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December 2014 Archives

"New Year's Eve," MØ (YouTube)

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No, I can't pronounce the artist's name, and I don't care. This 2014 year-ender is pretty neat, certainly up-to-the-minute in terms of production and instrumentation. And the lyric, emphasizing hope and anticipation, manages to be melancholy and upbeat at the same time. Haven't found any independent audio so far, but I'll update if I do. UPDATE: Grab it from Soundcloud. Thanks again, Stubby.

Festivus 2, various artists (Highline)

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The Highline label previously had a very good holiday compilation with the first Festivus, and in 2013 they took another crack at the holiday with this 16-song collection, which I've had for a while but has slipped through my fingers until now. Piney Gir is here with the poppy "It's Christmas," Dodgy tugs at the heart strings with "Christmas at the Foodbank," Red Pony Clock puts "Ho Ho Hos Before Hos" and Anthony Elvin offers the acoustic ballad "My Heart Is As Pure As the Snow." Glam Chops asserts that "Baby Jesus Was the First Glam Rocker," and Ulysses rocks out in a similar genre on "I Wish You a Merry Christmas." Left With Pictures has a suspenseful take on "The Coldest Night" and Mi Mye has a midtempo rocker with the unlikely title "Don't Freak Out On Me." Darling BOY's bouncy "Thank God It's Christmas" is an original, not the Queen tune, and "One Christmas Wish" by The Priscillas is a driving female-voice-led rocker. Best band name on this collection is Dennis Hopper Choppers, who do "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Lilys goes kind of 70s power pop with "Good King Wenceslas," Western Low have a spacey take on "Silent Night," Francis Macdonald and Anna Sheard offer the chant-oriented original "Silver Bells Sing Their Chime," and Alexander's Festival Hall offer an original take on the acoustic rocker "Three Kings." Another great collection from Highline.
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The Christmas Jug Band is composed of Dan Hicks, he of the Hot Licks, and musicians culled from his immediate Bay Area musical orbit and a bunch of guests including such folks as Maria Muldaur, Norton Buffalo and Angela Strehli. They have had five albums of parody Christmas songs since approximately 1986, and this 2014 anthology is 17 of the songs from those albums plus two bonus cuts, "Santa Claus Is My Main Man" and "I'm Dreaming of a Wet Christmas." If folk-blues-swing with a bit of rock mixed in is your thing, then so is the Christmas Jug Band. Among the past titles featured here are "Somebody Stole My Santa Claus Suit," "Santa Lost a Ho," "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas," "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" and "Santa Claus Want Some Lovin'." More has been said about their past work on this very site.

A little something for you "Orange Is the New Black" fans out there. Once again, Merry Christmas.

 

A few Christmas stragglers

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  • JoeXmas14.jpgJoe Bonemassa dropped a cover of "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" that's free to download from his site. (It'll cost you your e-mail address.) While retracing my steps to provide the link, I discovered there's also another one, "Lonesome Christmas." There was a free download last year as well.
  • Will Butler from Arcade Fire put an original Christmas song, "Christmas 2014," up on Soundcloud for streaming. It's a basic vocal over piano, but there's enough of a song there for a full band treatment, in my humble opinion (nudge, nudge).
  • Harry Shearer and Judith Owen visited The Onion's A.V. Club to do a jazzy take on the Spinal Tap classic, "Christmas With the Devil." Love Harry's bass ukelele, by the way.
  • Landlady is what Paste Magazine calls "a Brooklyn collective" that plays music and recently did a benefit holiday concert for the Bushwick School of Music, from which is derived this stream of their version of "Please Come Home For Christmas." Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso is among the backing vocalists.
  • WXPN-FM in Philadelphia dug up a couple of Christmas gems from the Dead Milkmen. You can download "All I Want For Christmas Is a Job," but you'll have to settle for the video of "Christmas Party," which was apparently only on a cassette-only album from the 80s.


"Christmas Is Awesome," The Aquabats (YouTube)

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I had no idea this show even existed, let alone that it's by the creators of "Yo Gabba Gabba" or that it's on Discovery Family. (The only Discovery channel I bother with ever since they went all-reality all the time is Velocity, because I like cars.) Nevertheless, awesome is the right word for this rocked-out possible new Christmas classic, and any reservations about kid-rock are punted into the cheap seats by simply skipping the video portion. It appears to have dropped yesterday, according to the YouTube page. No separate audio, at this time anyway.

 
Oh heck, one more for the road:

Once again it's time to wish everybody a merry Christmas as the blog hits the season climax. There will be posts going forward, but with the holidays being the holidays the rate of posting will start tapering off. Not too quickly; don't want to get the bends. Anyway, I appreciate hearing from listeners, readers, band members, everybody who responds to the little bit of scholarship I place in this tiny corner of the Inter-Tubes, and best wishes and a great new year to you all. At this point, I will give my nod to this viral sensation featuring an 11-year-old Bjork at Christmas time, and for a little something extra, Frank Sidebottom's Christmas video. Frank was actually the late Chris Sievey, minus the plaster head, who passed on in the year 2010, and before creating Frank was in a band called The Freshies, known mainly in England for such singles as "I Can't Get Bouncing Babies (By the Teardrop Explodes)" and "I'm In Love With The Girl On The Manchester Virgin Megastore Check-out Desk." His story inspired a recent movie starring Michael Fassbender, who actually portrayed Frank while playing in a band with Maggie Gyllenhaal on "The Colbert Report." Oh, I've gone on too long, here's the video.

 
grandaddy.jpgJason Lytle of Grandaddy is producing Band of Horses' next album, and while they're wrapping that up, the two bands collaborated on this 2014 single, which is a slow acoustic song with a bit of orchestral backing. Lyrically there's not much going on here, the singer asking someone to hang an ornament on their tree, the rest is all mood. Still, it's an effectively emotional performance that fans of both bands will want and is worth the time of listeners everywhere.

Naughty & Nice, Killer Bangs (self-issued)

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Glam-rock is back, says this young Philadelphia band, at least judging by "Christmas Kiss," the leadoff track of this 2014 holiday EP, in which they declare their intentions to be "a rock 'n roll Santa" bringing a Christmas of that exact variety. "Peace & Joy" has a bit of a Slade shout-along feel, and "My Tree" is more of a mid-70s fast hard rock rhythm, in which I think they're saying "I smoke my Christmas tree" in the second verse. Is that what the kids are doing nowadays? Whatever, this EP is exactly 10 minutes worth of solid rock 'n roll holiday fun. Buy it from Bandcamp.

A Neon Christmas, The Neon Ambience (7Core)

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This is two guys who build what they call "sonic landscapes," with influences from Eno to Radiohead to Sigur Ros, and they've created this 2014 EP with six renditions of popular carols, all instrumentals, that have that modern progressive feel without losing the familiarity of the chosen songs. Interesting slow-tempo takes on "Ding Dong Merrily On High," "We Three Kings" and "Joy to the World," a spacy stop-rhythm version of "O Come All Ye Faithful," and uptempo versions of "Little Drummer Boy" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Good soundtrack choices for your Christmas videos. They're giving it away free on Noisetrade.

"Christmas Star," Ike Reilly (self-issued)

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Ike's been plugging away at this singer-songwriter thing for more than a decade, and I just stumbled over this at Noisetrade. I think it's new for 2014, but neither Noisetrade nor his website have any info. It's a nice shuffling acoustic tune with celeste accents about following the subject of the title and basking in its light. Ike hopes you'll like it enough to sample his upcoming album that's also being teased on Noisetrade.

"Father Christmas," Soft Peaks (self-issued)

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This bunch from Baltimore rushed out this lo-fi punkish take on the Kinks classic for 2014. Definitely in the spirit of the song, although musical finesse takes a back seat, but that's OK too. Grab it from Bandcamp.

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Paste just dropped their 2014 sampler this very day via Noisetrade. Many of the songs have already been covered here, but it includes the Field Report song we mentioned the other day that was only up for streaming, so now it's yours in exchange for your e-mail address. Of the ones I'm just hearing for the first time, Swear & Shake lean into the bongos for "Santa, My First Love," River Whyless do a mellow "Jingle Bells," and Powerkompany gives us the musical apology "I'm Sorry About Last Christmas," which would be a good Festivus carol now that I think of it. Odessa does an acoustic "Silent Night" and Micah Dalton gets a little spacey with "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus." Cuts by Over the Rhine, Sinclair, The Oh Hellos and James Apollo round out the collection.

Happy Skaladays, Reel Big Fish (Rock Ridge)

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Remember when amped-up white-kid ska bands were a thing? Good times. Back in the last century, these guys had a version of "Mele Kalikimaka" on one of those Kevin & Bean compilations, but it apparently took them until 2014 to strike out on their own with a Christmas EP. They kick off promisingly with "Skank For Christmas," in which the singer insists he was only talking about the ska dance, really, and then they put the pedal to the metal on the last version of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" you'll ever need to hear. An original, "Whatever U Celebrate," is a year-round party song that will set Bill O'Reilly's teeth on edge with its greeting of "happy holidays." "Lickle Drummond Bwoy" is the ska approach to the "Drummer Boy" song, "Carol of the Beers" has them singing the word "beer" in an a capella arrangement, and things wrap up with an alternately stomping and skanking "Auld Lang Syne." Loud, drunk and upbeat actually is a good way to go through life, son.

"Supernova Star," Dead Gwynne (self-issued)

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These guys keep churning out the Christmas tunes, and this 2014 entry blends a little sci-fi with the story of the Nativity star and the Christmas tree topper. It's free to download, as are all this group's 20 or so past Christmas songs.
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This is kind of fake-jazzy, film-noir-y, and indeed James lists his influences as Tom Waits, Nick Cave and David Lynch. "Tree" is about wanting to be left alone, as in "you go trim another tree, don't come looking around for me." It has a nice sinister beat and is a good change-up for your playlist. The flip, "Ho, Ho, Ho Hum," is a slower ballad, more of a straight-up jazz thing that, not surprisingly, complains of holiday boredom and ennui.
This is a collaboration between TelevisionX and PornHub, in an attempt to call attention to themselves and also to make the Christmas #1 in Britain for 2014. (Failed attempt; see here.) I'm pretty sure I don't have to draw you a picture in regard to the business the collaborating institutions are pursuing, nor am I confused as to any attempts at double entendre here. Nevertheless, it's kind of catchy and relatively safe for work. If you like it, it's at Amazon.

"On Christmas Eve," Field Report (Partisan)

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This up-and-coming Milwaukee band admit they knocked this out from some bits of old unfinished songs, but you won't get that from this strong, heartfelt midtempo rocker. Unfortunately they've only put it up for streaming from Soundcloud for 2014, but it's a fine melancholy tune recalling unpleasant memories connected to past Christmases. It may not put you in the holiday spirit, but it will hit you where you live. UPDATE: Get it on the Paste 2014 Holiday Sampler.

cherry10.jpgBritain's Cherryade label reaches the milestone 10th collection for 2014, although things are a little different nowadays. The label has not been quite so active in the past couple of years, so where past collections were composed predominantly from contributions by the label roster, the most recent Cherry Christmas discs reach farther afield for songs. As with Cherry 9, the current collection received curation assistance from Gareth Jones, host of a popular music podcast, and it's very much in keeping with the previous nine editions in terms of giving us the alt-indie view of the holiday season. Indeed, the current collection resembles the mix discs compiled by obsessed music hobbyists, and of course (see sidebar of this site) you'll never hear me say a discouraging word about that. A couple tunes have appeared in other places, like Los Campesinos!' "Kindle a Flame In Her Heart" and Very Most's "Wombling Merry Christmas," and some of you might have encountered others that I've missed until now. Kicking off the limited issue (100 discs, no download) is The Thyme Machine's "Driving Home For Christmas (Presents)," a fun indie-rock song about trying to visit family after forgetting to bring the presents. Among the obvious covers are Simon Love's version of "Santa's Beard" by They Might Be Giants, a grungy take of "Back Door Santa" by Ho3, and a slow, meditative version of the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" by The Lost Cavalry. Town Bike does an alt-rock, girl-groupy "Worst Christmas Ever," Happy Fangs also mines grunge for the perfect extended holiday season rave-up "All I Want For Christmas Is Halloween," and Stephen Hudson & the Flat Pandas re-experience the trauma of learning "The Truth About Christmas." Melancholy creeps in with "The Shopworker's Lament" by The French Defence, "I Hope It Snows Tonight" by The Swapsies and "Under Christmas Lights" by Da Mighty D.a.Kid. Musical/spoken word hybrids are offered by Monkeys in Love with "Secret Santa Party #1 (In Comic Sans)" and Helen Arney with "Traditional Family Christmas Argument." Pocket Gods, who have been on numerous Cherry Christmas comps, appear here with "Moobular Bells," which I thought might be the Mike Oldfield classic done with cows but it's not, it's an original done on tubular bells. Quiet Maurader expresses love for turkeys and vegetarian meals with "It's Xmas, So It's OK (To Go and Hug a Turkey)," Sunny Intervals offers a sweet holiday duet with "Christmas In Your Sights," Partly Llama gives an antique folk reading of "The End of the Journey," and Jack Hayter gets his holiday shop on in "Xmas Eve in the Pound Shop," which I'm assuming is the British version of that US institution, the dollar store. The Twelve Hour Foundation wraps up with the instrumental "Christmas Follows Shortly," which actually it does, as I'm writing this anyway.

"Just Another Year," Bigudi (self-issued)

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These guys are from Moscow (the real one, not Moscow, Idaho; their Facebook page is in Cyrillic) but they've got their thumb on the pulse with this very retro-60s pop confection that's simultaneously world-weary and holiday friendly. It's up on Bandcamp and it's a free download, so grab it. From 2014.

Had heard there was a new Dap-Kings holiday single for 2014, and there was, "Just Another Christmas Song," but only on vinyl, and only 100 copies, so it's gone now. No download so far this year, but it's likely to become available that way eventually, as that's what happened with "Ain't No Chimneys In the Projects." Meanwhile, this ad placement for Cole Haan is so far the only way you get to hear this turbocharged rendition of "White Christmas." UPDATE: There were only 100 copies of the green vinyl version of "Just Another Christmas Song," the main run of the single is on black vinyl and the size of the press run isn't known, so you might be able to get it after all. Thanks, Stubby.

 
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Boy-girl duos have become big business in the alt-rock field in recent years, and here's one from Rochester, NY, one of whose members was a contender in "American Idol" some years ago. Don't let that put you off, however, this 2014 single isn't anything like the bombastic text-vote bait normally heard on that show. This is a nice, refreshing mid-tempo ballad extolling the season that you'll want to hear years from now.
greenriver.jpgSharp-eyed readers will note this Fort Worth, Texas band appeared on a couple of compilations this year already, and this 2014 2011 collection, only on Noisetrade, is where their contributions originated. It's a straight-up acoustic reading of six classic songs and carols, with mandolins and banjos as part of the mix, but they don't hold back on the drums and handclaps on "Jingle Bell Rock" or "Let It Snow," and they get a nice drone thing going on "Little Drummer Boy." "Silent Night," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "O Holy Night" get more reverent, though still pop-folky, arrangements. Those of you holding a lantern until Mumford & Sons does a Christmas album might just want to grab this. UPDATE: Thanks to Stubby for correcting the date this was first out.

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Gary himself -- an L.A.-based music supervisor who's worked on "True Blood," "Dexter" and "House" -- casts this 2014 tune as a kind of 70s glam tribute with a taste of the Kinks and Bowie, and he's not far off. It's a nice piece of work if you can imagine the goth kids on South Park being cynical and against everything -- except Christmas. That's the plot of the song, and it's a good one. Don't know if it will have you reaching for your spray-on glitter, but it's a solid rock performance for the holiday. It's free on Bandcamp.

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This guy-gal synth-rock-pop duo formed back in Washington state in 1997 and in recent years have squeezed out some subversive holiday singles. For 2014 they rolled them up into an EP and put it out there for us free from Bandcamp. Wish I'd known before I finished my holiday disc; this kind of observational, snarky material is the kind of stuff I stand holiday watch for every year. "Holiday Hold It" is an admonition to make sure you had your bathroom break before waiting on line for Santa at the mall. "Fake Blood For Christmas" is what the singer is buying online for all her friends this year, and why not, with the holiday season reaching ever backward toward Halloween nowadays. That point gets made again with "Christmas Is In December," a rant more directly about that annual problem, with a sneaky dig at Mariah Carey's ubiquitous holiday hit. "Christmas Makes Me Want To Die" is a humorously over-the-top lament about ever-more-stressful holiday preparations, "Kitty Don't Eat That Tinsel" is about the cat owners' annual holiday worry, and "Peppermint In Everything" celebrates the unofficial holiday candy, with a nod to its salubrious effects when combined with schnapps. Add to this an alternate, less synth-based take on "Holiday Hold It," karaoke versions of a couple other songs and a third "beats" version of "Kitty" and you get an album-length presentation. They say one of these years they're going to get around to a full album, and I can hardly wait.
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I hadn't heard of Ms. Lewis before stumbling over this 2014 album online, but I'm happy to let folks know that there are still rockabillies out there keeping the spirit of original rock 'n roll alive, and she's one of them for sure. Of course, over the years people have come to conflate rockabilly with country music because the folks who created this style of music came from the country music heartland. Take Annie Marie, whose name is actually Dolan but she's the daughter of Linda Gail Lewis, sister of Jerry Lee and performer in her own right. My pick to click from this album is "Hush Lil' Baby (Merry Christmas)," which is a revisitation of "Hey Bo Diddley," which itself is a reimagined "Mockingbird," and such are the ways in which history are made. But then I've always been a sucker for a well-played tune based in the Diddley beat. "Little Drummer Boy" gets the jungle drums treatment as well. "Rock 'n Roll Christmas" is a nice straight upbeat rocker, possibly an original as I can't remember another version. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" gets an interesting rock arrangement as well. The rest of the album is classic carols and popular holiday tunes like "Blue Christmas," "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," "The First Noel," "Santa Baby," "Frosty the Snowman," and "Merry Christmas Baby." Ms. Lewis' vocals are generally good, but unfortunately a lot of this sounds a bit by-the-numbers when heard all at once. Nevertheless, there are some good tunes here to lend some historical gravitas to your Christmas mixes.
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The 2014 edition of this annual compilation is only EP-length this year, but like always it's a free download. Once again Piney Gir is part of the proceedings with a cover of the classic "Christmas Island" in their distinctive style. Magnuson goes all heavy metal on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Alejandra O'Leary puts a bit of alt-pop spin on "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," Hawks Do Not Share go all moody on "Christmas Eve, Montmartre," and the Love Dimension throws the garage door open on their psych-rocker "Got Gratitude."

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Despite the name, this is a British pop-rock band with several albums to their credit, and for 2014 they tackle Christmas with an EP of strong power-pop provenance. Four originals, including the previously released and delightfully snarky "A Doe to a Deer," join versions of Mud's "Lonely This Christmas," which gets a downtempo treatment, and the antique carol "The Holly and the Ivy," which is reverent but still fits in with the other songs. "When Christmas Comes" is an almost triumphal rock anthem, "Kindle a Flame In Her Heart" is a fine midtempo holiday love song and "The Trains Don't Run (It's Christmas Day)," is a stop-motion tempo ode to a typically British concern, seeing as how they actually have trains for people to ride on most places. I could have stood an album-length project, but I won't be greedy; this is an almost perfect Christmas record. (They're selling some vinyl copies at their shows and a few selected UK-US stores.)

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This is Kweller's vinyl-only release for Black Friday Record Store Day 2014, and so far he's sticking to his guns on that score, so go track down a vinyl emporium (or haunt eBay) if you want it. You do, by the way; a solid power popper with nice crunchy guitars well under three minutes that's about not rushing the season. Considering the song was released on Black Friday, can't fault him for consistency. Flip side is "Here Comes Santa Claus" from the "Merry Friggin Christmas" soundtrack.

"Snow," New Found Glory (Hopeless)

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newfoundglory.jpgThis long-running pop-punk band brings us a holiday single for 2014, a midtempo number with a strong melody and reflective lyrics about seasonal memories. Nice change of pace.

"FaLaLaLaLoveYa," Nikki Lane (New West)

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I was conflicted as Nikki's clearly pitching for country airplay (see cover art), but she also hangs out with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who produced an album for her. The heavy use of pedal steel suggests a country song, but put a regular guitar in that spot and it's a 60s girl group song. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Even with the pedal steel it's still more Brill Building than Nashville.
chrislee.jpgI am seriously remiss in overlooking, until my friend Rich Lewis pointed it out to me, that Christopher Lee -- the Christopher Lee, actor in "Lord of the Rings," "Star Wars," multiple outings as Dracula, recurring guest in the British series "The Avengers," and more -- has a parallel career as a heavy metal vocalist and for 2014 has released his third Christmas single in a row. Did I mention he's 92 years old? I'm afraid I like the idea of this more than the reality, but then high concepts tend to play out that way. For 2012, he started the string with A Heavy Metal Christmas, with fast metal performances of "Little Drummer Boy" and "Silent Night." In 2013, A Heavy Metal Christmas Too featured "Jingle Hell," which is "Jingle Bells" with new, angrier lyrics, and the non-holiday "My Way," about which there's no question. This year, 2014, it's "Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing" (click the cover), which is "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" with more debauched lyrics, accompanied by an extended vocal version and an instrumental of the same song. How you feel about the singer is probably going to color how you feel about the songs, but if you're doing a theme playlist featuring "Star Wars" or Tolkien-related stuff, one of these tunes will fit in just fine.

"Sump'n Claus," Saturday Night Live (Hulu)

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When you get on Santa's "naughty" list and aren't supposed to get anything, in steps Sump'n Claus to throw you an envelope with some cash in it, goes the fable. Or at least the "Saturday Night Live" sketch from last night. (This is a hint regarding one of the site's traditions, by the way.)

Nick Lowe's touring with Los Straitjackets on his "Quality Holiday Tour," performing selections from Nick's well-received Christmas album of 2013. By the way, Los Straitjackets aren't exactly strangers to the Christmas scene either, as shown here and also here. Anyway, I'm going to see these two musical titans play tonight, and it's a bit of a road trip from Rudolph's North Pole headquarters, so apologies if posting is a little sparse through the weekend.

Hat tip to Dangerous Minds for unearthing this gem. The soundtrack is the work of a guy named Andy Rehfeldt, who apparently does this kind of thing from time to time, but this is the first Christmas-oriented one. This should purge your memories of those "Christmas Remixed" versions of Der Bingle.  

Wild Winter, Smoke Fairies (Full Time Hobby)

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I've never heard of these women before now, but they're quite intriguing, sort of a cross between Lucius and The Raveonettes. And they've gone the full monty with a Christmas album for 2014. They're taking the "winter album" approach lest things get too holly jolly, going for the "bittersweet and wild" as they say in the press release from Rough Trade, which has the physical media, while Amazon (click the art) and iTunes get the digital trade. The title song evokes longing even as it's "21 degrees below," "Bad Good" is a garage-band ode to the rules of Santa Club, "Christmas Without a Kiss" is a fuzzy-guitar-led dirge to a search for love that just keeps building in intensity, "Three Kings" is another original, not the familiar carol, and "Steal Softly Thru Snow" almost swings into First Aid Kit-Secret Sisters territory. "Snowglobe Blizzard" is a suspenseful instrumental, "Give and Receive" briefly recalls the story of the child from a foreign land "who's coming to save us," "Circles in the Snow" is an uptempo ode to keeping the home fires, and "So Much Wine" lays on the synths to tell the story of an angry holiday breakup. This is quite the compelling collection of good original songs well performed, with a solid rock edge on even the most downtempo and contemplative numbers.
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This 2014 album is a label compilation for Firebreath, a Nashville label that promotes local artists through record releases, video productions and live show promotion. The artists showcased here are roughly Americana, mostly folky, only a little bit country. Grant Ferris kicks things off with the semi-title song, an entertaining novelty called "All I Got For Christmas Was Drunk." Alayna Anderson does a suitably dramatic "Little Drummer Boy," Ally Brown breaks out the ukelele for "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas," Joshua Dent creates a cello-led instrumental medley of "Carol of the Bells x God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Rae Hering offers a sprightly "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas" and Hannah Johnson emotes a brief "I'll Be Home For Christmas." Fable Cry lets loose with "Town Hall" from "The Nightmare Before Christmas," a performance more in keeping with that movie's soundtrack than the other tunes on this album. Zach & Hannah do a serviceable version of "Fairytale of New York" and Kirabelle Frabotta wraps things up with a medley of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" and "Auld Lang Syne." A fairly gentle collection of tunes, although novelty fans might want Grant Ferris' title song. This collection is on Bandcamp and Noisetrade.

Christmas Songs, John Brazell (self-issued)

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John's a performing singer-songwriter from Napa, Calif., with a couple albums to his credit, and he rolled out this brief collection for 2014 featuring one original tune, "All I Want," a nicely syncopated midtempo number about wanting a lover for Christmas. Acoustic poppy arrangements of "Deck the Halls" and "Auld Lang Syne" round out this EP. It's on Noisetrade.

"Father Christmas," Bad Religion (Epitaph)

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Following on from last year's full Christmas album, this long-running punk band couldn't leave it lay, coming back for 2014 with this single, a strong cover of the Kinks' holiday classic. If you've somehow missed out on this song over the years, this version's as good an introduction as any.

"Deck the Halls," Larry & Bob (YouTube)

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Larry and Bob wanted to get a few laughs in for the holiday season, so they did this, and they sent me the link. Enjoy.

 

Christmas Card, Marvin Sapp (RCA)

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This 2013 album slipped by me last year, but better late than never. Marvin's a gospel singer and worship leader who was part of the group Commissioned before going solo, but he keeps the old gang around for a couple of songs on this collection. This is a solid collection of modern r'nb performances, the majority of which are on original songs, kicking off with the title tune and "Feels Real Good," both of which are uptempo celebrations of the holiday. The ballad "Home For Christmas" features a guest appearance by r'nb singer Joe, and Commissioned comes in on the original "Honor the King" and the classic "What Child Is This," both dramatic slow-tempo celebrations of the religious aspects of the holiday. "Joseph's Song," another original, is the Nativity story from Joseph's viewpoint in a slow-jam tempo, "Holy" continues the slow jamming, and "Love at Christmas" is more of a standard r'nb ballad. "Thank You" is a funk workout featuring the Sapp Kids, and things wrap up with "old school" soul on "Don't Get It Twisted," emphasizing the true meaning of Christmas. Although Marvin's a gospel performer, the album nicely balances the sacred and the secular, and there's plenty of uptempo moments to get your Christmas party started.

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Mixing and mashing their way through the holidays are the various DJs and Pro Tools jockeys who help us get a different look at the holiday by cutting and pasting the familiar into something new. And appropriately enough, Mojochronic kicks off "Number 9" with "Yuletide Beatles," doing what Giles Martin did with The Beatles Love but emphasizing selections from the Fabs' Christmas flexidiscs in honor of the holiday. Mojochronic returns later with "Walking In LA Winter Wonderland," in which he builds an 80s Christmas song out of the Missing Persons' hit and Jean Dixon's version of the popular carol. Voicedude presides over a shotgun marriage of Mariah Carey and AC/DC on "You Shook Me All I Want For Christmas" and puts Smokey Robinson over Plain White T's on "Hey There, St. Nicholas!" Rapper DMX once did an off-the-cuff version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and dj BC lays it over the Burl Ives version here, then comes back with "Forgot About Merry," in which the Staples Singers meet an array of Christmas villains. ATOM offers "A Glimpse of James' Jingle Socks," in which James Brown is reimagined as a chill artist, and "Santa Ist Das Bein Stalker," in which a German guy snarks on Santa while various grooves play behind him, and I don't have any idea where that came from. DJ Schmolli keeps the Germanic groove going on "Weihnachtszeit-Song," and Divide and Kreate has Peggy Lee doing "Little Breakbeat Boy," in which various hip-hop beats accompany the "Little Drummer Boy." DJ M.i.F takes the "remix classic jazz age singers" craze of a few years ago a few steps further, going crazy on Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby with "Children Winter Wonderland." DJ Morgoth offers "The Power of New Divide," in which Linkin Park is uneasily joined to Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and "Carol of the Tolling Bell" is G3RSt's combination of Metallica and Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra. And no, Metallica aren't playing "Carol of the Bells" on this mashup. Mashups aren't for everybody, of course, but for those who like to see familiar themes subverted, especially at the holiday, Santastic has become a great holiday tradition.
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This 2014 release just snuck out the other day on iTunes, and it features the multiple Grammy nominee showing off his pipes on the popular carol, backed just by piano. He's a very strong singer, if you've heard his hits, and this performance is sufficiently heartfelt to appeal to just about everybody. No Amazon link, as it's not there, at least not yet. It's there, click the cover as usual.
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Amy's an established songwriter and performer who's had some success pitching songs to movies and television, and for 2014 she's wrapped up a collection of her own Christmas songs from past years into this downloadable EP. This is your basic female alt-pop collection of performances, mostly on the ballad side of the ledger, but with strong melodic hooks. "Christmas Is Closer" is about holiday anticipation, "Love's a Light" is about finding your way home for Christmas, "Wishes Come True" is self-explanatory, and the title song is a more uptempo love song. Rounding things out is the only cover, an unadorned reading of "Mele Kalikimaka." A mellow grouping, but lots of good songwriting. Amazon will sell you a couple of these songs as singles, but you'll have to go to Noisetrade to get the whole thing. Leave a tip.

Joe Perry's Merry Christmas, Joe Perry (Unison)

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Aerosmith's lead guitarist isn't well known for performing solo, but back in 2008 he let loose with a faithful cover of "Run Rudolph Run." For 2014 he's back with an EP that includes that performance and adds strong instrumental takes on "White Christmas" and "Silent Night" and a very good vocal performance of "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," the Christmas blues number that originated with Elvis Presley's first Christmas album. No surprises given the guy's day job, but classic rock fans should eat this up.

OK, they weren't first to the text message Christmas song, but this is a pretty good one. Apparently they've updated their Under the Influence album to include it, but of course you can download it alone too.

theboth.jpgTaste-tippers know from this record's appearance on the Superego label that Aimee Mann had something to do with it, since that's her vanity label. The Both is Aimee with Ted Leo, who together released a well-regarded 2014 album, and as they're touring with a Christmas show this season, a new holiday song was called for. It's a mid-tempo number that sounds all of a piece with Aimee's past work, emphasizing the melancholy of the season while Leo brings his trademark vocals and guitar to the proceedings. I'd call this a holiday gotta-have.

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This Burlington, Ontario band is probably best known for its five members gathering around a single guitar to play Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" on YouTube. Give 'em credit for a smart promotional device there. This 2014 EP is six not particularly obscure choices from the Christmas repertoire, and the sound is that of a contemporary pop-rock band, nothing earthshaking, but also nothing that's sequenced, vocordered and auto-tuned to a fare-thee-well as so much contemporary pop and rock music is. This is the sound of five people making music together, and good on 'em for keeping the tradition going.  "A Marshmallow World" and "Sleigh Ride" are straight off the Phil Spector album, although they bring their own personalities to the performances, "Silent Night" is done as a ukelele tune, "Holly Jolly Christmas" is an almost country performance, in keeping with the original, and "I Saw Three Ships" and "Feliz Navidad" are sprightly versions in folky arrangements with nylon-stringed instruments to the fore. A little more originality would have pushed this to the front of this year's releases, but this collection does have its charms.

recordkicks.jpgThis small label apparently specializes in old-school soul, and this 2010 single is shared by two different artists. The Diplomats of Solid Sound take on "Let It Snow" in an arrangement borrowed from Archie Bell and the Drells' "Tighten Up," though it's sung, not spoken. Ray Harris and the Fusion Experience take it from there with an original, "Soulful Christmas," that's more 70s funk to fill the dance floor. Can't decide which one I like better, but of course I don't actually have to, do I?

Christmas music news roundup

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  • By now you're aware that Bob Geldof got the Band Aid back together for Band Aid 30, once again performing "Do They Know It's Christmastime" with an all-star cast, this time to raise money for the fight against ebola. I mention it in passing only because it's not available in the USA, although if you're willing to do the "switch stores" dance on iTunes, you can probably grab it there. UPDATE: Grab it from Amazon.
  • Along the same lines, a group called the Peace Collective, another ad hoc group of musicians and singers, has put out a song called "All Together Now," written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the British/German Christmas truce during World War I. Again, not available in the USA.
  • In the past, we've had the group Sleeping At Last posted here for a Christmas album released in 2012, and a single of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" from 2013. For 2014 the group has added "O Come O Come Emanuel," and if you're just finding out about this, the album has been updated for 2014 with both those singles. You can get it free, or for a tip, on Noisetrade.
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This South Wales band is another one that's made a tradition of holiday releases, and we've had previous entries by the group on this site before. For 2014, they've issued "This Christmas Dream" and simultaneously gone online with an EP containing this song and all of their four previous Christmas tunes. It's a welcome addition to the holiday rock 'n roll canon, featuring strong power-pop performances. The current year's song mentioned earlier is a nice uptempo number with all the Christmas touches, and the lyrics are about happy holiday dreams. "A Little Christmas Love" and "The Greatest Christmas" are also uptempo and lyrically self-explanatory, "Christmas in the Morning" is a strong rocker about waking up on Christmas day, and that leaves the only ballad, "Maybe This Christmas," which I wasn't enthusiastic about on first review, but it benefits from being heard alongside the other songs. Keep the siren on for the holidays, guys. Only available on iTunes for now. Here's a video of the newest song.


"Lights on the Tree," Loop Line (self-issued)

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A dreamy tale of having the Christmas lights inspire a child's vivid dreams as he or she drops off to sleep on Christmas Eve. Loop Line had a previous Christmas single in 2012, and this 2014 release has a nice dramatic feel and an indie vibe as well. The band's discography is on display at Bandcamp, and the band states there may be additional music in 2014, so check in occasionally.
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Here's a nice bit of blue-eyed soul for 2014, another song about getting home from a long distance in time for holiday celebrating and commiserating with family. Click through to Amazon to grab it.

"Nicholas," Work Drugs (self-issued)

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Here's an interesting synth-dance-pop ballad from this up-and-coming Philadelphia band for 2014, in which Santa takes the mic and sings about coming home to his love. (Although he's not away long, since he does the whole world in one night...) I grabbed this from WXPN-FM's website, but you can check Soundcloud for it too.
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We've had this whimsical bunch on the blog before, and for 2014 they go all hip-hop and science fiction on this tale of a dangerous dance craze imposed on an unsuspecting public. How? They don't say. Who? Wouldn't you like to know. Maybe you should just get with the program and DANCE! Grab it from Bandcamp.
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These guys are members of a St. Louis band called The Oncomings, and they've broken away from the mothership for this rock 'n roll look at the holiday circa 2014. This collection is in the best traditions of indie rock, with songs that have a nicely skewed look at the holiday season. Whether it's dragging a drunken girlfriend through the snow on "Long Walk Home," asking for divine intervention with your ride on the r'nb flavored "Jesus Keep My Honda Runnin'," extolling the snow-covered sights of your neighborhood on "Everyday Is Christmas," channeling Wild Man Fischer on "Oh My My," going full-out funk on "Sleigh Ride to the East Side," setting jangly guitar music to Robert Frost on "Snowy Evening," getting all cry-in-your-beer on the ballad "Snowdome," or just flat-out parodizing on "My Least Favorite Things," this album is a fun ride through the holiday season. There's an ode to Santa's evil companion, "Krampus," that kind of sounds like Flight of the Conchords, a defeatist drinking song called "Chase Another Crown" and a silly interlude called "Phil Collins Helpline" to round things out. This is a gotta-have collection if rocking the holidays is your thing, and if you're here it probably is.
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This album goes back to 2007 when it was a very limited edition on CD, then the Lips put it online for streaming a couple of years ago (you called up the web address and it started playing wherever it was already playing before you showed up, not Bandcamp or YouTube-type streaming) and then in 2014 provided a vinyl issue for Record Store Day in November. Now it's available for download. Those of you who got to listen to it online, or have had the rare CD copy, already know that it's about one step removed from movie soundtrack music, mostly piano melodies with some spacey touches in the orchestration (a fair amount of sitar appears here), and it's mostly familiar carols except for two originals, "Atlas Eets Christmas" and "Christmas Kindness Song," both of which have lyrics and vocals, although the vocals are set so far back in the mix it's tough to decipher much more than the occasional Christmas platitude. Oh, and one more thing, the entire collection is overlaid with vinyl record static, which would have driven me crazy if I'd bought the vinyl version. This is for Lips fans only, in my humble opinion, or for people who want background music to play next to their Christmas tree.

"Joel the Lump of Coal," The Killers (RCA)

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The Killers keep their annual string of Christmas singles going, once again with proceeds benefitting the AIDS charity (RED). This year's entry recruits Jimmy Kimmel as a guest, generating a late-night viral video about the making of the single in the process, including Kimmel's comedic input into the writing of the song. As for the song, it's a sentimental fairy tale about what happens when Santa sends a bad kid a lump of coal, set to a typically Killers dramatic rock soundscape. Not my favorite of the Killers' holiday efforts, but it's of a piece with all the others. Only on iTunes for the time being, here's the "making of" video.


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This is the second compilation to promote the work of the Orphan Care Network and the first to emphasize Christmas. This 2014 collection is on NoiseTrade, which means you can download it free or leave a "tip," and obviously leaving tips will make it worthwhile for the organization to produce further collections on this scale. There are 25 songs from indie bands of various stripes, but it's mostly pop-rock of the Americana style, with folk and country influences popping up, and a fair number of Christian performers. Sleeping At Last's "Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" is here, and there is an array of familiar carols offered by other performers, like Green River Ordinance's "Let It Snow," Stephen Miller's "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," Act of Congress' "Joy to the World," Seth Philpott's "Jingle Bells," Page CXVI's "Silent Night," Folk Angel's "The First Noel," Brady Toops' "O Holy Night," Aaron Hale's "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," and some more obscure tunes like "Come Thou Fount (Advent)" by Luke Brawner, the Brilliance's "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," and Tim Bridgham's "The Race That Long In Darkness Pined." Among the originals are Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors' somber "Everything's Changed at Christmas But You," Matthew Mayfield's folky "It's Christmas Time Again," Robby Seay Band's "Mary's Song," John Hatfield's "Peace of God," Charlie Hall's drum-heavy "Break Forth" and Ellie Holcomb's bouncy "Christmas For You and Me." Overall the vibe is of earnestness and not much in the way of rocking the house, but you can preview the collection for yourself at Noisetrade.
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The Blind Boys have celebrated Christmas before, and for their 2014 return to the holiday they join with celebrated bluesman Taj Mahal. The resulting album draws on blues and gospel, not surprisingly, and features a number of original tunes written by the Blind Boys themselves with Taj. The opener, "Do You Hear What I Hear," is a radical revision of the carol as a loping rock shuffle and gets things off to a great start. Taj takes lead vocal on the original ballad "What Can I Do," which the press release states includes songwriting assistance from William Bell, of "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday" fame, along with "Who Will Remember," another ballad, this one offering a taste of 60s soul, and "There's a Reason We Call It Christmas," a mid-tempo tune that is self-explanatory. "Talkin' Christmas" is a funky exhortation to help others on the holiday, "The Sun Is Rising" and "Jesus Was Born" have a bit of Tex-Mex sway to them, and "Merry Christmas" is a nicely uptempo number with Taj adding some of that chicken-picking guitar. The group, and Taj, also do such gospel tunes as "Christ Was Born on Christmas Morn" in a ragtime style and "No Room at the Inn" in a more traditional gospel style. They also take an acoustic folk approach to "Silent Night." This compares well to the Blind Boys' previous Christmas album, with a less produced, more rootsy feel than that collection.

Coal, Again!, TriBeCaStan (self-issued)

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coalagain.jpgThis is the second holiday entry by this band, and when we reviewed them the first time, we talked about their status as a slightly cracked world music ensemble, all instrumental. Things haven't changed for 2014; they kick off with "O Little Town of Bethlemayhem," a ska-merengue blending; "Silver Bells" gets an almost New Orleans march treatment; "Little Drummer Boychik" flirts with klezmer but sneaks some funk into the lower frequencies; "Good King What's His Name" gives an almost Oriental treatment to Wenceslas with flute, steel drum and thumb piano; a lengthy world-jazz slow-tempo treatment for "Jingle Bells"; and there's almost too many genres to count on "Shchedryk/Carol of the Bells." I think I liked the first one better, but you world music mavens will probably detect a lot of musical references I missed.

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Soundtracks tend to be collections of semi-familiar songs and incidental music, but occasionally the music directors do manage to scare up or commission things not found elsewhere. For this 2014 movie, one of the late Robin Williams' final films, we get two tunes from Rufus Wainwright not available elsewhere, the orchestra-with-vocal version of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and a piano-backed version of "Christmas Is For Kids." Ben Kweller, earlier noted as having a non-downloadable Christmas song for Record Store Day, offers the B-side of that single, a thumping, thrashy rock version of "Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Try To Love (Joy to the World)," a shuffling original that "samples" the parenthetical carol occasionally. The Belle Brigade performs "Going Home This Christmas," which treads some of that Secret Sisters/Living Sisters 50s pop ground, as does Chuck Mead's "Jingle Bells," and Ryan Culwell does some of that Tony Joe White chicken-pickin' with "It's Christmastime, I Know (Ho Ho Ho)." "More Than I Wished For" is a pop rocker by Fm Radio (really), and Anna Su channels Maria Muldaur with "Santa Will Be Flying Over the Moon." Also offered here are pop ballads "The Weather Outside" by Spencer Shapeero, "Best Time of the Year" by Alex Rhodes and "Gentle Mary Laid Her Child" by John Isaac Watters. Wainwright and Kweller fans are probably already on this, for everybody else it's a matter of picking and choosing, though this is one of those albums that doesn't let you download some individual cuts.
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The quintessentially British electro-dance-pop trio has a long history of making their own original Christmas music available to their fans -- and then yanking the music back from availability when the season is over. This album is not part of that tradition -- indeed, Saint Etienne doesn't perform any of the songs here. It's an anthology of late 50s-early 60s pop Christmas music featuring artists and performances that were better known to British audiences of the time. The band's Bob Stanley is quite the musical historian, with a recently released book on the history of pop music to his credit, and he draws on this experience to curate this collection, which is offered in the British market only. Ordinarily I wouldn't cover something like this as it's outside the Mistletunes realm, but I thought it should be mentioned in case folks got the idea there was a new Saint Etienne Christmas disc out, which there isn't. As far as I can see, this is import only via Cherry Red, although copies of past Saint Etienne compilations similar to this one have turned up on Amazon eventually. A lot of these tunes are instrumentals featuring folks like Zack Laurence, Johnny Dankworth, Johnny Keating, Joe Henderson, Dickie Valentine, the Echoes and Ted Heath. The John Barry Seven's "Get Lost, Jack Frost" is likewise an instrumental featuring Ventures-style guitar, although you'll more likely recognize the melody as "When the Saints Go Marching In." Among the vocals, you'll hear Lionel Bart's "Give Us a Kiss For Christmas," Alma Cogan's "Must Be Santa," Nina & Frederik's "Christmas Time In London Town," Tricia Marks' "Christmas Calypso," the Embassy Singers' "I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus," Adam Faith's incredibly sappy "Lonely Pup" and Billy Fury's "My Christmas Prayer," which Saint Etienne has covered. Overall, this album is Exhibit A for why rock 'n roll had to happen and why it captured imaginations throughout the Western world when it did.

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Kate Nash, British singer and songwriter with a snarky outlook rather like Lily Allen, put out this five-song EP in 2013, throwing a song to British all-girl band The Tuts in the process. The reason for this seasonal release appears to be the song "I Hate You This Christmas," which is labeled "explicit" in the playlist for good reason but is still rocked-out great fun, giving an ex the old thumb to the nose. The song "Faith" is a mostly group vocal song whose couplet "Somehow I've kept it together/But I'm at the end of my tether" describes the whole thing perfectly. The Tuts' contribution, "Christmas Is In the Air," snaps back and forth between sweetly melodic and Phil Spector at double speed as the vocalist states "all I want for Christmas is a guitar," and pensive renditions of classic carol "Silent Night" and the semi-obligatory "Auld Lang Syne" wrap things up here. 

Motown Christmas, various artists (Motown)

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There's a long-running compilation going back to the vinyl age with this title, but don't confuse it with this 2014 collection, which is comprised of music from the label's current roster (except for a bonus track of the Temptations' "Silent Night"). Kevin Ross kicks things off with "It's Christmas Time," a nice midtempo song that effortlessly blends modern rhythms with the signature old-school Motown orchestral backing sound. Brian Courtney Wilson does the near-obligatory cover of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," and Anita Wilson medleys "Go Tell It On the Mountain" with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Kem reprises "Bethlehem" from his own Christmas album, as does Babyface with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Chrisette Michele slow-jams "Angels We Have Heard on High," and Tye Tribbett emphasizes bass and strings over drums on "Little Drummer Boy." Tasha Cobbs brings a bit of updated doo-wop into "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" and goes all Broadway musical on "O Come All Ye Faithful." Vashawn Mitchell brings a bit of bombast to "Silent Night," Smokie Norful does a dramatic reading of "O Holy Night" and India.Arie duets with Gene Moore Jr. on a similarly dramatic "Mary Did You Know." Two orchestral instrumental interludes round out the album. While a lot of us have expectations of the old days when the word "Motown" is used in a musical context that may not be satisfied with this album, fans of modern r'nb will likely be more than happy with what they hear in this collection.
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New Release Tuesday is a website that promotes Christian artists, and they've curated either a short album or a long EP of eight Christmas tunes for 2014. Genre-wise, this is mostly modern pop-rock, kicking off with Aaron Shust's bombastic "Rejoice," continuing with Jason Gray's Killers-influenced "Christmas Is Coming," Cloverton's slow-building rock adaptation of "Joy to the World" called "We Sing Joy" and Scott Riggan's hand-clapping version of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Joshua Mills takes a pop-jazzy approach to "It Snowed," John Schlitt rocks up "Little Drummer Boy," Jean Watson taps Tori Amos for her version of "Pat a Pan," and Jen Haugland's "A Still and Quiet Night" is a still and quiet ballad. This is up on NoiseTrade if you don't choose to have an account on NRT's website.

sleighbelltolls.jpgThat Band From Holland has been churning out short albums of holiday tunes for a number of years now, and for 2014 they've split the billing with ne pas de machine, about whom I don't know much except that at least one member of one is a member of the other. Unlike in previous years when That Band collaborated with the Left Handed Orchestra, ne pas de machine did half the songs and That Band did the other half. The guests provide such future classics as "Elvis Shaped Snowman," "Reindeers (In My House)," "Fake Antlers," "Me, the Snow and the Tree" and the preposterously titled "Don't Swallow the Glitters, Gary," about a house burglary. That Band From Holland likes their Northern European language titles, like "Rovanimi," "Jolasveinar" and "Silvester Gemeint," although only the latter is actually sung in Dutch. They also do the album's title song, a short but portentious horn-driven instrumental, and close things out with "Artificial Tree," in which the singer asks, "Play a little song for me." Maybe one of the ornaments is an MP3 player? The players span the range from 60s retro-pop to thrashy, kind of punkish rock, with lyrical ideas that are alternately dour and whimsical. Something different for the holidays, for sure, and very much in keeping with That Band's previous work. Check 'em out on Bandcamp.

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Just discovered this 2010 single from a subsidiary of Daptone, the label home of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. It's a great mid-tempo 60s soul shouter with call-and-response vocals, and the title tells you all you need to know about the lyrics. The flip side is "Mary's Baby," another vintage soul ballad about you-know-who. If you're down with the Daptone sound, you want this. Even if you aren't, you gotta love this well-made tribute to 60s soul music.

bluerodeo.jpgBlue Rodeo is a long-running Canadian country-rock band, very successful in their home country but with a fan base in the US as well. This is their first Christmas album, a 2014 release, and the country and folk side get more of the listening time than does the rock side, although the fact that the band has a full-time steel guitarist does color that perception a bit. Rock fans will be happy that the album opens with a strong version of Big Star's "Jesus Christ," and "O Come All Ye Faithful" has a solid 70s rock-style arrangement. Paul Simon's "Getting Ready For Christmas Day" is a lively cover, leaving out the sampled preacher of Simon's original, and the Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight" is a worthy version as well. The Band tune, combined with the Gordon Lightfoot cover "Song For a Winter's Night" and a countrified version of Joni Mitchell's "River," show the band's Canadian roots well. Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the band's original "Home To You This Christmas" weigh on the country side of the equation, and an older Blue Rodeo tune, "Glad To Be Alive," is more of a rock ballad. Country and rock fans alike will find things to like about this album, but I suspect they'll just download the cuts they like in this day and age.

"A Long Way Home," Sofia Talvik (self-issued)

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Scandinavian songstress and songwriter Sofia is slowly closing in on an all-original Christmas album a song at a time, having issued a new tune annually for a number of years now. "A Long Way Home" is her 2014 creation, a more orchestrated pop ballad about the struggle to get home for the holidays, which she said was inspired by a truck driver she recently met. There's no happy ending to this one, unfortunately, but this sort of melancholy is Sofia's specialty. As usual, it's a free download, and there's a video too.
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Here's the 2014 installment of the long-running charity compilation series based in the south Georgia-north Florida area that supports charities aiding children and sick people. The acts contributing, no surprise, are based in that general area as well. Dexter Freebish offers a solid version of Wham's "Last Christmas," Eliot Bronson's "Christmas Song" is an original ballad about fresh beginnings, and Hey Monea! has an original, "Christmas in Bed," that sounds suspiciously like the chords from "Let 'Em In," but goes on to make a proposition that we can heartily endorse. Joe Stevenson's "Believe" is a hand-clapping rocker, Tony Lucca struggles to get "Home For the Holidays" armed only with an acoustic guitar, and Carbon Leaf's "Christmas Child" is a straight-up hoedown. Other originals is the funky "Everything I Need" from Frank Viele, the lo-fi "Christmas Day" from Leland, and the ballad "New Year's Resolution" from Dave Farah. JD Eicher & the Goodnights perform "Jingle Bell Mash," which is a fun medley of numerous popular carols, including the one that makes up part of the title. Other covers include a countrified "O Holy Night" from Griffin House, a bluegrass "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Jordan Grassi, a slightly boogie-fied "Go Tell It on the Mountain" from the Georgia Flood, a solid "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" from Red Wanting Blue, and Flagship Romance's folky acoustic "We Three Kings." Another solid collection from the Rock By the Sea people.

Holiday, Earth Wind & Fire (Legacy)

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I've always expressed a bit of trepidation when covering classic rock and r'nb stars who come out with Christmas albums late in their careers, due to the statistically strong possibility that such releases are exercises in going through the motions in search of a quick payday. I'm pleased to say that nothing of the sort is true of this album featuring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-honored band. This is EW&F's trademark sound superimposed on the holiday in the best possible way. The classic carols on this album, like disc opener "Joy To the World," "Winter Wonderland," "What Child Is This," "Away In a Manger," "The First Noel" and "Sleigh Ride," are reimagined to fit the band's signature sound and are lively takes to boot. "Snow" is an imaginative choice of a traditional Japanese song, "The Drummer Boy" loses the "Little" of the title but gains a funky touch, and even "Jingle Bell Rock" gets a fresh coat of paint and a danceable groove. "Everyday Is Christmas" is a jazzy original by past EW&F collaborators Roxanne Seeman and Phillip Steinke that was originally performed by Chinese vocalist Jacky Cheung, and the band revisits two of their past tunes, "Happy Seasons" being based on "Happy Feelings" and "December" taking off from their big hit "September." That latter tune is the one everybody will remember from this album, but the whole collection is worth everyone's while.
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This eight-piece Austin, Texas soul band puts together a fine old-school holiday tune and backs it up with a cover of "Back Door Santa" to boot. The single is from 2014, although the A-side was available last year on a compilation from Converse. You can also download the A-side, but not the B-side, from Amazon. Both sides are up at Soundcloud if you want a taste. The band sells a physical CD single with a cover that doubles as a Christmas card, so if you act fast you can send a unique (and cheap) present. They even have bulk ordering options. 

Noise to the World, various artists (Converse)

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Missed this when it came out in 2013, but it's a free download from the shoemaker and is still up for downloading, as I just grabbed it the other day. Just seven tunes by indie artists, opening with old school soulsters Roxy Roca doing "It's Not Christmas Without You," rockers Warm Soda feeling abandoned on "Without You By My Side," Fresh Daily & Black Spade rapping about "Holiday '93," Mother Merey & the Black Dirt making a delta blues out of "Run Rudolph Run," Workout doing the punk rock thing on "Jingle Bells," The She's revisiting the 80s girl-group revival on "December Tide," and Low Fat Getting High going all thrashy punk on "Deck the Halls." You never know when Converse might update their website, so grab it now.

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