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January 2013 Archives

spinaus.jpgIf anyone had asked me whether there was an indigenous Australian rock 'n roll Christmas scene, I would have said well, there must be, though I had no documentary evidence. Now I do, in the form of this 1999 import compilation of holiday-oriented goodies from Oz's Spin and Infinity record labels. The album kicks off with "(I Want a) Rockin' Christmas" by Ol'55, reputed to be the most successful Down Under Christmas single of all. It's from 1976 and has the sound of a 70s band pretending to be a 60s band, with a bunch of Spector-once-removed flourishes. The version here was remixed for a late '90s Russell Crowe movie, "The Sum of Us." Unfortunately, you have to pole-vault over the next 12 rock-free cuts -- 50s youth pop and kid-oriented stuff like Rolf Harris' version of "Happy Birthday, Father Christmas" -- to get to The Love Machine's "The Lonely Hearts Club Christmas Party," a slice of 1968 psychedelia that takes us back to Ol'55 again with the B-side of their hit, a rendition of "Little Saint Nick" that sounds a bit like Freddy and the Dreamers doing it. Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons -- excuse me, His Little Helpers on this song -- come up with a serviceable cover of "Run Rudolph Run" and the Red Hot Rockin' Santas cover Gary Glitter on "Another Rock 'n Roll Christmas." At this point, even Oz gets overrun by the disco trend as kid-show host Shirley gets down with "Christmas Time in the Neighbourhood," then gets all serious on "Christmas Children." The Incredible Penguins dish out a 1985 cover of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" with backing vocals from such as Colin Hay and Bob Geldof, not to mention the Hare Krishna chorus. "Reindeers on the Rooftop" by Riff Raff is kind of thuddy in an 80s drum machine vein, while Yu-En's 1986 version of "Little Drummer Boy" throws in a nice India vibe with tabla and sitar before it goes into the 80s pop beat. Journeyman Mick Hamilton wraps the album with country rocker "Merry Christmas Mary." Most of what I give you here comes from the copious liner notes. Amazon has a page for it, but my most recent check showed it out of stock.
famxmasass.jpgThe Kevin and Bean compilations were a Christmas fanatic's tradition through the 1990s to the mid-2000s, particularly those who like their holidays to include rock 'n roll. I've posted several of them to this site over the years, limited by the fact that the nerve center and home office of this Internet holiday way station is far to the east of the these United States, while the radio station from which these compilations emanate is hard by the West Coast of this selfsame country, making purchase of hardcopy albums difficult and/or expensive. As I'm still getting content moved over from the old static version of the site to the current content-managed site, I stumbled over the fact that I still had a Kevin & Bean comp hiding on my desk that had never been posted before, so here it is. This one, from 1997, is billed as a "greatest hits" version, compiling the best of the series from the early to mid-1990s, all of which had previously been released on cassette. This collection added a few new items to the playlist in honor of the series' switchover to CD. Just as all the others did, this mixes music from rock bands and spoken word items from comedians and celebrities. A couple of rarities that don't show up much nowadays from this album include Squirrel Nut Zippers' "Santa Claus Is Smoking Reefer" and Snoop Dogg's two songs "Christmastime in the LBC" and, with Nate Dogg, "Twas the Night." Smashing Pumpkins' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and Stone Temple Pilots' "Christmastime Is Here" were done live, Third Eye Blind's "One of Those Christmas Days" sounds like it was done live in the studio, and John Wesley Harding banters with Kevin & Bean on "Feel the Warmth." Poe, she of "Angry Johnny" fame, pulls off a seriously intentioned version of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" that almost breathes life back into that overplayed novelty. Smash Mouth does an Elvis impression on their "Blue Christmas," Soul Coughing plays "Suzy Snowflake," ska stars Reel Big Fish take on "Mele Kalikimaka," Mighty Mighty Bosstones offer "Christmastime," and Presidents of the United States contribute "Christmas Piglet." Songs that have turned up elsewhere more frequently are Sugar Ray's "Little St. Nick," Everclear's "Santa Baby," Tori Amos' "Little Drummer Boy" and Beck's "Little Drum Machine Boy." A group called Mmm offers their version of "Me and Mrs. Claus," a parody of the Billy Paul hit, though not the same parody done by Bob Rivers. Spoken word contributions come from Johnny Cash, Jon Stewart, Bobcat Goldthwait, Cindy Crawford, Henry Winkler, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, Gene Simmons and Jenny McCarthy. As you might guess from the title, R-rated language crops up occasionally. I've linked the cover art to an Amazon page that will connect you to 3rd-party sellers who have new and used versions of this disc.

diamondrugs.jpgThis 2012 song has very little to do with the oft-mooted stereotype of Jewish people clogging such establishments on Dec. 25 every year. This is more of a piano-led ballad of crying in one's moo goo gai pan over lost love on the holiday. It's pretty good, if downbeat. From their self-titled album. Video below.

"The Christmas Song," Million Faces (Aurora)

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millionface.jpgFrom 2012, a fine boisterous rocker about the holiday, no relation to the "Chestnuts" song (I try to use the word Chestnuts in the title when writing about that song). This English band from Oxfordshire formed in 2010 and they've posted a video with lyrics as well. Check 'em out.
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Just recently had my attention directed to this on Bandcamp. These albums were curated by Ben Gortmaker and released between 2006 and 2008 on CDs. I had downloaded a compilation that included cuts from all three, but when I went back to Bandcamp that collection appears to have been remaindered, though all three of the original albums remain available. So this rundown of songs cuts across all three albums, which remain up on Bandcamp. Ben himself performs "All Is Emmanuel" and a folky Americana version of "Angels We Have Heard On High" that segues into something a bit dronier about halfway through. Natalie Prass sings the jazzy shuffle "No Better Time," Treva Blomquist takes the acoustic pop approach to "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus," while David Spencer adds some pop sheen to the same approach on "O Come All Ye Faithful." Sanders Bohlke sounds positively mournful on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," as does Mikky Ekko on a harmonium-led "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming." Stephen Gordon misses a lost lover on "Christmas Cards," and sadness overwhelms Aron Wright on "Christmas Ain't Christmas This Year." "O Star O'er Bethlehem" by Erika Chambers leads with a gypsy violin, Joe Gilder does an acoustic "O Come O Come Emanuel," and Chelsey Scott offers "In the Bleak Midwinter and Charlie Hardin performs a slow acoustic "O Holy Night." There's a heavy emphasis on traditional songs and forms here, though there are some more pop and rock moments as well.

You Sleigh Me!, various artists (Atlantic)

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usleigh.jpgOriginally a benefit record for Hale House, which cares for drug-addicted and HIV positive babies, this 1995 album is mostly cover versions by Atlantic artists. It's very listenable, especially if you enjoy alternative rock. Original tunes are Juliana Hatfield's "Make It Home," Donna Lewis's "Christmas Lights" and Everything But the Girl's "25th December." Jill Sobule does great justice to Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas From the Family," Mary Karlzen is the first female singer I know of to cover "Run Rudolph Run," Collective Soul puts a Bo Diddley spin on "Blue Christmas," Tori Amos does her ethereal thing on a solo piano version of "Little Drummer Boy" and Victoria Williams can't be mistaken for anybody else on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." A worthwhile collection for a rockin' Christmas. I made a point of promoting this to the front page because it appears that Amazon still makes this album available on CD through its custom CD-R burning service. Click the cover to grab it. No download available, as far as I know. UPDATE: I just stumbled on a Rhino collection from 2004 called Not Another Christmas Album that has part of You Sleigh Me's playlist. It includes the songs by Tori Amos, Collective Soul, Mary Karlzen, Everything But the Girl and Donna Lewis. It adds other songs by Willa Ford, Pretenders and the Ramones. It's out of print, but you can get it from 3rd parties on Amazon.
anthologies.jpgWe previously mentioned Anthologies, the artistic collective local to the creative community of Leeds in the UK, and their 2012 Christmas album. This is their 2011 Christmas album, featuring some of the same artists seeking financial support for the collective. Paul Thomas Saunders opens up with a slow and downcast version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and the song is reprised in a solo guitar version by Mi Mye later in the disc; Himself takes on Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You," although the minute or so of warmup at the beginning tests a listener's patience; and Grant K Fennell breaks out the accordion for a rendition of Low's "Just Like Christmas." Hannah Peel's "I Believe in Father Christmas" gets a folky music-box arrangement, Run Speed Tiger covers Sufjan Stevens' "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever," Pengillys perform "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," and Lone Wolf goes solo with only reverb guitar on "Fairytale of New York." Just Handshakes gives us a sparse but rocking version of "I Still Believe in Christmas Trees," Chi & the Twelfth Wall do a chamber-pop rendition of "Dear Autumn," Arthur Rigby takes a Kinks-ian approach to "It Feels Like Christmas," and Sam Airey medleys "In the Bleak Midwinter" with "If You Get Lonely This Christmas" backed by fingerpicked guitar. Wrapping things up are Post War Glamour Girls with "Fathers For Justice (A.D.)," Gary Stewart with "Blue," and Biscuithead & the Biscuit Badgers with the sprightly "Snow," a bit of New Orleans skiffle with tuba subbing for bass. This is a bit more morose-sounding than the subsequent year's collection, but there's still plenty of highlights. Available only from the link above, with suitable donation.
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Anthologies is a not-for-profit artistic collective in Leeds, UK, supporting the creation of music and films. For the past two years they have received support from local musicians who came together to record Christmas songs for compilations that can be downloaded in exchange for a donation to the parent group. This is the 2012 collection, created with the help of Hide & Seek Records, and though the holiday season is past, the album remains featured on their home page. It's an eclectic bunch of songs in an alt-rock vein, kicked off by Backyards' sprightly folk-rock rendition of "In the Bleak Midwinter," followed closely by Blue Roses' close cover of Joni Mitchell's "River" and Dan Beesley & the S.S.S.S.S.'s blues-rock cover of "Mistletoe & Roses," originally a hit for Cliff Richard. Ellen and the Escapades do an Americana take on "Little St. Nick," Honour Before Glory & Sam Airey put a pensive spin on Sir Paul's "Wonderful Christmastime," and Witch Hunt do a very slow take of "Little Drummer Boy" that includes "Peace on Earth," a combination that's growing in popularity recently. Get Machine, Destroy! does a house take on "Zat You, Santa Claus," Hope & Social render "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in an antique choral arrangement, and Dancing Years rearrange "Silent Night" into something from a Sufjan Stevens album. The Birthday Kiss render "Sentimental Christmas" in a pop-rock ballad style, Stalking Horse's "Morning Christmas" is slow and portentious, and Swimming Lessons may not be "All Alone On Christmas," but you will certainly feel this way after listening to this droning chant. These Men want to know "How Come You're Only Nice To Me On Christmas," Post War Glamour Girls perform "The Second Stave," a bell-driven chant, Grant K Fennell breaks out the ukelele for "Little White Boat," and Fossil Collective presents a ballad, "The Power of Love." This is an interesting collection that supports a good cause. Available only from the organization's website.

yultun.jpgIf you're a fan of obscure pop-rockers and 90s alternative, this 1991 compilation is one of the more listenable ways to celebrate the season. Artists include Matthew Sweet, Material Issue, The Cavedogs, The Spongetones, Shoes, and a number of others. In fact, it was produced for the most part by the folks behind Shoes, who were arguably the first-ever indie-rock group, releasing their Black Vinyl Shoes album completely independently in 1977. Nearly all the tunes are originals by the bands involved, except Don Dixon and Marti Jones' sharp and too-short cover of William Bell's "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday." They don't Christmas up the arrangements too much, which could be good or bad depending on your taste, but there are a lot of interesting lyrical takes on the holiday, from the single-entendre of "Piece For Christmas" by Big People to Spooner's "The Saddest Time of the Year." And The Cavedogs get points for doing a "You Know My Name -- Look Up the Number" -- styled piece with the epic title "Three Wise Men and a Baby." I've linked the cover to Amazon, as is the current practice here, though Amazon only has 3rd-party sellers with new and used copies. It is possible, however, to buy it from Black Vinyl Records in the current day.
lumpcoal.jpgA pretty good alternative compilation from 1991 featuring some recognizable names. Crash Test Dummies do a pretty straight-up version of "The First Noel," The Wedding Present tackles Elton John's "Step Into Christmas," Young Fresh Fellows perform "O Little Town of Bethlehem," Henry Rollins recites "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and the Hoodoo Gurus do "Little Drummer Boy (Up the Khyber)," in a Russian folk version. Other cuts include "Blue X-mas (To Whom It May Concern)" by Drunken Boat, "Silent Night" by the Primitives, "Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella" by Carnival Art, "O Holy Night" by Divine Weeks, "Kings of Orient" by The Odds and "Here Comes Santa Claus" by Clockhammer. UPDATE: This is a more than necessary update, as a reissue of this album for 2012 on Funzalo Records, despite having the same title and cover art, is for all intents and purposes a completely different album. Only Clockhammer, Divine Weeks, and Drunken Boat cross over to the new version. The other songs are gone, replaced with 12 other tunes, seven of which are done by a band called Sirsy. Six of those songs are standard pop songs and carols done in a blues-mama belting style, not terrible but not particularly remarkable, either. The seventh song is an original called "Some Kind of Winter," a not-bad ballad. The Jolly Boys give a Caribbean reading to "Long Time Ago in Bethlehem," aka "Mary's Boy Child," and "Christmas a-Coming." Robin Lane, she of the 70s-80s act Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, has two songs, "My Xmas List" and "A Winter's Night," both from 2011, and the final song is "Christmas Gets Me Down" by Luca, a decent mid-tempo power pop number. I can't imagine why the current producer thought it was a good thing to rip off the name and cover of a previous classic holiday compilation; a different title and cover art was clearly called for here. Nevertheless, the current version of the album isn't exactly terrible by any means, it's just not the classic album that's been hollowed out and strung up. If you click the cover art, it will take you to an Amazon page that shows 3rd party sellers with copies of the original; click the Funzalo link and it will take you to the "updated" album.
vanishers.jpg"Ontario's next big thing," according to their Facebook page's quote from a radio host, is a country-fried rock 'n roll band with a couple of albums to their credit. This 2009 song is a more bluesy strut with guest vocalist Ginger being the subject of the song as well as the duet partner. I believe Cool Christmas Songs on Facebook had the video up, which is how I discovered it.

thejudes.jpgThis is an excellent midtempo pop ballad with an unironic holiday greeting for listeners everywhere from this Winnepeg band. It's from 2009 and you can grab it from Amazon.
josidinizio.jpgJosi is actually a jazz guy, so I wouldn't normally address this except for the presence of Smithereens songwriter DiNizio, who slips off his rock 'n roll shoes to duet on "Winter Wonderland" and "White Christmas." Those two songs are as you'd expect, set to a bossa nova beat, and the EP fills out with the same two songs minus DiNizio. Perfectly fine renditions, but no Mistletunes mojo to these songs.
jpunx12Days.jpgLooks like we lost track of these guys after featuring one new Christmas album of theirs after another for several years. For those who don't remember, they're a punk band exclusively dedicated to Christmas music. They're a bit less prolific nowadays, but I'm still annoyed that I missed out on this 2010 release of theirs, which takes the 12 Days song and replaces the gifts with terms from the Urban Dictionary. The cover art shows a Parental Advisory warning, and I think I'll let that speak for itself, as typically anybody who refers you to the Urban Dictionary for a word meaning is trying to avoid making a NSFW reference out loud. In other Jingle Punx news, they had a new song out in 2012, "The Parting Glass," an Irish traditional song with a similar theme to "Auld Lang Syne," but don't worry, they punked it up real nice; and an archive release of their version of "Jolly Old St. Nicholas." They've also expanded to Halloween and other holidays, and you can check all this stuff out at their Bandcamp page.

Hark! The Fab Four (self-issued)

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harkfabs.jpgThe Fab Four, a fairly well-known Beatles tribute band, created two full albums of Christmas goodness for 2002 under the titles A Fab Four Christmas and Have Yourself a FAB-ulous Little Christmas for Laserlight, a budget label, but apparently they didn't stay in print long, if the complaints of some fans are anything to go by. A few years ago, the band took matters into their own hands and reissued the two discs in a single wrapper, a clever one too, one that parodies the U.S. version of the Help! album. The Fabs cut a wide swath across the history of the Beatles -- the two CDs, in their original packaging, are even color-coded the same as the famous Beatles 62-66 and 67-70 collections (see below) to tip off committed listeners -- and their vocal impressions, particularly of Paul and John, are pretty authentic. (One might also note the red album has a strong resemblance to Beatles 1.) Some of the more inventive arrangements include "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" via "When I'm 64" and "Honey Pie," "Silent Night" as "Norwegian Wood," "The Christmas Song" as "Here, There and Everywhere," "Good King Wenceslaus" sung to "Tell Me What You See" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" as "Within You Without You." An extra treat on Fabulous is "Dear Santa," a cut from Ringo Starr's Christmas album done to the arrangement of "Oh! Darling." Now that the band has this at its website, there should be no more complaints -- go grab it. Happy Krimble, indeed. UPDATE: Or you could click on the Hark! cover and grab it from Amazon. FURTHER UPDATE: Hark! now has two bonus cuts, "Sleigh Ride," in the style of "Lady Madonna," and "The First Noel" arranged as "Let It Be."

 
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cherryade7.jpgThis Manchester label has been like clockwork in putting out a new collection every year for eight years. This 2012 version kicks off with Otalgia's "Dear Santa," in which a brief snippet of "Silent Night" gives way to a punkish letter to the jolly elf with a pessimistic outlook. Chandler D Obelisk performs "Away in a Pret a Manger," what appears to be a satiric poke at a narrator who thinks he's being imposed upon to help a needy person at Christmas time. Laura Skilbeck channels "Friends" character Phoebe with her song "Films About Christmas," Steveless offers "Madvent," a profane parody of "Good King Wenceslaus," and the Paraffins Featuring Chloe Philip give us "Christmas in Glasgow," a synth-pop complaint about a holiday "fiasco, with chicken from Tesco." The Drain on the Balcony's "A Christmas Trilogy" is a medley of three songs, including another parody of "Wenceslaus," Float Riverer do an acoustic, non-Dickens oriented "A Christmas Carol," and Partly Llama also stay acoustic for their "Running Back For Christmas." The Pocket Gods, veterans of numerous Cherryade comps, offer two tunes, a punked-out "Silent Night" and their own "Jesus the Time Traveler," a dirgy, fuzzed-out plea for salvation. The Low Countries offer "Carry On Christmas," in which St. James is looking down on the proceedings from heaven eating crackers while the vicar prepares a holiday dinner, or I think that's what they're on about, anyway. Collider Featuring Jason Dixon presents "Little Drummer Boy" as a drone, throwing in "Peace on Earth" as well, and Lance Romance sings about "The Boy Who Saved Christmas." Cherryade is only making this available from their website, and they've only pressed 100 copies, so it's entirely possible this is sold out already.
harvdanger.jpgThis Northwest band donated this song to a Christmas In the Northwest charity compilation in 2005, and it's definitely a cult anthem, the cult being everybody who works in retail, military, law enforcement, as a caregiver or first responder, a daily newspaper, and quite a few other vocations that don't get holidays off. The whole Xmas NW compilation is still downloadable via Amazon, and this song can be picked individually. UPDATE: Forgot I had a link to a video of the song; here it is.

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