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November 2015 Archives

qualityrevue.jpgWhen Nick Lowe decided to tour behind his first Christmas album Quality Street last year, he pulled together label mates Los Straitjackets and Faces/Small Faces legend Ian McLagen to make more of a revue out of it. Unfortunately, McLagen died the day before rehearsals for the tour, so the show was Nick and Los Straitjackets. I had the privilege of attending the second show of the tour and it was a lovely time. Now, for 2015, we have an album compiled from those 2014 shows, and the two acts have combined for another pass at America across the South and West this December. This recording (offered on vinyl for Record Store Day but also in the usual formats) is a fine representation of the tour, and Los Straitjackets also put a little more voltage behind Nick, who has been much more mellow in recent years. Only eight of the 13 tunes are Christmas tunes, seven of which are selections from Quality Street and the eighth is Los Straitjackets by themselves on "Linus and Lucy," which we showed you a couple of weeks ago. The performances are aces, and on "North Pole Express," "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" and "Children Go Where I Send Thee," I'd say Nick's guests goose these songs up nicely, improving on the studio versions. "A Dollar Short of Happy" and "I Was Born in Bethlehem" are just Nick and a guitar. The remaining songs are from Nick's catalog and benefit similarly from the Straitjackets' backing. A little more from the Straitjackets' Christmas repertoire and less of Nick's non-holiday tunes might have made for a more holiday-appropriate set list, but that's about the only improvement they could have made to this album.

This old-school soul orchestra was already on the Christmas tip with "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects" and a swinging take of "White Christmas" that has been on YouTube for a couple of seasons. Both songs are here on this 2015 album, the title of which will never in a million years get them in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive packaging. They get into it almost from the start with "8 Days of Hanukkah," and you will be dancing all eight of those days to this song. "Just Another Christmas Song," which was on a vinyl single last year, has a nice slinky beat. Their "Silent Night" is an after-midnight blues take on the song, and "Big Bulbs" is about those holiday lights in the window. That's their story, anyway. "Funky Little Drummer Boy" is, again, exactly as advertised, and they put everything into what is a standard arrangement for "Please Come Home For Christmas." Sharon sits out for a few songs here to feature the Dap-Kings on the instrumentals "God Rest Ye Merry Gents" and "Silver Bells," and "World of Love" features one of the Dap-Kings on vocals, couldn't track down any info but I'm guessing it's Binky Griptite at the mic. Vinyl freaks act fast, as there's colored vinyl versions of this along with CD and downloads. So far, this is the top of my 2015 Christmas playlist.

Come On December, Patty Smyth (Parallel 22)

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You know Patty from her 80s new-wave band Scandal and their hits "The Warrior" and "Goodbye to You," or from her duet with Don Henley, "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough." We've entertained rumors about her Christmas plans here at Mistletunes for a couple of seasons now, and, following a successful Kickstarter, she's come through for 2015. It's a short album, just eight songs, of which Patty wrote three, the killer opening rocker "Come On December," the New Year's ode "Walk With Me," and a pretty ballad she released with a Veterans Day-themed video, "Broken." That latter connection ties into the cause she's contributing to with this collection, the Headstrong Project, which provides mental health care to post-911, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Of the remaining tunes, she makes a ballad out of "Winter Wonderland," performs an acoustic guitar-led version of "Do You Hear What I Hear," brings in a rhythm section and electric guitars for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," adds a folky touch to "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" and wraps with "Auld Lang Syne." The original songs are the best part of this collection, and taken all together it's a solid effort. Patty previously put up a single of "Silent Night," which is not on this album but is still available at her website.
This 2015 release is the award-winning Christian band's second collection of Christmas tunes, following 2005's The Christmas Sessions. They play in the modern rock style, and for this album they didn't stick strictly with religious-themed Christmas music, as so many acts in their genre do. In fact, their own original "Christmastime Again" is a bust-out '70s-style Chuck Berry-influenced rocker that alone is worth the whole album, and another original, "Hold On Christmas," is a more power-pop take on the holiday. The remaining original, "Our Lullaby," is a semi-acoustic stab at a lullaby for the baby Jesus. Among the other tunes, their "Holly Jolly Christmas" is an absolute swinging hoot, with a bit of "Jingle Bells" tagged in the middle just for fun. "Sleigh Ride" gets a pensive midtempo treatment, "Go Tell It On the Mountain" is done as country gospel, "Joy," as in "to the World," resembles a U2 outtake, and the collection is bookended with slow-tempo versions of "Newborn" ("O Little Town of Bethlehem") and "O Come O Come" (Emanuel). This is one you can play all the way through and enjoy. Their previous holiday album was 2005's The Christmas Sessions.

Christmas in Reno, Cassie Ramone (Burger)

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Cassie was in the Vivian Girls, now broken up, and she had a solo album out last year. For 2015 she dusted off her Christmas songbook and recorded this collection of familiar tunes. As her Wikipedia page refers to her as "lo-fi indie," I don't think I have to embroider the description any further. It may help to describe the performances here as deconstructions, as listeners may not immediately recognize what are essentially popular and familiar holiday songs. In many places, she sings the melodies but substitutes different chords that make the songs sound more angst-y and downbeat, and there's an element of drone underpinning just about all of the songs, whether from synths, repetitive guitars, backing vocals or just the heavy reverb on her voice. The approach is interesting, though it won't be for everyone, and it makes all these different songs sound the same, though Vivian Girls fans will probably recognize the general sound. Among the tunes here are "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," " Run Rudolph Run," "Wonderful Christmastime," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Little Saint Nick," "Sleigh Ride," "I'll Be Home For Christmas," "Christmastime Is Here," "Blue Christmas" and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)." (Oh, and between Cassie and Train, Nevada-based holidays are getting a strong shout-out this year.)

Rockin' Rudolph, Brian Setzer (Surfdog)

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Brian's already had two Christmas albums, a best-of-Christmas collection, and a live album before 2015, when he trotted out a third album of new Christmas performances. Hate to say that anybody's overstaying their welcome when it comes to rocked-out Christmas music ... Anyway, for those of you who haven't come across the former Stray Cat's efforts before, this is big band swing moved forward a couple of decades until it meets 50s rockabilly. Give the man credit for coming up with a Christmas-themed takeoff on "The Flintstones" theme, "Yabba-Dabba Yuletide," which is definitely the single off this collection. The semi-title song, "Rockin' Rudolph," isn't bad either, as it manages to conflate bits of "Brand New Cadillac" and "Peter Gunn" into the backing to the popular Christmas song. Jazzy elements dominate on "Little Jack Frost," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Swingin' Joy," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Rockabilly reasserts itself on "Here Comes Santa Claus," and "Yabba-Dabba Yuletide" returns in a longer version to close the album. Those hep to the Setzer Orchestra's past work might give this a pass, as might those who aren't that fond of jazz, but "Yabba-Dabba Yuletide" is worthy of note.

We Sing Joy, Cloverton (self-issued)

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The Kansas-based Christian band put out an EP of Christmas songs for 2014, five familiar carols plus an opening instrumental, "Arrival." They elaborate on the basic songs, adding a bit of their own work on such tunes as "We Sing Joy (Joy to the World)," "Do You Hear," and "What Child Is This." They do a vocorder-treated harmony arrangement of "Silent Night," and wrap things up with a piano-led version of "I Heard the Bells." This is mostly downtempo material for contemplation of the holiday.

Christmas in Tahoe, Train (Sunken Forest)

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This band courted controversy from the "sell-out" crowd when their original Christmas tune "Shake Up Christmas" became the theme of a Coke ad campaign a few years ago. They're back in 2015 with a full album, CDs at Walmart and Amazon only and downloads via Amazon. This is pretty much what you would expect from a popular modern rock band, mostly covers except for three originals, the aforementioned "Shake Up Christmas," the midtempo "Wait For Mary, Christmas" and "Christmas Island," a nice rocker about ditching the snow for the sunshine that incorporates the album title in the lyrics. The closest thing to a surprise on the album is their cover of Tracy Thorne's "Tinsel and Lights," otherwise the familiar songs are mostly what you would expect a rock band to choose for their Christmas album: "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," the Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight," Joni Mitchell's "River," Elvis Presley's "Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me," Slade's "Merry Christmas Everybody," the Pretenders' "2000 Miles," Stevie Wonder's "What Christmas Means to Me," and Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas." Fairly conventional versions of "O Holy Night" and "Mele Kalikimaka" round out the playlist. Train fans are ecstatic about this, based on the Amazon reviews, and while I'm not exactly overwhelmed, casual music fans will find this listenable. UPDATE: Stubby e-mails to say he thinks I let Train off too lightly on the sell-out front for "Shake Up Christmas." In his words, "That makes it sound like they wrote the song and Coke said 'Hey, we like that. Can we use it?' It was ALL Coke from the get-go. They had the idea, they essentially had the music and chorus they wanted Train to use, and they asked Train to make a song for their holiday campaign using the musical and lyrical guidelines they provided. Coke should really be listed in the writing credits for that song." He makes a good point.
Not often do you see a group's debut album be a Christmas album, but these folks from British Columbia come to you from beneath 2015's Christmas tree. They call what they're doing "ambient, dubby and jazzy," but it's also pretty poppy for all that, with all numbers clocking in below five minutes apiece and melodies in front at nearly all times. Although it's mainly instrumental, the human voice does take the lead occasionally, even if it's there as punctuation rather than to provide the lyrics. As the songs are all familiar carols, except for "Sugar Plums," this album is a fairly painless introduction to ambient and dub forms. Still, the downside is that this is all kinda samey-samey if you're actively listening to it all the way through; it functions best as background music, though I guess with modern listeners this is a feature rather than a bug. Still, a cut or two of this will probably be a good change of pace in your holiday playlists.

Some short takes

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  • Stevie Wonder and Andra Day duetted on Stevie's classic "Someday at Christmas" for 2015, and as it's the soundtrack to Apple's Christmas ad, you won't be surprised that it's at iTunes/Apple Music only.

  • The Classic Christmas 80s Album is available this year via Sony/Legacy. It's a pretty strong collection of stuff the real fans already know about and those of you with a casual interest in the decade should have if you don't already. The Waitresses, Run-DMC, Billy Squier, Bob & Doug McKenzie, Fishbone, New Kids on the Block and more are here, along with the famous Hall & Oates cover of "Jingle Bell Rock." Don't confuse this collection with A Very 80s Xmas, which is a fairly random collection of tunes from the era, some re-recorded and many not even Christmas songs.
  • Sarah McLachlan has repackaged Wintersong as The Classic Christmas Album this year, adding four cuts done with her music school's student choir. We covered those additional cuts here at Mistletunes when they were released, though I doubt the links are still live to the free downloads.
  • We mentioned a collection called Lost Christmas last year that had some interestingly off-the-wall rarities from such folks as Chuck Berry and Jackie DeShannon. So there's a Lost Christmas 2 this year, and though there's a lot of easy listening, there's also such things as Mel Blanc's "I Tan't Wait For Quithmuth Day", Stan Freiberg's "Christmas Dragnet," Sheb Wooley's "Santa and the Purple People Eater" and another Spinal Tap tune, "We Three Kings." The Royal Guardsmen (both sides of their Snoopy single), The Waitresses, Bob & Doug and Kurtis Blow are on here too.
  • I'm punting on the India.arie & Joe Sample Christmas album, as it's far more adult contemporary than r'nb. But I've linked it so you can make up your own mind.
  • And yes, the Killers are releasing a new Christmas song Dec. 1 on Jimmy Kimmel's show, as they did last year.

"I Am Santa," The Darkness (Canary Dwarf)

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From their 2015 album Last of Our Kind (deluxe edition only), this British band steps out with their second Christmas song, first since "Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)" in 2003. Lyrically it's a bit vague, starting out as a plea to a lost lover and ending up with the singer declaring that he is, in fact, Santa Claus. And if you're not part of the band's fan base, these guys are retro-70s rockers and this uptempo number expresses the band's influences from Queen to Deep Purple to Mott the Hoople. Not quite the fashion in a world of hip-hop and electro-pop? No matter, this is a great single.
carlyrae.jpgThe "Call Me Maybe" girl goes for a 2015 cover of the Wham! classic that is almost exactly what you would expect, given the song and the singer. I'd probably like this better if I hadn't been made completely sick of her major hit, but I guess that's my problem.

This husband and wife duo from the Philadelphia area have a couple albums of pop-folk-rock under their belts so far, and 2015 is actually their second move into the Christmas realm. It's mostly familiar tunes with modern arrangements, and though the duo typically performs as a trio, they bring in a full rhythm section for this album. My recommendations, mainly for their uptempo arrangements, are the gospel favorite "Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn," Harry Connick Jr.'s "I Pray On Christmas" and "Joy to the World" for their New Orleans arrangements, and James Brown's ballad "Sweet Little Baby Boy" for its vintage r'nb sound. Elsewhere we have folky takes on "A Cradle in Bethlehem," a song associated with Nat King Cole, and classic carols "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming" and "Angels We Have Heard on High" get the same treatment. There's a midnight mass-friendly "O Come All Ye Faithful," a Celtic-influenced "I Saw Three Ships," the front-porch string-band sound of "Sing We Noel," and a 70s rock take on Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus." Eclectic and enjoyable. Their previous album, from 2011, is Christmas In Country Village.
Sleeping At Last is the d/b/a name for the musical endeavors of one Ryan O'Neil, and has been since 1999, according to Wikipedia. Some of these songs have turned up on other collections, like this year's Paste Magazine holiday sampler and The Sounds Of Christmas Volume 2. I'm not familiar with this act's past work, but this is a fairly sedate folk-pop grouping of 11 familiar carols and one original song, "Snow," a rather nice piano-led ballad of holiday hope. The rest of the album is well done but not particularly notable, although we give props for what is the first cover I've heard of "Christmas Is All Around," the retinseled Troggs song that was featured in the movie "Love, Actually." It's a folky rendition rather than the classic rock approach of the original. But it's free from NoiseTrade, so there's no penalty for checking it out for yourself. UPDATE: A new song has been added each year since this originally came out; 2013's song was "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," 2014's song was "O Come O Come Emanuel," and 2015's song is "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." 
I've been seeing fewer of these pop song holiday parodies because the whole novelty genre seems to have migrated to YouTube, so it's harder to hear about this stuff when it happens. But since I did find this one, a 2015 parody of One Dimension's "Apologize," well, enjoy. The Murrays (not to be confused with the Midwest punk band of the same name) are a young family who likes to make silly videos like this one. No independent audio I'm aware of, but I'm sure you'll find a way around that.....

relevant.jpgRelevant is an online magazine and podcast emphasizing religion and spirituality, and its other sections on lifestyles, culture and the arts are informed by that mission. As you might guess, they like Christmas, and so we have a free download equal to a double-CD set of music that fits their mission. (Make sure you get parts 1 and 2.) Some of the folks featured on here, like Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, the Oh Hellos, Dustin Kensrue, Sleeping at Last, Found Wandering, Sugar & the High Lows and several others, have been featured on Mistletunes before or at least on other compilations we've covered. This is a mostly adult alternative collection of mainly mellow items curated with the spirituality hook of the magazine in mind. Highlights include a more poppy version of "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Kids than you normally hear, Ben & Nolle's brooding electro-pop take on "Angels We Have Heard On High," Evan Wickham's modern Christian rock original "End of Exile," and Sugar & the High Lows' polyrhythmic take on "Jingle Bells." As previously mentioned, it's free, though in exchange for your e-mail address, which so far has only gotten me an occasional e-mail site update. If there really were four previous collections, you can't tell from the website archives, though I imagine the rights to the songs on past collections were only granted on a temporary basis. UPDATE: "Cindie" e-mails us the link to Volume 4.

Here Comes the Joy, The Drabs (self-issued)

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This San Diego band had an album out in 2012, and now for 2015 they plopped this 4-song EP on Bandcamp. (Also on Amazon, click the art.) "Santa's Got Toys" is a strong opening rock statement with lyrics about how all the toys get broken, but Santa just keeps bringing them. "This Year" is a midtempo vow that things are going to be different, "Mary Christmas" is an ode to a girl of that name, and they wind up with an instrumental "Pub Crawl," as do a lot of us when the family celebrations end. Rocking holiday music with a little roughage in the lyrics. Nice work, guys.
While putting together the Kool Kat 2 album review, I discovered Wyatt, who's on that album, had another Christmas cut up on Bandcamp. From 2013, this nice uptempo power popper draws mainly from the Beach Boys in sound and arrangement, not bad considering Wyatt did almost everything but drums on this song. Check him out. Also up on Amazon.

Up All Night, The Yule Logs (self-issued)

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YuleLog4.jpgWhen The Yule Logs popped out a live album back in 2012, the Mistletunes brain trust thought we might not be hearing much new music going forward, since three albums is plenty of material to base a seasonal act upon. But they're back for 2015 with this entertaining full-length collection. In the past, a lot of their material was pastiches of popular songs overlaid with Christmas lyrics; this time around it's mostly original songs, although the sentiments will be familiar, except when they snark around with them. "A Jingle Ate My Baby" is them messing around with the lyrics to "Jingle Bells," and "Story of Hanukkah" is a short reading of the legend over a Beach Boys/Jan & Dean bed. And they do a fairly straight reading of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" over a semi-calypso beat. The title song is a poppy ode to Christmas parties, "Ain't Got Nothing {On Christmas Day)" enlists a horn section in service of a soulful number about being alone on the holiday, and "Thought That Counts" recounts the awkwardness of getting unwanted gifts. "Leaping Lord" has fun playing with one of the lyrics to "First Day of Christmas," as does "Four Calling Birds." They break out the pedal steel for "(I Saw Mommy Kiss Santa) Last Night," a different take on the better known song in that Santa wasn't Daddy, and "Oh Dreidel" is an almost "Blue Suede Shoes" take on the Hanukkah custom. Wrapping things up is "Michael and His Christmas Tree," the plot of which escapes me except that they're apparently singing about Michael Stipe. Nevertheless, it's a fun album closer. All their albums are up at Bandcamp now, but you can also preorder the new one at Amazon.

Robby has made a business out of hip-hop Christmas music, and for 2015 he's got two new tunes. "Christmas Forgiveness" is a fairly conventional recitation over a musical bed offering holiday-themed affirmations, and that's only streaming on Soundcloud so far. "Don't Be a Scrooge" is available for download, and it's more of a hip-hop workout, though completely safe for work and therefore for your family playlists.

Rocksea6.jpgThis organized charity in the Georgia/Florida area continues its annual drive to raise money for charity with musical outreach, and Volume 6 arrives for the 2015 holiday season. The musical style is, as always, mostly rootsy rock, which suits this site's mission statement. Sara Rachele kicks things off with the sprightly original "When the Fire Goes Out Tonight," the group von Grey offers the contemplative ballad "Cozy Tranquility," Mark Bliesener performs a nicely country-rock "It's Finally X-Mas Day," Eric Durrance contemplates "A Southern Christmas," and Martha's Trouble, about whom see more on this very site, donates their previously released "This Christmas." That wraps the original tunes on this collection; covers include the Electric Sons' semi-march treatment of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Charlie Oxford's traditional treatment of "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," the Galavanters' Booker T-styled instrumental of "Jolly Old St. Nicholas," Michael Logan's solo acoustic "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and Amy Gerhartz's similar piano treatment of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Another fine collection from Rock By the Sea to benefit good causes.

Somehow I have managed to miss the first eight volumes of this series, and Vol. 9 was actually out in 2014, but so it goes. It's the last of the series, according to the Australian producers' final statement on their Bandcamp page, and as it's free you should hie yourself over there, assuming you haven't beaten me to it as so many others probably have. The RAB folks are essentially curators, as they put out the call to indie rock bands to contribute finished tracks, and the final running order is what it is. In this case, it's a fine rock Christmas souvenir. Thee Knight of Thrashe cue the Bo Diddley rhythm on "Santa Claus (Here He Comes)," Burning Yule breaks down the fourth wall with the power-poppy "Santa Are You My Dad," the Click Beetles get compiled once again with their "So Glad It's Christmas," and Leadfinger get a sort of Jefferson Airplane groove going on the deceptively titled "Another Long Summer." The JAC with the Christmas Crew get a "Sweet Toothache" from Christmas treats, Class Action goes all primitive pop on "It Must Be Nearly Christmas," Cal Walker & Iain Wilson channel Bill & Ted on "Gonna Have a Wyld Time," and Ernie O With Richie Poate get a kind of late-60s thing going as they tell a Christmas story on "Gunna Tell You a Lie." Netherwood Lane dip into the garage-psychedelic well for "Christmas Without You," the Kiss-Offs offer a Blondie homage on "Santa Darlin'," Lotti Loop does what their band name suggests on the electronic "Crank Call Christmas," Hotlunch hearkens back to Mott the Hoople with "8 Letters For Going Home" and the Kleber Claux Memorial Singers wrap things up with the drone-backed chant "Treve de Noel," a song about the World War I Christmas truce. Someday I gotta go back and listen to the earlier volumes of this series.

A Maccabeats Hanukkah, Maccabeats (self-issued)

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If you haven't encountered the Maccabeats before, they're a poppy a cappella group that specializes in Judaic music, setting traditional music to modern idioms and also performing modern compositions that fit their format. And that's pretty much the story of this seven-cut Hanukkah collection for 2015, which features five traditional tunes, "Al Hanissim (featuring The Orthobox)," "Mi Yemallel," "Hanerot Hallalu," "Maoz Tzur," and "Oh Hanukkah," along with Peter Yarrow's "Light One Candle" and Miami Boys Choir's "Light Up the Nights." This is pretty much in the tradition of Rockapella, the Blenders and the Nylons, only specializing in Jewish music. They previously had a Hanukkah tune in 2010 called "Candlelight," which garnered strong YouTube action, and in 2011 they covered Matisyahu's "Miracle." Probably should have included them with this collection, but I'm sure you can find them without too much help. Currently on iTunes, not Amazon, or you can just go to their website to link out to a purchase.
This is the second collection from these Central Pennsylvania-based producers, and like the first one it benefits the Susan Giblin Foundation for Animal Wellness and Welfare. Also like the first one, power pop rules the roost, or the kennel in this case. This 2014 collection actually features bands from all over -- the Genuine Fakes, makers of the ballad "You Always Come Back Home," are from Sweden, in fact. The Honeymoon Stallions give us the uptempo "Snowbirds," for those who like tropical Christmases. The Bottle Kids (Featuring Captain Storm) yearn for a "Christmas in Paris," and feel free to use that as a shout-out in regard to the recent tragedy there. The Pengwins announce in Phil Spector-shaped tones that "Christmas Is Coming Again" to kick off the disc, and speaking of Spector, the Split Squad play off the progression under "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on their own song "Another Lonely Christmas." The patron saints of power pop get a nod on the jangly "Beatles Vinyl" by The Tor Guides, and Shake Some Action! not surprisingly evoke the Flamin' Groovies on "Christmas in the Sun." Dan Kibler provides us the folk-poppy ballad "Winter Sun," S-Connection goes all New Vaudeville Band on "Poor Boy," and Sonata Form offer an ode to "Kurtis and Bart," which sounds like the band's pets, and that would be in keeping with the premise behind the album. Acoustic guitars are to the fore on Stephen Lawrenson's "Glad It's Christmas," electric piano anchors Wyatt Funderburk's sweet ballad "Cold," and minor legend Martin Newell wraps things up with an ode to the "Ghosts of Christmas." An eclectic collection, sorry I missed it last year.

This Long Island artist had a long history performing around his stomping grounds and occasionally opening for national artists before putting out a solo album in 2013. For 2015, he's got a full album of Christmas goodies. Self-identifying as "Americana," that's a tip to you that there is rootsy rock with blues and country influences on offer. And extra points to Johnny for leaving the sheet music for the holiday canon in the piano bench in favor of original tunes. "Christmas Cards" is a Bo Diddley-rhythm ode to the slowly dying custom of mailing cards, "It's Christmastime Again" is a fine boogie shuffle to open the album, and "I Wanna Be Your Santa Claus" rocks out with a little role-playing before the jolly elf himself crashes the party. "Hey Santa Claus" borrows a bit from some of the holiday's blues classics but puts a slinky beat under the proceedings, and "Santa's Housetop Blues" gives the upright bass the lead on a jazzy tune. "Christmas Eve @ Santa's Workshop" is an instrumental that evokes the scene described in the title, and "Christmas Night" is mostly instrumental with a brief vocal chorus in the middle. "North Pole Hop" is an uptempo song selling us a new holiday dance craze, something we never get tired of here, and Johnny tops things off with two year-enders, "Have a Happy New Year," which dwells more on Christmas traditions than the inevitable singing of "Auld Lang Syne," and "New Year's Party," which trades on mid-70s hard rock rhythms to get the celebrants on the dance floor. Although the themes of the various songs are a bit on the same-y side, well, this is a Christmas album after all. Roots music fans will enjoy this most, but it's enjoyable no matter what your favorite genre is.

The story of the angel in the title, as rendered in the traditional carol, gets a solid reading over a hip-hop backing in this 2015 single. The artist, PC Munoz, is an experienced and eclectic musician with collaborations with everybody from Jackson Browne to members of the Kronos Quartet to his credit, and vocalist Worm has worked with Bobby McFerrin among others. Very polished and very original. Grab it from Bandcamp.

The indie artist management company keeps the holiday string going for another year in 2015 with another collection drawn from its artist roster. Alejandra O'Leary kicks things off with an imaginative arrangement of Chuck Berry's "Merry Christmas Baby" that opens as a folky drone before the band kicks in behind her melodic vocal. It's at once a blues and a non-blues arrangement, if that makes any sense. "Winter Wanderland" by Art Peace is a modern hit-radio styled ballad about traveling on the holiday, "Not a Holiday Song" by Calisse plays with 1930s pop before turning into something that Nillson might have done, and Joseph Demaree's "Celebrating Every Day" is a lo-fi dirge that belies the sunny title. Magnuson knocks out a grungy cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade of Winter," Revolt Revolt darkens "White Christmas" with dark, low-note vocals, Stubborn Son's "Snowed In" manages to be poppy and rockish at the same time with its prominent fuzz bass countermelody, The Winter Sounds takes us back to the 80s with "MasX," and once again XO gives us our fix of Piney Gir, this year giving us the singalong classic "Love Is a Christmas Rose." As usual, download it for free.

"Linus & Lucy," Los Straitjackets (Yep Roc)

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So far this only exists live, taken from the Nick Lowe Quality Holiday Revue in 2014. They're out again this year, check Nick's website for more info. UPDATE: This heralds a Quality Holiday Review live album, first on vinyl for next week's Record Store Day, later on other media. Thanks, Stubby.

Back on the block

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In response to the e-mails I've received about the site's dormancy, well, we're back for another season. Personal issues have kept me from getting an earlier start, and you probably noticed the most recent posts are items that have been lurking in my notes for a while. The James Brown Complete post is intended to replace the original James Brown Christmas post from the old version of the Mistletunes site that went away several years ago due to the fact that it was laughably incomplete. Anyway, keep an eye out -- we're tracking Patty Smyth, the Felice Brothers, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Robby the Elf and a few others, though the first few posts after this one are likely to be tunes and artists we missed last year. Anyway, welcome back, and tell your friends.
I've yet to encounter any "Hey, remember the 80s" nostalgia for Billy Squier, possibly because he had the misfortune to arise as a solo artist during the punk rock-new wave onslaught, and his sound fit in better with the classic rock sound of the mid-70s that people nowadays regard with, well, what's the opposite of nostalgia? Nevertheless, Billy was a big star for a short period of time, and he's arguably as well remembered for this 1981 pop rock Christmas classic as for any of his actual hits. Ironically, this was the B-side of "My Kinda Lover," from his big-selling Don't Say No album, and "Christmas Is the Time To Say I Love You" wasn't even on that album back in the day. But time has been kind to this rocking holiday number; if you squint your ears a bit, you can almost hear this as a companion to the British glam rock Christmas singles of the early 70s.
Originally released in 1999, it's been re-released a number of times since then, including again in 2014 on Brownstone Records. The passage of years between his classic holiday sides and this collection might indicate that James was going for a nice middle-of-the-road payday on this collection, but unlike other vintage soul performers, James tried to keep it real. No easy listening gospel versions of classic past tunes are offered here. You'll hear contemporary soul-funk-hip-hop influences as applied to the original James Brown sound on this disc, along with 11 original tunes co-written by the Godfather. "Spread Love" especially leans into the slow-jam realm, "Not Just Another Holiday" swings like crazy, and "Christmas Is For Everyone" is an old-school James raveup with modern bass/drum machine sounds. "Mom and Dad" is a bit preachy about the Fourth Commandment, "Don't Forget the Poor at Christmas" offers the reason for the season with a bit of "Santa Claus Go Straight To the Ghetto" blended in, "God Gave Me This" is a lengthy slow-jam ballad, and "A Gift" is almost reggae-flavored. "Sleigh Ride" is not the familiar tune but a holiday rap, a motif repeated on "Reindeer on the Roof Top," "Funky Christmas Millenium" is very Funkadelic-influenced, and "Clean For Christmas," given James' troubles in the 1990s, is almost too much information. Production does sound low-budget, and you can't help noticing that this album was sung by a much older man than the original classics, but overall this is a pretty strong modern r'nb holiday album, and given its age it doesn't really sound particularly dated.
This 2010 two-disc collection of James Brown's 1960s holiday music released on King Records is the perfect historical document for the Godfather's classic Christmas sides, three albums and a couple of non-LP singles, plus single versions of album cuts. (CD's are out of print, but a full download remains available. You can distill all of this into a single-disc collection, James Brown's Funky Christmas. Also, word has it that the original albums will be out on vinyl for the 2015 holidays.) The first album was 1966's James Brown and His Famous Flames Sing Christmas Songs, with James credited as co-writer on the majority of songs, including "Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year," "Sweet Little Baby Boy (Parts 1 & 2)," "This Is My Lonely Christmas (Parts 1 & 2)," "Signs of Christmas" and "Merry Christmas I Love You." James also did two versions of "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," "Please Come Home For Christmas," Billy Ward's "Christmas In Heaven" and "Merry Christmas Baby." In 1968 A Soulful Christmas introduced James' all-time classic "Santa Claus Go Straight To the Ghetto" and also featured the title song, "Santa Claus Santa Claus," "Santa Claus Gave Me a Brand New Start," "Christmas Is Coming," "Let's Unite the Whole World at Christmas," "Tit For Tat (Ain't No Taking Back,)" and the instrumentals "In the Middle," "You Know It," and "Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer)." Oddly, "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" was on this album as well. The third album, 1970's Hey America, was written almost entirely by Brown associate Nat Jones, and the title song was a kind of holiday-themed protest number with an almost rock-styled rhythm. Also here are the ballads "Merry Christmas My Baby and a Very Happy New Year," "A Lonely Little Boy Around One Christmas Toy" and "Santa Claus Is Defiinitely Here To Stay," the driving "Go Power At Christmas Time," the funk-styled "Christmas Is Love," and the oddity "My Rapp," a letter to an estranged lover. For 1969 James released a single, "It's Christmas Time (Parts 1 & 2)," a ballad on which James also played organ, and the other singles included here were alternate versions of album cuts. The title of this complete album is misleading, however, as James released Merry Christmas Album in 1999, with 11 more songs, none repeated from the past.
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