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November 2013 Archives

bobwire.jpgOn the one hand, novelty Christmas recordings aren't that hard to find if you frequent YouTube. On the other hand, since any idiot can get on YouTube, amateurs make it difficult for experienced musicians to put together good novelties. I just stumbled across this collection from 2011 the other day, and it's quite nice -- satirical lyrics played with rootsy rock 'n roll charm, in the vein of the Christmas Jug Band and a bunch of other similar folks. "Credit Card Christmas" offers a rocking kickoff to the album about how the festivities are going to be paid for, "My Ex Miss Carol" puns on the girlfriend stolen away by Santa, "Sha La La La (Don't Come Home This Christmas)" puts some girl-group sass (without girls) on a downbeat sentiment, "You Ain't Getting Shit For Chrismtas" is a self-explanatory ballad, "Santa's Getting Bigger" is a bit obvious as to the jolly elf's weight problem, "My Birthday's On Christmas" is a lament about being gypped out of presents, "Santa's Got a Sharkskin Suit" is a cool rockabilly number, and the album closes with the lament "I Can't Believe It's Christmastime Again," a duet with an uncredited female singer. For 2013, the duo is back with "Dos Christmas Ez," a bit of mariachi-flavored musing about divorced parents providing a kid two separate-but-equal Christmases. More thought-provoking than funny, but smart work nevertheless. You can download everything from Amazon.

The popular funkateers from the 70s and 80s are billing this 2013 release as their first-ever Christmas album, with six originals and eight standards on the card. They do a great job with this, creating an album that has their signature funk sound with updated touches. I'm always leery of legacy R'nB bands' Christmas albums, as they tend to fall back on gospel readymades and easy listening, but while these guys don't avoid these things, they also managed to make an album that sounds contemporary as well. (They also avoided covering "This Christmas" and "My Favorite Things.") Their "Home For the Holidays," "Little Drummer Boy," "Winter Wonderland" and "Joy to the World" completely deconstruct these familiar tunes with funky grooves and even rap sections. Other familiar holiday ballads get the typical R'nB/smooth jazz treatment, such as "Christmas Time Is Here," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)." Originals like "Christmas Always," "Let's Rejoice (Christmas Is Here)," "Christmas Tyme (Perfect Time For Love)," "Do Not Be Afraid," "My Prayer" and "Peace" are slow-to-medium tempo performances, the latter an instrumental. They're good originals, they just don't jump out and grab you as must-listens. The uptempo covers are by far the best part of what is overall, a solid R'nB Christmas album. Hard copies appear to be available only through their website, Best Buy and Walmart, but you can download from iTunes and Amazon.
high5.jpgThis is from 2012, and there's not much info to be found about this group online. It starts out with several classic carols in a sort of alternative pop-rock vein, with mangled titles like "Sleh Rahd," "Janga Beylz" and "G.N.T.L.M.N." Then there's "Uber Nacht," a medley of "The First Noel," "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night" in a more conventional acoustic reading. "The Sneaky Song" is a non-holiday parody of White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." Then there are what appear to be originals, like "House Call," an ambiguous story of "a doctor who's also a king," and "Chopstick Drum," an ode to making lunch that is non-holiday. Considering how much of this is non-Christmas, the title falls a bit short. But if you're looking for holiday songs that remind you of playing singles on your portable 45 player in the 60s, the tunes on here will work for you.

Yeah, these guys know on which side their bread is buttered, as they're back with their third pass at the holiday for 2013. This EP comes loaded with guest shots -- Colbie Caillat, Cee Lo Green, Otis Redding and Paul McCartney -- although at least the latter two are simply sampled from the original records, while Caillat appears to be performing live; Cee Lo's performance could have been either, though he sounds very much like he did singing "White Christmas" on his own Christmas album. Elsewhere, Amazon allows you to download free their parody version of "The Nutcracker," and they do a fairly rhythmic, almost streetcorner, version of "Home By Christmas," a poppier "Song For Santa" and a funky, uptempo "Amazing Grace." Other than "Nutcracker," the glee-club-isms are kept to a minimum here, thankfully.
direland.jpgThis 2013 single is a charity release for Britain's Big Issue Foundation. It's a nice mid-tempo rocker with a sing-along chorus, and your buck or so supports needy people, so what are you waiting for? Check it out.

This act offers a new Christmas song every year, and for 2013 it's the John and Yoko classic. It's added to the group's Christmas Collection on Noisetrade, which we previously mentioned here. If you haven't grabbed the collection before, grab the updated version with this song added.
The now-online-only music/other arts magazine has a long history of distributing various artists collections of music, including Christmas collections, and this is the 2013 holiday edition, free for download from Noisetrade. (Noisetrade requests "tips" to support the artists, but in this case there's a strictly free download button provided.) This straddles the adult alternative and Americana genres, and nearly all this stuff is previously or currently released. As a result, I'm just going to mention stuff that's on here that hadn't crossed my radar before this. "Christmas Thyme" is by The Olms, the Pete Yorn/J.D. King project from earlier this year, and this original song is a nice 60s pop outing featuring acoustic guitar and trumpet fills. Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors offer the piano-led ballad "Everything's Changed at Christmas But You," Maggie Chapman sings of lost love at the holiday in "Could've Been Summer," J Roddy Walston & the Business take a grungy stab at gospel in "Jesus Gonna Do His Best," the David Mayfield Parade go old-school pop country with "They Shined Up Rudolph's Nose" and The Last Bison lead their version of "Carol of the Bells" with banjo. There are also cuts from Sufjian Stevens, Nick Lowe, Bright Eyes, Otis Redding, Good Old War and Seabird, but they've all been mentioned here before. Can't argue with the price even if you have a lot of these songs.

"The Chanukah Song," Haim (YouTube)

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Before Hanukkah completely passes us by, up-and-comers Haim channel Adam Sandler for us. This is from 2012, a performance for BBC Radio 6.

suckitxmas.jpgThis is mostly Jewish humor for other Jews, but with Hanukkah bearing down on us I thought I should hurry this onto the site. Rachel Bloom is a comic and actress who cuts lots of short videos for use on YouTube and other sites, and she gathered up a bunch of friends to throw together this short collection of Hanukkah-centric goodies. Highlights include "Chanukah Honey," a parody of "Santa Baby" with a NSFW twist in the very last line; "Happy Epic Chanukah," a heavy metal take on the story of the holiday; "Foreskin Angels," less about the holiday and more about, well, you know; "Judaica," an electro-pop tribute to shopping for Jewish heritage goodies while traveling; "Let Me Be the Cantor In Your Temple," a bit of Wild Man Fischer-inspired ranting (and oh, is that what the kids are calling it this year?); "What Would Hashem Do," a light-hearted look at the extreme punishments described in the Old Testament; and "Think About All the Dead Jews," a klezmer version of "finish your peas, the starving children in India would love them." There are three "Elders of Zion" spoken-word bits that are probably more funny if you're Jewish, as they snark on Jewish stereotypes. Here, check out "Chanukah Honey":

Merry Christmas To You, Sidewalk Prophets (Word)

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sidewalkpro.jpgThis Nashville-based Christian rock band only has a few albums out, but for the 2013 holiday season they've chosen to make one of those albums a Christmas project, and good on them for it. Leaving aside the religious aspect, these guys are a contemporary pop-rock band with a commercial radio sheen to their sound, and they've put together a highly listenable collection of originals and covers. Needless to say, most of the originals press home the religious reason for the season, like disc opener "What a Glorious Night," the piano ballad "Hey Moon," the almost-rockabilly "Merry Christmas To You," the stately march "Hope Was Born This Night," and the sprightly closer "Because It's Christmas." The midtempo rocker "Give Me Christmas" is a love song to the holiday, and is probably the best of the originals. As for the covers, they do typical slow takes of "Silent Night" and "What Child Is This," the standard pop ballad take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" with the original third verse, although they slip in "If the Lord allows," a very countrypolitan take on "Holly Jolly Christmas," a nice "White Christmas" that uses the original Drifters arrangement with some vocal help from Francesca Battistelli, and a soulful take on "That Spirit of Christmas" from Ray Charles' Christmas album. Decide for yourself about the Christian aspect of this modern rock band, but this is a strong pop-rock celebration of the holidays. UPDATE: Forgot to mention that "Because It's Christmas" and "Hope Was Born" were part of a 2012 EP.

Snow Globe, Erasure (Mute)

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This old-school synth-pop duo was previously on the holiday beat with their 1988 single "She Won't Be Home (Lonely Christmas)," backed with "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." They've steered clear of the holiday from that day until 2013, with this new 13-cut collection, which doesn't include the two previous songs. No surprises in sound if you've listened to Erasure before, it's the same all-synth orchestration over pop, rock and R'nB beats applied to a baker's dozen of songs that include originals and familiar covers. And at least one unfamiliar cover: "Sleep Quietly" is better known as "Sleep Quietly My Jesus," written by Ruth Heller, but according to the Internets has only, until now, ever been performed by classical crossover singer Kathleen Jenkins in 2012. Likewise, the Great and Powerful Wikipedia has Ruth Heller as a Canadian children's book author with no songwriting credits. Oh well, a mystery for the comments section. The electro-pop version of "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" is alone worth the entire album. Antique carols get their futuristic takes with "Gaudete," in the original Latin, "Silent Night," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," and "In the Bleak Midwinter." They also give soft ballad arrangements to "White Christmas" and "Silver Bells." The rest are originals, starting with "Bells of Love (Isabelle's of Love)," a plea for love on the holiday; "Make It Wonderful," a minor-key request for reassurance; the non-holiday dance-floor anthem "Loving Man"; the Three Wise Men allegory "Blood on the Snow"; and "There'll Be No Tomorrow," another uptempo number recalling the classic Erasure sound, this one a holiday come-on to a lover. Good stuff, especially for you SiriusXM "1st Wave" fans. A club remix of "Gaudete" is also on offer, though it appears to only be in the British market for now.

bbvd2.jpgBBVD is one of those big horn bands that came out of the mid-90s "swinger" subculture (no, not wife-swapping, think the movie, more like Rat Pack worship), and these guys were on the Christmas tip early, with their 1997 EP Watchu Want For Christmas? (Note collector prices.) They recycled the holiday songs from that disc onto their 2004 collection Everything You Want For Christmas, and now they're back for 2013 with a third collection of holiday songs. In the past, there was some implied crossover connection between pop, rock and big band; this time around, the name of the record label, given in the headline, should be considered definitive. This is the kind of Christmas album a large horn-led band would have made in 1959, a pop jazz collection. The only difference is that in those days, they would have never covered "Run Rudolph Run," here jazzed up to a fare-thee-well, and "Christmas Is Starting Now," which originated with the "Phineas and Ferb" show on Disney Channel and gets the swing band treatment.  "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" isn't from that time either, but it really lends itself to a jazz band treatment. The title song is a band original, a jazzy ballad. "Jingle Bells" gets a bit of 1950s-style vocal group schmaltz layered on top of the jumpy arrangement, "We Three Kings" is done as an instrumental in a sort of New Orleans march, and they stay in the same city for "Winter Wonderland." "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" are taken at deliberately slow tempos, the latter getting the full vocal group intro about Dasher and Dancer, etc. You have to buy from Amazon to get the two bonus cuts, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" and "Auld Lang Syne." Not really part of the Mistletunes rockin' Christmas universe, but it's irreverent enough, even in its retro shoes, to give your holiday that extra celebratory kick.

Christmas Songs, Bad Religion (Epitaph)

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badrelig.jpgProbably don't have to introduce this band to punk fans, as they were one of the original California punk rock bands, and they've stayed mostly intact through the years to the present day, with the current incarnation featuring most of the original lineup. This 2013 album is just what you would expect of a punk rock band circa 1980; eight classic holiday carols and pop hits, none over 2:08, with the ninth song being a remixed version of their 1993 classic "American Jesus." Everything is relentlessly uptempo, as you would expect, and the only fly in the ointment is that there have been so many punk rock Christmas performances over time that there's not much new to be found in a collection of Christmas covers. Nevertheless, a band with as long a pedigree as Bad Religion demands attention; while the style may be familiar and maybe even duplicated, these guys do loud-fast punk as well as anybody ever and the performances are very good. Also, Bad Religion has long had strong group vocals as a cornerstone of their sound, and that remains true here, kicking off "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" with a cappella vocals and keeping the group vocal sound going throughout the album. I especially like the way "White Christmas" starts with the riff from "I Wanna Be Sedated," and the way-uptempo approach kind of suits "O Come O Come Emmanuel." All told, a nice job.

Punk Goes Christmas, various artists, (Fearless)

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punkgoxmas.jpgFearless Records is a label specializing in modern punk-pop bands featuring young performers, and they've done a whole series of these "Punk Goes..." theme discs, so here's their latest for 2013, right in our wheelhouse. Covers include Summer Set's poppy version of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," Man Overboard's faithful performance of the Kinks' "Father Christmas," Issues' thrashy attempt at N'Sync's "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays" and Yellowcard's strong performance of Coldplay's "Christmas Lights." William Beckett takes a contemporary hit radio approach to "Do You Hear What I Hear," the only classic carol on this collection. Originals dominate the playlist, with New Found Glory's "Nothing For Christmas," not the classic novelty but a romantic ballad; All Time Low give us the stomping "Fool's Holiday"; Real Friends sing of a spurned lover at Christmas in "I Had a Heart"; Crown the Empire slow things down with "There Will Be No Christmas"; "All I Can Give You" is "this Christmas song," a piano-led ballad by Jason Lancaster; The Ready Set go more poppy than punk with "I Don't Wanna Spend Another Christmas Without You"; and Set It Off give us the most punk take on the holiday as they sing about a holiday firebug in "This Christmas (I'll Burn It To the Ground)." I'm sure the whole pop-punk thing inspires schoolyard music arguments about authenticity and selling out and such, but all I really care about is where the music meets the ear, and I'm pretty sure rock fans will find at least a few gems among this collection, although hit radio fans will probably like this better.

dontwait.jpgThis is a 2009 collection of hit-radio-friendly Christmas music, heavy on pop-rock but also including some R'nB, all original tunes. It's widely available but not a lot is known about it, other than that the label, Banshee Music, is better known for doing sports marketing for music. Real rock fans may find this more little-sister-and-mom compatible, but since it appears to be all original tunes it's worthy of a look here. The title song by Blackshire is a strong modern R'nB workout while "My Favorite Holiday" by Rob Dz and D.L.O. is more of a hip-hop thing. Jason Phelps doubles up with a lightly ska'd up "I Love Christmas" and the ballad "Back Up the Chimney," Jessy Moss offers the very nice "What Christmas Means to Me," not the Stevie Wonder classic but not bad, RIck Monroe goes country on "Send Me Home For Christmas" and Altered Five go bluesy on "It's Christmas Time." Seven Williams gets two bites of this collection with the horn-led "Rocking Holiday" and the ballad "On Christmas Day," and our old pal Oh, Hush! has the hardest rocking number, a sort of Killers/Coldplay/U2 homage called "The Perfect Christmas." I'm thinking folks may be able to pick and choose some favorites from this collection, even if the whole thing isn't entirely in their wheelhouse.

Winter Loversland, Tamar Braxton (Epic)

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tamar.jpgToni's little sister Tamar jumps into the Christmas fray for 2013 with this short but satisfying disc of modern R'nB takes on the holiday. There aren't a lot of surprises here, but I like the way this is produced. For starters, how'd she get away with NOT recording "This Christmas" or "My Favorite Things?" Maybe she heard Mary J Blige already called dibs on them, but then so has nearly every other R'nB singer of the past 20 years. Not that she's eschewed familiarity here; she does right by "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Santa Baby" and "Sleigh Ride," for starters. She does a nice a capella medley of "Away In a Manger," singing solo, and then into a group-sung "Little Drummer Boy." The same approach is used on "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late.)" The arrangement of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is just different enough from so many other versions to warrant your attention. And I don't think I've heard a slow-jam version of the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling," which is also worthy of wider hearing. There's a straight acoustic guitar-backed "Silent Night" that puts the focus on Tamar's voice. There are also two originals, "No Gift," and the non-holiday "She Can Have You." Like most female R'nB singers, she can't resist the melisma, but she manages not to go off the rails hamming things up. All told, I like this better than A Mary Christmas.

SongSanta.jpgA sprightly pop-rock broadside against an exploitive 1 percenter Santa Claus, originally released back in 2012. It's a bit lengthy and detailed, which is the only criticism I have; the elves brandish the song's subtitle as though it's a subclause in their labor agreement. And Mrs. Claus is in favor of the union, which leads to the song's ultimate conclusion, which I otherwise won't spoil for you. Stop by Bandcamp and grab this. While there, check out Stephan's non-holiday work.

Psych-Out Christmas, various artists (Cleopatra)

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psychout.jpgThe folks at Cleopatra Records are celebrating Christmas 2013 with this brand-new collection of holiday tunes from the psychedelic side of the holiday ledger. Things kick off with Len Maxwell's "Christmas Monster Party (Intro)," a spoken word piece firmly rooted in the 50s-60s horror movie genre, and then we're off into a clattery, fuzzy "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)," the Beatles song as done by Elephant Stone. "Ticket To Ride" guitars kick off "It's Christmas Day" by the Cosmonauts, and Dark Horses perform "Jul Song," a slow number that I believe has some relationship to Norway, but it's all in English. Sleepy Sun rock up "What Child Is This," The Movements go for the drone with "Little Drummer Boy" and Candy Store go 60s pop with their version of "Frosty the Snowman." Dead Meadow take a Cramps-style approach to "Mele Kalikimaka," He 5 do an instrumental called "Jingle Bells" that is an apparent misnomer -- it's "Here Comes Santa Claus" by way of "For Your Love," The Vacant Lots cover Suicide's "No More Christmas Blues" and Sons Of Hippies put a psychedelic coating over the Zombies' "Time of the Season." Eli Cook covers the Freddy King classic blues "Christmas Tears," the Fuzztones do a faithful version of the Sonics' "Santa Claus," Psychic Ills put a Jesus & Mary Chain twist on "Run Rudolph Run," Quintron & Miss Pussycat offer a pair of exotica-influenced instrumentals, "Silent Night" and "Jingle Bell Rock," and Iggy Pop closes out the show with "White Christmas," although this is a different, more guitar-driven version than the one on the album An All-Star Tribute To Christmas. If you like your holidays grungy and psychedelic, you'll want this collection.

Christmas, Parenthetical Girls (self-issued)

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parenthet.jpgDon't know how this site managed to not notice Portland, Ore.'s own Parenthetical Girls, who have been releasing Christmas EPs for more than a decade, if you include their previous incarnation as Swastika Girls. Thoughtful bunch of experimental poppers that they are, they gathered up the first seven years' worth of holiday performances onto a 2010 album available at Bandcamp, 10 songs by their current name plus the full five-song Christmas output of Swastika Girls. The group produces a kind of lo-fi chamber pop that occasionally ranges into the noisier realms, which may be an acquired taste for some. Still, the songwriting is good, and the band exhibits a familiarity with the historic holiday music forms that they weave into their more modern sound. "A Christmas Memory" alludes to the Nativity, "Here's To Nostalgia" is a beautiful guitar piece whose lyrics are a bit impenetrable, "Wait Another Year" offers a lilting melody to carry their "weary voices," "If It's Time For Christmas" kicks off with chimes but adds grungy guitar and synth as it builds, and they go synth-pop, though at a very slow tempo, with the witty "Do You Fear What I Fear?" "Carol of the Season" is a vocal round that plays off, without copying, the more familiar "Carol of the Bells," and they break out the chimes again for "Festive Friends (Forever)." "Last Christmas Part II" is more of a holiday dirge for those with not so many Christmases in their future, "Flowers For Albion" picks up the tempo a bit with literary-sounding lyrics, and they do a nice obscure cover, Sparks' "Thank God It's Not Christmas," sounding reasonably close to the original. The Swastika Girls, being the group's earliest incarnation, is much lower-fi and borderline amateur in execution, but the songs are still kind of interesting. "When It's Time For Christmas" is rendered as a kind of sing-along, "Tinseltown" starts as a round and then breaks out the grungy guitars, "Over and Over Again, Forever" is a deliberately repetitive tribute to the holiday, "Somewhere In My Memory" is a bells-and-synth instrumental, and things wrap up with a doomy cover of "Last Christmas."

parsavexmas.jpgThis is the band's 2011 holiday EP, and they progressed in this short collection to a heavier sound than that exhibited on their earlier Christmas work, more like old-school synth bands like early Human League or Cabaret Voltaire in sound, though all are set to slow, deliberate tempos, evoking more melancholy than holiday celebration. "Christmas Past" is a plea for someone to come home for the holidays like they used to do, "Post-Christmas Time" is a melodic rumination about the rest of the winter season, and "There's Always Tomorrow" is a reminder to follow your dreams. Check it at Bandcamp.

parenrejoice.jpgFor 2012, this Portland, Ore. band stretched out on the holiday, with five songs, none under 4 minutes and one, "The Christmas Steps," pushing beyond 12 minutes. The experimental pop sound of the band is still biased toward melancholy, slow-tempo balladry on this collection. "Christmas Mourning" imitates a symphony orchestra behind a lyric of longing and loss at holiday time, "Rejoice! Rejoice!" is an uptempo number that offers an almost joyful lyric, "After the Holidays" is a balladic plea for companionship in the quiet time after the holiday celebrations, "The Salvation Army Bell" is a relationship song cast against the season, and the epic-length "The Christmas Steps" is a dour prose poem set against a portentous backing of synthesizers imitating orchestra and choral sounds. Check it out for yourself at Bandcamp.

"X Back in Xmas," Stratocruiser (self-issued)

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XinXmas.jpgStratocruiser, the North Carolina band that has provided us with Christmas song after Christmas song for the past several years, is back again for 2013 with another power-pop holiday tune. This one, a mid-tempo number liberally embroidered with double lead guitar harmonies, involves a faithless lover trying to get his girlfriend back for the holidays. Another good bit of work from this band; get it on Bandcamp. There's also a playlist that serves as a Christmas album with all the songs including this one.

toini.jpgThis goes all the way back to 2002, sorry I missed it for all these years. This is a Norwegian band specializing in the sounds of American pop and rock music of the 1950s and 60s with the kind of reverence only a European band can exhibit. The 14 songs are mostly covers, kicking off with a lovely 50s take on the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight)" and taking in period-faithful versions of "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," "Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me," "Merry Merry Christmas Baby,", "Run Rudolph Run," "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," "Santa Baby," and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." "Pretty Paper" gets a slow New Orleans march arrangement. Other songs, probably originals though I couldn't find any credits, include another trip to New Orleans via Jamaica with "Christmas Day," the merengue-flavored "Christmas In July," the Tennessee Two tribute "Dreams Come True," the rockabilly "Christmas Tale" and the closing shuffle "The Moon's Blue Too." Still available from Amazon.
hothotheat.jpgSomehow missed this 2005 single from these guys, a nice upbeat rocking ode to a West Coast holiday. One that's a good bit farther south (California) than their British Columbia home town, but what the heck, we're all about the upbeat rock and the sunshine here, right?
Connex.jpgThis band has been on the site previously with their single of "Rock 'n Roll Christmas" and a cover of "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)." For 2013 they're back with another winner, a celebratory slice of power pop marking the holiday, sleigh bells complementing the crunchy electric guitars and flashy drum work. Get it free from Bandcamp. Oh look, there's a video:

rocksea4.jpgThe 2013 entry by this long-running (formerly 12 Bands of Christmas) charity outreach project is now available from Bandcamp (and Amazon, click the cover art for CD or download). Charities receiving aid from this album are the Pediatric Brain Tumor Program at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital, Camp Sunshine, Anchorage Children's Home and Rock & Role Model. Original tunes include Melodime's "December," a strong pop-rocker; Stroke 9's U2-ish "Misfit Elf," my pick for single from this collection, about an elf who doesn't quite get with the program; Paul Pfau's "It's Not Christmas," a faux-lounge love song for the holiday; "Back Home For the Holidays" by Paris Luna, a 60s-inspired pop-rocker; and "Be My Electric Blanket" by Noel Stephen & the Darlings, a love ballad by a guy in search of warmth wherever he can find it. Other tunes include Matthew Perryman Jones and Hannah Miller doing the usual take on "Baby It's Cold Outside," the Well Reds doing the same on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Jessica Campbell taking a folk-rock tack to "O Little Town of Bethlehem," with a more traditional folk version of "Lo' He Comes To Us" from Besides Daniel and "In the Bleak Midwinter" from The Hot Hearts, John Taglieri does an acoustic with percussion take on "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," Fred LeBlanc gives us a live acoustic take on "Jingle Bells," and Diane Durrett and Gareth Asher provide the typical reverent take on "O Holy Night." Another good collection in this series, but if you don't catch it all, make sure to grab "Misfit Elf."

yingyang.jpgFrom 2008, the guys who gave us "Whistle While You Twurk" (in 2000, for all you folks who just discovered "twirking" this year) popped out this hip-hop nod to the holiday. Just four songs, "Sleigh Ride," "Deck Da Club," "Carol of Da Belz" and "This Christmas," with the tested hip-hop template of starting out with the song and then breaking out to rap over the changes. (Tagged "Explicit" for those of you who need to know such things.) Check it out for a change of pace.

A coincidence of note around these parts is that three rock performers who came to our attention in the late 70s-early 80s have long been tipped for new Christmas music, but based on my most recent attempts to shake them loose, they don't appear to have release dates for 2013 pencilled in. Meat Loaf's Wikipedia page states he has an album titled "Hot Holidays" coming, but I've been unable to find a source with a release date, and Mr. Loaf's website and Facebook page have nothing about it. Similarly, Pat Benatar, who has a couple of Christmas singles in her past, is supposed to have a full album coming, but it, too, does not look likely for this year either, with no info forthcoming at the artist's website. A recent interview with Pat states that the album is more her hubby Neil Geraldo's project and that she is only slated to sing on two cuts of the proposed album. That leaves Patty Smyth of Scandal, best known for the hit single/video "Goodbye To You" from the early MTV days. She did put out a single of "Silent Night" in 2011, which was used in an episode of "NCIS" that year, and in 2012 she put up a stream of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." But there's nothing further about a full album; so far "Silent Night" is the only song available to buy, and then only from her website. If anything changes, of course, we'll get you the news.
twinklejdmc.jpgThis Oklahoma roots-rocker, previously known for "North Side Girl," his rockabilly-flavored hit from a couple of years ago, keeps that sound alive with this 2012 holiday single. It's his girlfriend that's keeping those lights twinkling, don'tcha know, but the effervescent old-school rock 'n roll backing track sure contributes. Just two minutes long, better drop everything when this comes on, because if you blink you'll miss it.

A Mary Christmas, Mary J Blige (Verve)

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maryblige.jpgOne of the biggest R'nB divas of the 90s and 00s finally gets on the Christmas tip for 2013. If you're a Mary fan, you'll be right on top of this. The rest of us will weigh whether we really want yet another modern R'nB Christmas album, as there are absolutely no surprises; it's mostly slow-tempo orchestral balladry showcasing her still-superior voice, which is what the general market expects. Like many R'nB albums, she covers Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," one of the few uptempo highlights here, and makes a ballad out of "My Favorite Things." She goes for the Francophone market with "Petit Papa Noel" and does the same for the Univision audience with "Noche De Paz (Silent Night)," with some help from Marc Anthony. Guests step in for other tunes as well, including Chris Botti and Barbara Streisand on "When You Wish Upon a Star," Jessie J on "Do You Hear What I Hear," and the Clark Sisters on "The First Noel." Mary also sings "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," an uptempo jazz orchestra take on "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the album opener "Little Drummer Boy" and a straight ballad take on "Mary, Did You Know." A well-made album that will satisfy casual listeners, though not much fun for Mistletunes readers.

nighthanukkah.jpgThis came out in 2012, and it's an interesting bit of historical analysis cast as a double-disc set in which one disc is Hanukkah and the other is Christmas. The Idelsohn Society is a volunteer historical group that studies Jewish history via music, and they've done a very nice job of presenting it, although the heavy lifting was done in the extensive annotation, which includes an essay by Greil Marcus among others. There aren't any big surprises in the song selections, which cut across all pop genres on the Christmas disc, and of course every Christmas song was performed and written by Jewish artists. The Hanukkah disc has very little pop sensibility, although Woody Guthrie's "Hanukkah Dance" is here as well as Don McLean's "Dreidel," the latter reprised by Luther Dickinson, Jeremiah Lockwood and Ethan Miller in an almost soundalike arrangement for some reason. Most of the rest is more traditional Hanukkah music. The Christmas disc has very little rock, but they did manage to get the Ramones and Bob Dylan in, and Lou Reed delivers a spoken holiday greeting. Theo Bikel performs the folky "Sweetest Dreams Be Thine" and a comedy piece "The Problem" directly addresses the competition between the two holidays. The rest is old-school pop music by Mel Torme, Dinah Shore, Benny Goodman, Danny Kaye, Eddie Cantor, Eddie Fisher, The Ames Brothers, Mitch Miller and that noted klezmer band Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I bring this to your attention not because it provides a source for your mix discs, but because it's an interesting look at the two holidays together. (Although in 2013 Hanukkah actually starts on Thanksgiving....) The art links to an Amazon download, but you may wish to check the society's site if you're interested in all the annotation or the hardcopy version.

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