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November 2014 Archives

All Is Bright, various artists (Amazon Prime)

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The Internet-driven evolution of the music business has brought us to a point where not just physical media, but even various artists' collections are giving way to groupings of songs put together by people other than those who work for record companies. (Which I should know about, given my history of mix discs, right?) Combine that with Amazon's push into streaming music, which you get as part of your Amazon Prime subscription, and we get this 2014 playlist curated by Jeff Bezos' minions. (As opposed to "Despicable Me's" minions.) Many of these tunes are new in 2014, and many are previously released, but as I haven't seen them anywhere but in this playlist, I'm simply going to highlight a few tunes from here you'll want to know about. Of course, you can click through and see the full two-hour playlist -- or listen, if you're an Amazon Prime customer. The star of this particular playlist is Liz Phair's "Ho Ho Ho," a snarky pop-rocker that hits all the possible lowlights of an average person's holiday without entirely kicking Christmas to the curb. Anna Nalick builds from the end of summer "Till the End of the Year (Bye Buy By)," a nicely poppy ode to holiday preparations, Mia Doi Todd takes the Kate Bush approach to the antique "Cherry Tree Carol," Emi Meyer offers the love song "Everything This Christmas," and Sinclair has a bouncy original in "This Christmas," not the Donny Hathaway song but a good one nevertheless. Jenn Bostic gives us the ballad "Light a Candle," Selena Garcia's "Hold Up Holidays" is a dirge-y gospel number, Ruby the RabbitFoot eschews mistletoe for a kiss "Under Any Limb," Jesse Baylin watches the "Purple Snowflakes" and Kelly Hogan laments a "Blue Snowfall." Lots of covers, of course, Hero Fisher taking the almost ethereal tack for "Pretty Paper," Laura Gibson slowing down "Wonderful Christmastime," Shelby Earl making a conventional rocker out of "We Three Kings," Lucinda Williams going jazzy on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Heartless Bastards slow "White Christmas" to a crawl and Houndmouth start out depressed on "Blue Christmas," but they pick things up to an almost poppy tempo. Yoko Ono and Flaming Lips perform "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," Ladyhawke does a nice turn on Slade's "Merry Xmas Everyone," Beth Orton does Joni Mitchell's "River" and Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas give us "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas."
Ben's an indie singer-songwriter from West Chester, in the distant suburbs of Philadelphia, and while I just discovered him with Vol. 4, he's released consecutive holiday singles starting in 2011 with Vol. 1. That single features the tongue-in-cheek ballad "I Got a New Tattoo For Christmas" and the end of year lament "Same Old New Year." 2012's Vol. 2 goes uptempo with "Son, You Should Come Home For Christmas," a Ben Folds-styled lament in which the son is hoped to provide a distraction for a mom and dad bored with each other, and back downtempo for "Black Friday," a poke at the annual retail holiday that also addresses a troubled relationship. For 2013's Vol. 3, "Santa's All In" is a driving rocker in which Santa hits the casinos, and "Christmas Down the Shore" is a piano waltz about a holiday on the sand. Just out is 2014's Vol. 4, in which bad behavior leads to "Coal For Christmas," and "Feast of Steven" is almost a Band-like ode to what some folks call Boxing Day. 

Cold Music, Ethan Luck (self-issued)

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This Nashville singer straddles folk and rock on this 2014 single, starting with a nicely rocked-up "Go Tell It On the Mountain" and finishing up with a little spaghetti western-surf influence on "We Three Kings." Always happy to find someone from Nashville playing rock and not exaggerating the Southern accent. Grab this from Noisetrade and leave a tip, as Ethan promises more in future Christmas seasons.
The Old 97s guy duets with a good girl singer on this fine 2014 Americana song that winks at the holiday while the singers express love for each other. A nice sprightly melody sprinkled with jingle bells. Appears to only be available at Noisetrade, free or leave a tip.
Be careful what you ask for. I've noted in the last couple of years that the Internet seems to have done a number on novelty recordings, in that any idiot with a GoPro can post something silly on YouTube, making it almost pointless for people to sit down and come up with something silly for general consumption -- and possibly some royalties down the line. Well, what the Internet takes away, corporate America finds a way to give back in a half-assed way. Major Web meme Grumpy Cat is now a corporation, which makes it possible for a movie studio to make a movie like this one (for Lifetime) and for there to be an official soundtrack to it. Haven't seen the movie, probably won't go out of my way, but I will address the soundtrack. There's an assortment of previously released tunes like Pomplamoose's "Up On the Housetop," Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's "All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)," Brian Setzer's "Jingle Bells," KT Tunstall's "Sleigh Ride" and Bird and the Bee's "Carol of the Bells." But there are a few good songs not available anywhere, starting with what would be an obvious single, "It's Hard To Be a Cat at Christmas" by Cats Across America. Don't worry, it's no Jingle Cats thing, but a strong pop-rocker. Shaprece's "Worst Time of Year" is a nice funky poke at the holiday, Natalie Taylor's "Holiday Bells" is a busy little holiday shuffle, and "Christmas Honey" by Joy Follows is a not-bad pop tune. Johnny Reid gets a little gospel into "White Christmas," Chris Mann goes all Michael Buble on "Deck the Halls," and "A Very Grumpy Christmas" by House of Breaking Glass is just Grumpy Cat doing the Grinch. And to spare you the need of searching for them on YouTube whenever you want them, the music from the Nyan Cat video and the Keyboard Cat video are part of this soundtrack too. Certain tracks are only downloadable if you buy the full album, so be warned.
korgis.jpgJust recently stumbled on this, from the long-running pop-rock band's 2005 album Something About the Korgis and recently repackaged on the 2012 The Korgis Kollection. It's a sweet pop-rock ballad with the usual holiday pleasantries and plenty of chimes to evoke the season.

The creator of last year's drop-the-mic classic "No Lou This Christmas" rolled up all of the Christmas tunes he's recorded over the years since 1983 (hence the title) for a formal album in 2014 that yes, includes "Lou" and 14 other tunes from his fine, fine, supafine career. And Tom, who doubles as major domo of the Green Monkey label, is donating profits from this to MusicCares to boot. You've already been introduced to "Lou," so we'll move on to album opener "It's Christmas (And I'm Jolly), a fun tune that manages to sound like music hall music and Wild Man Fischer at the same time. "Jingle Bell Ska" is exactly as advertised, "It's a White Mule Christmas" is a folk blues stomp, "Christmas (It's Around the Corner)" is a mellow piano-and-organ ode to anticipation, and "Propane Santa" is a slice-of-life story song about Santa buying, well, propane, performed as a duet with an unidentified female singer. "Christmas Time For Sailors" is an excellent holiday excuse to sing (talk) like a pirate, "Hot Dog! It's Christmas" is another duet, this one celebrating the holiday to a bit of fake jazz backing, Dyer goes busking with "Because It's Christmas" and "It's Snowing in Seattle" liberates a few lines from the old favorite "Visit From St. Nicholas" for a localized tribute to the singer's hometown. A bit of cracked country music, old school variety, is the setting for "The Christmas Rosie Came To Town," and Dyer makes his own song called "Christmas Time Is Here," with a strong harmonized chorus and hand claps carrying the rhythm. All the songs are originals except for Dyer's own takes on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Angels We Have Heard On High." As you might expect from a 30-year spread of recordings, some things sound a bit more polished than others, and the whole thing has an indie rock vibe, but there's plenty of rock and roll attitude here, a strong sense of humor and an affinity for the holiday that makes it a down-to-earth pleasure to listen to.

A Johnnyswim Christmas, Johnnyswim (Big Picnic)

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This Nashville singer-songwriter duo has been on the upswing since joining together in 2005, even if they change the reason behind their name every time somebody asks them. Don't let the hometown fool you, they're more poppy and folky than country. This 2014 EP kicks off with what I believe is an original, "Christmas Day," a nice pop acoustic ballad with their trademark harmony. The rest of the EP is covers, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" having a nicely updated Americana-pop arrangement, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" emphasizing the "Merry" rather than the melancholy of the earliest versions, an epic-length version of "O Come All Ye Faithful" that sounds like something a Christian band might do, and they go out all wistful with "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve." For some reason there's a snippet of "Christmas Time Is Here" that fades out before the vocal can come in. Mellow is the watchword on this one, but this might get you interested in the pair's year-round work.

Record Store Day does Xmas

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"Jingle Bell Rock," the long-awaited documentary about Christmas music obsessives, is out on DVD for Record Store Day, the Black Friday edition. Presumably it will be available everywhere eventually, but go support your local record store and grab it there. Among the other RSD vinyl issues of interest to Christmas freaks is "Imagene Peise -- Atlas Eets Christmas," a Flaming Lips compilation originally snuck out in 2007 on CD and now out for 2014 on vinyl for the first time. No downloads, although Yoko Ono joins the Lips for "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," which is not on this compilation but is downloadable. Seth McFarlane of "Family Guy" fame has a vinyl version of this year's "Holiday For Swing," which is the only mention you'll see of it here because swing. There are also vinyl issues of Joey Ramone's "Christmas Spirit ... In My House" and Run DMC's "Christmas In Hollis," the Phil Spector Christmas Album and This Warm December Vol. 1, Wham's "Last Christmas," and Ben Kweller's 2014 song "It Ain't Christmas Yet," available only on vinyl, no download.

Metal Kalikimaka, Tin Idols (self-issued)

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Yes, we know there's been plenty of heavy metal Christmas in the past, and of course it's been featured here at Mistletunes. If you looked at the title and said, here's a heavy metal band from Hawaii making a Christmas album for 2014, go to the head of the class. They just came out of an IndieGoGo fundraising round to get this out in time for Christmas, and if you're afraid of having an incomplete collection of metal Christmas tunes, you need to have this. It's 16 covers of favorite holiday tunes from the antique and pop realms plus one original, the extra-fast-tempo "Christmas Without You." The antique carols like "We Three Kings," "O Come O Come Emanuel," "Hark The Herald Angels Sing," "Joy To the World" and "Do You Hear What I Hear" sound about the way you'd expect, but you don't often hear a guitar freakout leading into "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," a waltz of martial drums backing "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," or harmony lead guitars scorching their way into "Baby It's Cold Outside." They didn't really touch the Pretenders' "2,000 Miles" except to hammer the beats and crunch up the guitars a bit, and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" reveals that Phil Spector was heavy metal before there was such a thing. As folks in the metal realm are really into virtuosity, it's no surprise this collection sounds really good, especially for an indie production. (Of course, there really aren't any major labels to support old-school metal anymore, right?) If you dug this, the same cast of characters preceded this album with a full-length galvanized version of "Jesus Christ Superstar."

smalltown2.jpgThe Christian rock band just came off a successful Pledge Music campaign to fund this 2014 album, which is actually their second Christmas album. Unsurprisingly, they resolutely ignore anything to do with the holiday that's secular; Festivus fans will have to look elsewhere for their odes to Black Friday or giant outdoor light displays. Leaving that aside, Smalltown Poets qualifies as a full-fledged power pop ensemble -- just go to their original title song, a catchy, crunchy ode to the holiday that's heavy on all the holiday verities. "This Day in Bethlehem" appears to be original, at least I can't find any reference to it anywhere but on this album, and it's a nice "Drummer Boy" inspired holiday dirge. "Patapan" is an antique carol that gets a modern rock treatment, and it looks like "Christmas Lullaby" might be another original, as there are so many songs with that title I couldn't find a match. The rest of the album is more familiar antique carols, highlighted with a boisterous "Wassail Song," an almost U2-like approach to "Angels From the Realms of Glory" and "Wenceslas," an a cappella take on "Children Go Where I Send Thee," and "Merrily On High" makes a modern hoedown of the "Ding Dong" song. A quiet "Cantus Sacrum Nocti" and "Auld Lang Syne" bookend the album. This album is a great way to rock in your season.

hillsong.jpgIf you really needed a version of "The First Noel" that blends in perfectly with the iTunes Top 10 chart, this bunch of Australian Christian youth ministry pop singers has just what you need for 2014. A little too on the nose for me, but that beat is relentless and will add an energy drink jolt to your holiday playlist.

This is new for 2014, and Dustin, solo artist, member of Thrice and worship leader, pops in with his first new holiday stuff since This Good Night Is Still Everywhere, a nicely rocked-up version of the ancient carol. Good stuff.

A Christmas Gift For..., The Connection (Rum Bar)

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We've had this power pop band on the site previously for a couple of strong rocking Christmas singles, and now they've expanded their work into a full album for 2014. The previous singles, "Christmas Time Again" and "Rock 'n Roll Christmas" backed with "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" are part of the playlist, and they add the glam-rock sounding opener "Money, Honey, Baby," the poppier "I Feel Fine (It's Christmas Time)," the midtempo "Christmas Bells Are Ringing," which almost has the feel of one of the Ramones' slower songs, and the driving rocker "West Coast," which celebrates "the best coast" for a holiday. Wrapping things up are "Better Late Than Never," a hard-rock ode to postponing the holiday, and "Poor Boy," a folky blues lament about being poor on the holiday and the healing power of rock 'n roll. This is how you rock 'n roll the Christmas season.

The Wilson sisters have made their bonafides in the Christmas market before with the Lovemongers Christmas side project (which was subsequently repackaged as a Heart album) and for 2014 they're back in a holiday way with a live album/DVD of a 2013 Christmas concert with a number of special guests. Opening up with Joni Mitchell's "River" in a more album-rock band arrangement than is normally heard, they swing into Elton John's "Seasons" and bring out Shawn Colvin with the lullaby "Rocking" and Jars of Clay's "Love Came Down at Christmas." Pat Monahan from Train guests on a version of "Please Come Home For Christmas," Sammy Hagar joins up for "Santa's Going South" and "All We Need Is an Island," Richard Marx adds his voice to the Welsh lullabye "All Through the Night," the sisters take on Nilsson's "Remember (Christmas)" and the whole cast goes out with Bob Dylan's "Ring Them Bells." Oh, and as a crowdpleaser we get non-holiday, but still festive, versions of "Barracuda," "Even It Up" and "Stairway to Heaven." This appears to have been a fine classic rock night out on the town, and the Wilsons deserve some credit for original thinking for some of these song choices. If you can do without the video disc, the audio can be downloaded, of course.

bowlsoup.jpgThis comic pop-punk band, probably best known for their hit "1985," seems to be sneaking this out for 2010; there's only the slightest mention of it on their MySpace page. The boys threw together eight familiar holiday songs, heavy on the punk and light on the comedy, extending from such standards as "Frosty the Snowman" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" to rock favorites like the Kinks' "Father Christmas" and the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight)" and the nearly obligatory assault on Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You." What appears to be an original (UPDATE: No it isn't, it's a Merle Haggard song, thanks Stubby) is "Bobby Wants a Puppy Dog For Christmas," a fairly straightforward plea for a particular gift. Also on this collection are "Feliz Navidad," starting off with the obligatory off-key kid vocals, plus "We're a Couple of Misfits" and "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy." Not a bad collection, and not a slow tune in the bunch. FURTHER UPDATE: Somehow missed out on Vol. 2 for 2011. Inexcusable, since Vol. 2 is where the title song resides. They broke out the songwriting pen for this one, along with three others, "Even Santa Needs a Break Sometimes," "I Miss You Most on Christmas," and "The Corner Store on Christmas." The collection wraps up with "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," all at breakneck pop-punk speed. If you are even slower than me, never fear; the band mashed the two together for subsequent releases, and I've updated the Amazon link so you can download the whole mess.
This is a small-scale supergroup featuring Americana artists Eleni Mandell, Becky Stark, Inara George and Alex Lilly, and they've had a couple of previous releases before coming together for this 2014 holiday project. I had a bit of trepidation because I suspected the country influence would reign, and I'm not entirely wrong about that; the overall vibe is more of slavishly recreated 1950s pop music with a Southern accent, very much like the Secret Sisters. This describes well their renditions of classics like "Jingle Bells," "Little Drummer Boy" and "Silver Bells." Nevertheless, there are some tunes here worthy of attention among the nine originals. "Christmas in California" is a nicely made pastiche of Beach Boys references, "Skip the Sugar (Good Girl)" lays the Americana harmonies over a gentle reggae beat, "Neon Chinese Christmas Eve" is a gentle recitation of the popular social trope about Jews spending Christmas in Chinese restaurants, "Merry Happy Christmas" evokes a bit of melancholia in the season and "Hanukkah" goes back to the Americana well, though a clarinet adds a jazzy touch. Maybe too mellow for the Mistletunes regulars, but some good songwriting makes it worth a listen.
One of the reasons this site exists is that, sometimes, even musicians and entertainers themselves miss out on what their audiences will find entertaining. Paul Simon, Steve Martin and Billy Joel, sometime in the early 1980s, dashed off this bit of PG-13 rated whimsey in a recording studio after a liquid dinner and never looked back on it. Someone dusted it off and uploaded it to YouTube, and now some folks have a new Christmas tradition. The full story is here (it originated with American Airlines' in-flight magazine, but the story is broken up in five parts and is hard to link to) and the song is below.

This St. Louis band, an ad hoc grouping of people who perform holiday shows in their home town, put out a Christmas album in 2009 and are back in the fray for 2014 with another album of holiday goodies. "Christmas Isn't Like Any Day" opens things promisingly with an attempt at a Phil Spector anthem filtered through a Midwestern/Americana influence, followed by a parody take on the jazzy Jon Hendricks tune "Gimme That Wine" as "Gimme That Twine," complete with an exhortation that "It's Twine Time!" to open the tune. The group goes to the soul well with the ballad "Christmas Time (Come On Over)" and the funkier "Soul of Christmas," while "A Christmas Snowfall" is a ballad in which the singer goes to church to find Christmas spirit, a sort of holiday second to "Walking In Memphis," and "Snowbound Girl," another ballad, plows some of the same sidewalks. "Sick Again" is a short tear-jerker in which the singer's condition is self-inflicted. The "coming home for Christmas" song on this album is the pop-rocker "Christmas at the Super 8," and "Merry Christmas Everyone" tips a hat to the standard Christmas verities. The group tries (and succeeds) on some less-heard covers as well, like Big Dee & Little Eva's "I Wish You a Merry Christmas," Marvin Gaye's "Purple Snowflakes," and Stackridge's "North St. Grande," a soldier's holiday lament. The combination of these musicians' original songs, unique covers and community spirit make this album worth adding to your holiday collection.

Kozelek, member of such bands as Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon who also works solo and has an acting career to boot, is a rather idiosyncratic performer, having done folky reinterpretations of AC/DC tunes and indie reinterpretations of John Denver among many other projects. For his first Christmas album in 2014, he's done what for him is a straightforward acoustic folk rendition of mostly standard Christmas carols, featuring his baritone vocals with occasional harmonies. No rhythm section hijinks or reimagined arrangements here, just very sincere takes on all these familiar songs. He departs from the antique repertoire in his choices of Chrissy Hynde's "2000 Miles," Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas," "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," and "Christmas Time Is Here," the "Peanuts" classic, including the Charlie Brown & Linus extended rap in the middle about being depressed at Christmas. It's pretty much the only departure from the form of a folk Christmas album, well done on its own terms but not much in the way of rock or rock attitude. Historical note: A Kozelek recording from 2001, White Christmas Live, is not actually a Christmas collection, but consists of Kozelek's solo and band songs. Another album from 2012, Little Drummer Boy, only features an ethereal take on that song in the way of Christmas music; the rest is non-holiday.
This is a recording I knew about from the time I started Mistletunes back in 1997, but I never saw a copy of this 1995 EP from that day until this one. I finally stumbled over it in the iTunes Store recently, and of course you can click to grab it from Amazon. Apparently, the group's pianist/vocalist Beth Sorrentino retained the rights and has reissued it under the combined monicker "Suddenly, Tammy! & Beth Sorrentino." The band originated in Lancaster, PA in the 1990s and after some indie singles was signed to Warner Bros., which issued the original EP. Sprightly takes of "Linus & Lucy" and "Plant the Halls," substitute "Deck" for "Plant," rock out nicely, the original "Snowman" is a melancholy ballad with a touch of toy piano, "There In My Head" is another ballad in a slow-motion sort of Tori Amos arrangement, "Whole Lotta Girl" is a strong uptempo pop-rocker, although I can't make out enough of the lyrics to suss the Christmas connection, "Merry" is a yearning solo piano ballad, and things wrap up with "Rock 'n Roll With Santa Claus," a nice bit of hard rocking nonsense quoting favorite old Christmas sayings. The downloadable modern version adds three non-holiday songs. According to a fan-run band site that is still up, "Snowman," "Whole Lotta Girl" and "Merry" were on other Suddenly, Tammy! albums, one of which was never released.

This is the third all-Christmas album by this Cincinnati-based husband-wife duo, and like the previous two it's an eclectic grouping of songs based in the holiday season though not necessarily always about Christmas. Unlike the past two albums, the duo didn't write all of the songs; "Bethlehem" and "Snowbirds" are originals by other musicians who play on the album and there's one cover, Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December," a straight country take that's also appropriate alongside the other songs here. The title song is a twangy take on traveling to see the family, "Another Christmas" is a folky strum that addresses one person's doubts about the big questions framed against Christmas, topped off with a quote of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and then the same emotions become bleaker with "My Father's Body." "First Snowfall" features the duo harmonizing over some finely-drawn observations about the phenomenon in the title, and "Let It Fall" serves as a comment about what to do about that "First Snowfall." "Snowbirds" celebrates the holiday in the sunnier climes, although the tone of the song sets up a melancholy contrast to the lyrics. "Bethlehem" is a revisitation and answer song to "O Little Town of Bethlehem," which is something the group had previously done on the Snow Angels album. "New Year's Song," likewise, contrasts happy lyrics and downbeat music. All told, if you've heard the previous two Christmas albums by this act, there aren't a lot of surprises here, but that's because their approach to a happy holiday with mixed emotions applies to just about everybody.

Year-Round Sounds, The Hipwaders (self-issued)

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hipwade2.jpgWe've had The Hipwaders on the site before. They're a kid-rock, family-friendly band, but we had good words for their previous Christmas album. This new album for 2014 isn't strictly a Christmas album, as the title might tip you, but there's two Christmas songs, a nice uptempo "Here Comes Santa Claus" and a rocked-out version of Buck Owens' "A Very Merry Christmas." Both are worth your attention. The rest of the album is in keeping with our previous assessment that they're kid-friendly and relentlessly upbeat, just not Christmas upbeat.

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