 11/13/2012, so you may want to keep your eyes and ears open. This, obviously, is a song from the collection, rather lo-fi sounding on its own but the video really sells it. And now's a good time to post it because of the Halloween connection....

Atheist Christmas, Robert Crenshaw (Treefort)

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This is a fairly audacious title for a holiday song, but Robert, brother of Marshall, carries it off nicely. The title song from this 2012 EP is a sweet pop-rock ballad, all instruments by Robert except for a guest appearance by Don Jones on flute, and the lyrics explain that "there never was much Christ in our Christmas ... we loved the Christmas songs, many written by Jews." Other lines emphasize family, sharing and community, emphasizing the traditional values while sticking up for the fact that however Christmas got started, it's just as much a secular holiday as a religious one and it's been that way for a very long time. Too bad Robert isn't a better known artist or Fox News might declare war on him, ensuring the financial success of this release. The other three songs on here are non-holiday, starting with two more originals by Robert, "Breakdown in the Passing Lane" featuring brother Marshall on guitars and Don Dixon on background vocals, and "23 1/2 Degrees," a poke at the science-phobia that seems to inform modern political arguments. Things wrap up with a cover of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down" featuring another Crenshaw boy, John, on lead vocal. Available from Amazon, click the cover.
rockbysea3.jpgThis 2012 collection benefits the Pediatric Brain Tumor Program at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando, Fla. Given the Dixie location, you might want to doubt the veracity of the title, but it's valid; it's rootsy, and there are a few nods to country, but there's also blues, folk and straight-up rock here. Will Turpin of Collective Soul kicks things off with a version of "What Child Is This" that almost sounds like it could be Morrissey fronting the Old 97s, the song is reprised at the end by Mama Gypsy in a 70s hard rock arrangement, and Dave Philip of The Automatics contributes a new version of that band's "Christmastime Is Coming" that is more rootsy sounding than the punkish original, Travis Denning goes all "Uneasy Rider" on us with the talk-sing country song "Ballad of Rudolph," in which the glowing guy is a bit down in the mouth this year. Ernie Halter does a nice unplugged "All I Want For Christmas Is You," Michael Lyons cranks his axe for a blues instrumental version of "Last Christmas," yes THAT "Last Christmas," and Martin Rivas gives us a funky "Christmas Already?" "Snow For Johnny" by Lauren St Jane and the Dead Westerns is a country ballad bemoaning the warm holiday weather, Steve Everett depicts what happens when the white stuff falls in "Love in Snow," "Catch the Midnight Flight" by Mikey Wax is a bluesy call to catch a big metal bird home for the holidays, Todd Carey offers a "Perfect Christmas Day" and Saints of Valory extol the "Winter Lights." Good cause, good tunes. Click the cover to get it from Amazon. By the way, I stumbled over an interesting coincidence involving an earlier volume of this series; hope to post something about it in the near future.

This power pop Christmas collection from 2011 has an international pedigree, as each act's country of origin is given in the liner notes. The US, Britain and Australia are always gimmes, but Italy, Spain, Sweden and Guernsey are also represented. (Yeah, I thought Guernsey was just another UK location, but it's not only nominally independent, it's not even part of the EU.) Previously covered tunes include the Britannicas' "Chris Hillman Christmas" and the Click Beetles' "A Christmas Wish." Although no act is entirely from Sweden, Joe Algeri and Friends' "Stockholm Christmas" features Magnus Carlson on lead guitar, he of the recent Phil Spector homage "Cry Cry Christmas." The majority of the songs here are originals, although the Decibels present covers of "White Christmas" and "Angels We Have Heard on High," the latter of which is similar to the Triffids' "Gloria," in that both groups medley the classic Them song with the carol. The Jetz also do a serviceable "Father Christmas," the Kinks song, The Lolas give us a nicely rocked-up "Little Drummer Boy," and Guernsey's The Risk revisit The Damned's "There Ain't No Sanity Clause." The Shambles "Warm This Winter" is a great song with a kind of amped-up Everly Brothers delivery, Yeh Yeh's "To All Who Can't Attend" is a nice poppy holiday toast to those who went before us. Spring Collection and Ed James have nice holiday love ballads, "Christmas with You" and "You Make Me Believe," respectively. Jeremy goes all Beatlesque on "Christmas Every Day," while The States channel The Who on "This Christmas." Smodati gives us some Italian power pop on "In tempo per Natale," which I guess is "In Time For Christmas, and Los Immediatos stick to English on "Just Let It Snow," an organ-led rocker. And here's a name I haven't seen for a while: Skid Roper, former partner of Mojo Nixon, gives us a nine-minute "Christmas Mystery," in which the baby Jesus goes missing. The Jetset wraps things up with a bit of Beatles Christmas record-style goofing around, followed by the solid rocker "What Can I Say." Another great compilation of independent power pop Christmas music.
I don't want to be unkind and call the title a misnomer, but this 2010 collection of mostly original pop Christmas songs is more adult contemporary than rock. I don't know if this is deliberate, but there are many connections to the Beach Boys on this collection. "Getting Ready For Christmas" is a ballad featuring Scott Bennett, he of Brian Wilson's band and the recent 50th anniversary Beach Boys tour. "New Year's Eve" is by Taylor Mills, also a Brian Wilson band alumna. Probyn Gregory, Wondermint and co-conspirator on the revival of Brian Wilson's Smile, plays French horn on "One (My Christmas Wish)" by Stephen J. Kalinich, a fairly lugubrious spoken word performance. "Christmas Isn't Christmas" by Chris English has a faint resemblance to the Boys circa the mid-1970s, while we get pretty straight homages to Hawthorne's finest in "Christmas Bunny" by Alan Boyd,  Brian Battles with "Christmas in California," "Christmas With You" by Richard Snow & the In-Laws, Laurie Biagini's "Christmas In the Air," Rob Bonfiglio's "Warm, Lovin Christmastime" (this one sounding more like Dennis Wilson), and "Let's Make Every Day Like Christmas" by Jez Graham. Several other cuts break the pattern, with the best of those being The Zummos' "There Won't Be a Christmas Without You," a track with a modern R'nB sound, and "What If," a semi-electronica-pop performance by Nicola. Beach Boys completists probably won't be disappointed, but the collection doesn't really support its title. Remember what I've written more than once on this site, "What once was rock 'n roll now is adult contemporary." Nevertheless, folks looking for new original Christmas songs will get their money's worth, as the songwriting here is a reasonably good collective effort.

As you probably guessed from reading the title, this is a label compilation of power pop Christmas tunes from 2010. It's a good collection and it's also a charity fundraiser for the Susan Giblin Foundation, a central Pennsylvania group that promotes medical care and protection of animals. Power pop obsessives should be warned that some of these songs have appeared elsewhere, like John Wicks' "Star of Bethlehem," "Chris Hillman Christmas" by the Britannicas, "Santa's Calling" by the Sun Kings and "Channukah Guy" by the Goldbergs. But if you don't have those songs, they're all worth having. "Chris Hillman" has that 60s country-rock feel as it takes pokes at Wilco and the Eagles, while the Goldbergs and Sun Kings, sharing members between the two groups, offer their Beatles-inflected songs, and Wicks, the former member of the Records, performs a stately ballad for the holiday. Maple Mars starts things out nicely with "Christmas Time In the City" and the Smith Brothers back them up with "Every Day Is Like Christmas," both mid-tempo classic pop-rock. Parallax Project hopes to catch a girl on the rebound in "All I Want For Christmas (Is a Chance)." Keith LuBrant takes the tempo upward on "The Christmas Spirit," as does Strand on "The Christmas Gifts," the latter borrowing chords from the Romantics' "What I Like About You." Frank Royster's "Christmas Is Fun" and William Duke's "Say Hello To Christmas" round out this collection, and like I said it's a great collection of power pop. Get it from Amazon or the label's website. Those who go to the website might still be able to get a free additional disc thrown in, A Christmas Gift, which is more of the same power pop/rock Christmas goodies, including both sides of the Click Beetles' single, plus songs from the Kavanaughs, Celadore, Penguin Party and, my favorite band name here, Brilliant Fanzine. It's a custom-burned disc, so it's probably not available elsewhere.

Coal, Hot Buttered Elves (Tape Hiss Recordings)

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Coal.jpgThis slipped out in December 2011 and I only got to listen to it once before I promptly forgot I had it. This is the second time I've stumbled over a musical collective from Philadelphia that has made a career of performing Christmas-oriented tunes. The Elves have been plugging away at this since 1993, first issuing indie cassettes and later CDs of their work, and they have several albums out, of which this is the most recent release. On their CDBaby page they list their influences as Bauhaus, the Flaming Lips and the Bonzo Dog Band, so I draw from that they wish to be perceived as doomy, spacey and not particularly serious. They definitely have a lo-fi approach, which has made it a bit of a bear to follow the lyrics. "Curb Alert Christmas" is about digging gifts out of the things people leave for spring and fall cleanup, "Broke For Christmas" is the companion piece to that one, "Xmas Is For Everyone" lists the folks for which the title does not hold true, and "The Ex Back in Xmas" is, I think, about hooking up with a former significant other, then going your separate ways. The title song "Coal" is a lengthy suite of several movements dedicated to the properties of, well, coal, both metaphorical and lyrical. "Yulezella" is a parody drug advertisement with progressively ludicrous symptoms to watch out for, "A Christmas Song" may or may not actually be that, "Day 359" is a Flaming Lips-influenced dirge that may be the most generic way possible to reference Christmas, and "The Happiest Noel" is a Lou Reed impression with the great lyric, "Sure as Dick Cheney's going to hell... this will be the happiest noel." This is not necessarily a collection you'll put on while you put up the tree and wrap presents, but it definitely has moments of interest. Click the cover to pick it up from Amazon.
britneyxmas.jpgI only stumbled over this a while back, a six-song EP that is a rap appeal to the singing star to come home with the artist behind this recording for Christmas. Well, actually, for Christmas 2006, as I don't hear much about ol' Brit anywhere but the supermarket tabloids nowadays. But not to worry, if Britney don't float your boat, the performers have thoughtfully repurposed the title song as appeals to Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Carmen Electra, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. Yes, that's the other five songs on this collection. They're identical except for the name of the celebrity being appealed to. A good change of pace for your Christmas playlists, as long as you don't think any of these names are past their sell-by date. Apparently, this was repurposed from an EP, Britney Spears Wedding, from the same year for holiday consumption. (I was going to say, "The aughts called, they want their celebrities back," but I'm the one who didn't find out about this until now.)
cherry7.jpgInternational mail prevented me from having this up in time for Christmas 2011; I think my copy finally passed customs in late January. This ongoing series from the independent UK label Cherryade features the usual array of British independent lo-fi pop performers, although this is a smaller group of such acts than in the past, just 13 acts with one song each. Krostofski Kabuki kicks things off with a cover of the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," featuring synths, drum machine and a male lead vocal suggesting a gay holiday. The Just Joans offer the original ballad "Christmas (Tears 'Neath the Mistletoe)," The Drain on the Balcony thrash along to "Santa Hat," and Bucky asserts that "I'm a Little Snowflake" to guitar and drums a la White Stripes. "Fall Into Christmas" by Partlly Llama offers a perky synth-pop opening over which the vocalists sing a kind of dirge not unknown to fans of that band The Fall. Otaglia's "Hill of Angels" is more of a punkish workout, while Ace Bushy Striptease offers a noisy "Nightmare Before Christmas." Gareth Cutter implores us "Don't Cancel Christmas," Larry Pickleman wishes us a "Happy Holiday" in a fairly ironic vein, and Ste McCabe dispenses with the niceties by thrashing out a "Christmas Time For Sanctimonious Swine." Wrapping things up is a performance of "Snowgays" by Ratfangs, an instrumental that is kind of a spaghetti western interlude featuring guitar and accordion. Apparently they only did 100 hardcopies of #7 and if it's on any download sites, they're UK-only at this writing, so check the website.

cameoparkwy.jpgThis one's for the old folks out there, a collection of early to mid-1960s Christmas records from the Cameo Parkway family of labels, collected for re-release in 2011. It's also more for the folks who like Christmas music in all styles, since half the album is straight-up orchestral instrumental pop versions of famous songs and carols by the Rudolph Statler Orchestra and the International Pop Orchestra. Two versions of "Auld Lang Syne" are banjo-led instrumentals, by bluegrass band Bob Johnson and the Lonesome Travelers and pianist Beethoven Ben. And the "Twelve Days of Christmas" get a Mexico-via-the-Copacabana version by the Mexicani Marimba Band. Here's what remains. Both sides of a 1961 Bobby Rydell/Chubby Checker duet single, a cover of "Jingle Bell Rock" backed with "Jingle Bell Imitations," the latter featuring the two doing impressions of Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, Fats Domino, Frank Fontaine, and the Chipmunks (!) singing "Jingle Bells." Then there's both sides of a 1957 single by the Cameos, "Merry Christmas" and "New Years Eve," a pair of doo-wop classics and the only non-60s performances on the album. Speaking of the end of the year, we also have a doo-wop ballad by The Jaynells from 1963, "I'll Stay Home (New Year's Eve)." "White Christmas (3 O'Clock Westher Report)" by Bobby the Poet is a 1967 novelty record with an impression of Bob Dylan singing the popular Christmas tune, also featuring a Bobby Kennedy imitator adding commentary and topped off with a reading of the weather report, in the fashion of Simon & Garfunkel's "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night." Yeah, there's a lot going on there. Toni Stante gives a girl-group arrangement to a 1965 performance of "Donde Esta Santa Claus." And finally, Bob Seger & the Last Heard, from 1966, give us the Mistletunes classic "Sock It To Me Santa." A spotty collection if you're a rock specialist, but this one's for the archivists among us.

From the historic 1991 indie-pop classic album Yuletunes, this is actually a pretty good job of building a video for a song after the fact. (Yes, I'm trying to get new stuff up this year, hopefully it won't be too much longer.)

Hi folks. Nope, not dead, the website's still a going concern (thanks for asking, Stubby). Yes, I stated I was going to go year-round, and I missed that objective by at least 10 months. There's stuff I have on my desk that would support that level of effort, but I was actually kind of burned out after the last holiday season, so I let myself and the readership down. I even missed out on posting some late-arriving stuff that didn't reach my mailbox until early January. But I'll get warmed up for the current season by catching up to at least that part of my backlog over the upcoming weeks. Would have started sooner, but I spent most of the last month either on crutches or flat on my back. That's all over now, thank goodness. If you've been here before, thanks for coming by, and feel free to use the comment section -- the only thing I've had time to do over the past year is scrape the spam barnacles off of it, so grab a login and use it. New stuff out there so far is a second bite at the holiday apple by Jigsaw Seen, Tracey Thorne, Colbie Caillat, Polyphonic Spree, August Burns Red, plus highly hyped entries from Rod Stewart and Cee-Lo, both of which I'm skeptical about but will have to address either way. I haven't heard so much as a sample note of any of this stuff yet, but when I do I'll let you all know. Which is what we do here, right?
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