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Recently in Blues Category

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This brother and sister blues act offer an EP of Christmas-oriented music for 2016. They kick off solidly with a rocking version of "Christmas Man Blues," the Bertha "Chippie" Hill song, but it's a bit of an outlier; the rest of the EP has a more traditional and reflective tone. The title song, which may be an original, is a nice holiday ballad with orchestral backing and nothing much blues-oriented about it. "Mary Mary" is the traditional song in the Sarah McLachlan arrangement but with a bluesy wailing guitar figure going through it. "What Child Is This" is a straight reading with solo guitar backing, "Christmas Time Is Here" lacks the piano figures but is otherwise faithful to the original "Peanuts" version, and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" is likewise a reverent performance with just a hint of the blues they're best known for offering. Nice work in a pop realm for the most part, but I'll probably be playlisting "Christmas Man Blues." 

"Spending Christmas," Chuck Berry (Chess)

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One would have to have been a Chuck Berry expert to extend his Christmas heritage beyond "Run Rudolph Run" and "Merry Christmas Baby," the two sides of his one and only officially released Christmas single. Turns out Christmas was briefly on his mind sometime in the mid-1960s, when he recorded this bluesy ballad that only found its way to the public via You Never Can Tell: The Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966. And then, another box set, Have Mercy: The Complete Chess Recordings 1969-1974, yielded another blues, this one a bit more uptempo, titled "Christmas" on the box set, but Google searches turn it up under the title "My Blue Christmas" as well. I only discovered them via this 2014 compilation, Lost Christmas Holiday Rarities, but now you can grab them too.
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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.
bonamassa.jpgThe modern blues-rock guitar star delivers a full-throated jump blues for 2013, complete with horns, piano and Bonamassa's own patented fretwork. Lyrically it's a bit of a throwaway, but it's a dancefloor hit for sure, and it's a free download, so what are you waiting for? (Careful when you hit that download link, the song starts playing immediately and there's no off button.)

Merry Christmas Baby, from the management

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It's that time when posting more and more holiday music has to bow to actually enjoying the holiday. Thanks for visiting this modest Internet way station, offering your tips and actually using the comments section. In the upcoming months I will be moving the rest of the content over from the old site to the new one, so that readers will get better use out of the search window on the main page. Plus, I've got a pile of mostly historic stuff on my desk that needs to join the site, so you'll be seeing that stuff on the main page as I process a few thoughts on each one and post it all. In the meantime, feel free to leave your tips and ask or post questions, keeping in mind that this is the ho-ho-home of a rock 'n roll Christmas.

Anyway, as I started out to say, Merry Christmas from Mistletunes.com. Tell your friends about us. And enjoy this old chestnut, which I often tell people was the start of the rock 'n roll Christmas genre. (This performance is not actually from 1947 as the singer says, just the song is. UPDATE: Ignore this parenthetical, YouTube took away this version so I found another.) Take it away, Charles Brown and your quartet:

brownpls.jpgCharles Brown burnishes his reputation as a Christmas bluesman par excellence with this 1961 song. Where "Merry Christmas Baby" was more successful symbolically to the rock 'n roll Christmas movement, "Please Come Home For Christmas" appears to have had more actual sales success for the singer/pianist as a single, eventually earning him a gold record in 1968. Like Brown's earlier song, this one is widely covered; James Brown did a great version, The Eagles did had chart success with a single of this, VH1 wears out the video of Jon Bon Jovi's version from Very Special Christmas 2 and it turns up frequently in the repertories of other blues, soul and rock performers.
This may be the first rock 'n roll Christmas song. Predating "Jingle Bell Rock," it's more of a blues tune, first done by Charles Brown in 1947 and widely covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Chuck Berry to Bruce Springsteen to Otis Redding to Southern Culture on the Skids. It's this wide adoption by the rock world that justifies the first sentence of this post. Blues and Christmas seem not to go together, but this one has more of a happy ending. Note that Chuck Berry contemporized it by changing "radio" to "stereo" in the line "I'm feeling fine, got good music on my radio." From Mojo magazine, January 1997: "Brown... was approached by a songwriter named Lou Baxter who tried to sell him a seasonal ditty titled "Merry Christmas Blues." Brown then, allegedly, revamped the song... but listed Baxter's name as composer so that he would get a cut. Brown... recorded it as lead singer with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers and Exclusive Records promptly placed Moore's name on the label." Brown has recorded this several more times since the original performance under his own name. He recorded two Christmas albums in his career, one in 1961 and another in 1993.
coolbrwn.jpgThis site credits Brown with the beginnings of rock 'n roll Christmas music for his original 1947 recording of "Merry Christmas Baby" with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers. While there are earlier blues Christmas tunes, Brown's further work in the Christmas genre carried through into the Fifties and Sixties when new originals and novelties began to sweep the pop, rock and country charts. And of course, his original hit has become a staple in the rock and blues fields. Because getting paid for your work has tended to be a sporadic proposition in the music business, blues artists with long careers have often re-recorded their best-known songs for multiple labels in hopes of putting food on the table. So here comes Brown in 1994 with a full CD of Christmas music, revisiting some of his favorites like "Merry Christmas Baby," Billy Ward's "Christmas in Heaven" and "Please Come Home For Christmas." To those, this CD adds "Christmas Comes but Once a Year," "Santa's Blues," a gospel-tinged "Silent Night," "Bringing In a Brand New Year" and "A Song For Christmas." Surprisingly, he throws in a couple of non-holiday originals, the uptempo "Stay With Me" and the ballad "To Someone That I Love." The Brown oeuvre is a bit on the mellow side (see Elvis Costello's great story about writing for Brown on his "A Case For Song" video), but this album is a good way to remember the late bluesman.
Blindboy.jpgAfter some 70 years, it's neat that these blues/gospel pioneers are suddenly making a crossover move; you might be familiar with their recent version of "Amazing Grace" sung to the melody of "House of the Rising Sun." Now they've put their stamp on the holiday with this 2003 album featuring not only their own distinctive sound but a collection of collaborations with other popular artists. Tom Waits fans will snap this up just for his appearance on the title song, Chrissie Hynde lends her distinctive lead to "In the Bleak Midwinter" with guitar by Richard Thompson, Aaron Neville gets back to church on "Joy to the World," and Michael Franti, known for his work with Spearhead, talks the verse to "Little Drummer Boy." Solomon Burke continues his comeback with "I Pray on Christmas." Mavis Staples joins the group for "Born in Bethlehem," also known as "Children Go Where I Send Thee," which is good but seems to go on a little long. A witty 12-bar blues remake of "Away in a Manger" features George Clinton, and Me'Shell NdegeOcello talks the lyric and plays piano over the group singing a close harmony "O Come All Ye Faithful." Jazz grabs the spotlight here as Shelby Lynne does "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting)" and Les McCann plays and sings on "White Christmas," and the group works alone on the opening "Last Month of the Year" and the closing "Silent Night." UPDATE: For 2004 they've released a video version of this on DVD.
canheat.jpgThe legendary boogie band's big Christmas move up until now was the 1968 novelty "The Christmas Song," in which they appear with David Seville's Chipmunks. True story, and that song's on this CD, along with its B-side, "Christmas Blues," in two versions, one of which features Dr. John on piano. Despite the demise of three original members, the band continues on touring and recording, so this album is mainly comprised of performances by the current lineup, plus a third version of "Christmas Blues" featuring John Popper and Eric Clapton. This is a solid blues recording all told, and the later performances are in keeping with the band's original vision. Not too many surprises here, though the version of "Drummer Boy," renamed "Boogie Boy" here, takes the carol down to a slow blues tempo and takes some liberties with the lyrics. Might be worth having just for the Chipmunks if you're a novelty fan, though the rest will satisfy blues lovers.
meryblue.jpgThis 2002 compilation is a quickie job, no liner notes and no marketing, and four of 12 cuts are all by Charles Brown. Very little art involved. Brown gets four cuts because he deserves them; as mentioned elsewhere, he's the godfather of rock holiday music with "Merry Christmas Baby," first recorded in 1947. He's got numerous others under his belt, including the smash holiday hit "Please Come Home For Christmas," along with "Christmas Present Blues" and "Christmas in Heaven." All these Brown cuts, except "Please," sound like they're from sometime in the late 60s and early 70s, though, suggesting the producers simply snapped up performances for which the rights were cheap. (One of the lessons this CD inadvertently teaches you is that blues artists often re-recorded their best-known songs in hopes the next company, unlike the last one, would actually pay them this time.) "Please" also gets a reprise at the end of the album in a version by Johnny Winter. Lowell Fulson's "Lonesome Christmas (Part 1 and 2)" is here, with the two sides of the single simply indexed together into a single cut. Also on hand are Big Joe Williams with "Christmas Blues, "Johnny Adams' soulful "Silver Bells," Smokey Hogg's ballad "I Want My Baby For Christmas," Big Joe Turner's vintage "Christmas Date Blues," Lightnin' Hopkins' "Christmas Blues" and Lester Williams' "Wintertime Blues."
roomful.jpgIt's been about 30 years since the last time I saw Roomful of Blues rock a blues bar, and that's got to be my loss, since this 1997 holiday album is a blues classic you can listen to all the way through -- between Thanksgiving and New Year's, anyway. The group resisted the temptation to generate a batch of original tunes or to reinterpret the more antique carols in favor of playing 10 mostly familiar pop, rock and blues holiday classics. Their "White Christmas" is a solid mix tape/CD choice, kicking off with a touch of Aaron Neville balladry and swinging into a New Orleans march -- definitely an original approach. The album kicks off solidly with Lloyd Glenn's "Christmas Celebration" and follows up with a rockin' version of Fats Domino's "I Told Santa Claus," with the vocalist doing a Fats impression. There aren't a lot of surprises on here, but solid execution on such favorites as "Run Rudolph Run," "The Christmas Song," "Let It Snow," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Count Basie's "Good Morning Blues," Jesse Belvin's "I Want You With Me Christmas" and Lowell Fulson's "I Want to Spend Christmas With You" make it all worthwhile.

Blue Yule, various artists (Rhino)

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blyule.jpgIf there's a Christmas album of blues material that's indispensable, it would be this thoughtfully compiled, packaged and annotated collection from the folks at Rhino. The cuts on here range from 1950 to 1990 and bring latter-day blues stars together with some of the genre's pioneers. Lightning Hopkins wishes us "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year" from the same 1953 single, Charles Brown reprises his classic "Merry Christmas Baby," Sonny Boy Williamson rifles through dresser drawers as he sings "Santa Claus," Louis Jordan's last recording "Santa Claus Santa Claus" is here, along with John Lee Hooker's "Blues for Christmas." Johnny and Edgar Winter, billed as The Insight, do Charles Brown's other classic, "Please Come Home for Christmas." My favorites include "Santa's Messin' With the Kid" by Eddie C. Campbell and Detroit Jr.'s "Christmas Day." Oh, and Canned Heat's "Christmas Blues" is on here -- the version they perform alone, not the one they share with Alvin and the Chipmunks.
bbking.jpgSurprisingly, this 2003 collection is B.B.'s first-ever Christmas album, at least according to the liner notes. Bob Bailey tells us that B.B. recorded "Christmas Celebration" in 1962, a new version of which appears here, and his version of "Merry Christmas Baby," also heard here, goes back to at least 1997. One of history's greatest still-surviving blues musicians, he puts together a 13-track holiday celebration, heavy on the Christmas blues chestnuts. Four are straight out of the Charles Brown songbook: "Please Come Home For Christmas," "Merry Christmas Baby," "To Someone That I Love" and "Bringing In a Brand New Year." He also does "Back Door Santa," a different version than the duet with John Popper on 2001's A Very Special Christmas 5, and contributes a couple of originals, "Christmas Celebration" and "Christmas Love," the latter an instrumental, joining "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Auld Lang Syne" in featuring King's guitar rather than his voice. There's a song called "Lonesome Christmas" that I don't recognize; it's not the Lowell Fulson song. If you like B.B. and his big band blues sound, this is a great album, Christmas or anytime.
ichiban.jpgAtlanta's Ichiban label has specialized in modern blues acts for years, and there were, I believe, four complete Christmas collections by the label. In 2002, this single compilation culled songs from the original four to create a best-of collection. Near as I can tell, these performances span the early to mid '90s. Francine Reed, a frequent Lyle Lovett collaborator, kicks off with a shuffle version of "Go Tell It On the Mountain," Blues Boy Willie does his own "Christmas Pretty Baby" boogie; "I Wanna Be Your Santa Claus" by Jerry McCain is a stop-start blues in the style of "Framed"; McCain returns later with "Absent Minded Santa," then joins with Gary B.B. Coleman at the end of the album with the slow blues "Sad, Sad Christmas." Other notable cuts are Drink Small's "Christmas, Don't Forget About Me," Little Johnny Taylor's "Christmas Is Here Again" and "Santa Claus Got the Blues" by Travis Haddix. I've heard the original albums are out of print, but they still come up in an Amazon search. UPDATE: Amazon now has all the four original Ichiban Christmas collections for download. Click on the album cover to hook up.

fking.jpgThe copy I have was issued in 1975, but I don't know if this was the original release. Freddie was the lesser-known of the three virtuoso blues guitarists named King, but he was a major influence on Eric Clapton. These two tunes fill the bill quite well if you need a Christmas blues, "I Hear Jingle Bells" being the uptempo number while "Tears" is a slow blues. Bob Bailey lets us know this pair of tunes is from 1961, and while they've been on compilations and even a Freddie King album, the versions out there appear to be dubbed from vinyl copies, and mediocre ones at that.
genuine.jpgThe venerable blues label waited more than a decade before jumping back into the Christmas fray with a new compilation for 2003. Some of the same folks are on both collections, but there are younger artists here as well. Hardly any covers on this CD either, except for the Holmes Brothers' funky take of "Back Door Santa," and I'm not sure if the slow blues "Christmas Snow" by Michael Burks is an old song or a new one. (Sean Delany tips us that it's a cover of Willie Hill from volume 4 of Ichiban's now-out-of-print blues Christmas series.) Carey Bell's "Christmas Train" is a fast shuffle, Li'l Ed and the Blues Imperials get off a medium shuffle on "Christmas Time," and Koko Taylor gets our attention with "Have You Heard the News." Shemekia Copeland flirts convincingly on "Stay a Little Longer, Santa," jazzing things up just a bit. W.C. Clark calls out the big band blues sound on "Christmas Party," C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band breaks out the gumbo for "Zydeco Christmas," and Marcia Ball takes the same approach on "Christmas Fais Do Do." The country blues sound comes courtesy of Cephas and Wiggins on "Christmas Day Blues," Roomful of Blues asks "Santa Claus, Do You Ever Get the Blues," Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women, boogie-woogie their lighthearted "Really Been Good This Year," Lonnie Brooks gives us the stomper "All I Want for Christmas (Is to Be With You)," Coco Montoya does a pop-oriented "Bluesman's Christmas," Dave Hole's "Fattening Up the Turkey" is pretty gritty, and Little Charlie and the Nightcaps sneak in a little social commentary with "Christmas Time Again (Spend, Spend, Spend)." Solid performances, eminently listenable.
aligatr.jpgHere's a whole album of mostly original blues tunes for the holiday from 1992, played by some first-class, brand-name blues musicians from the Alligator label. Koko Taylor kicks off with her own "Merry, Merry Christmas, and other originals issue from Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials, Kenny Neal, Lonnie Brooks, William Clarke, Little Charlie and the Nightcats, Gatemouth Brown and Saffire -- The Uppity Blues Women, whose "One Parent Christmas" is topical enough to hit as a novelty record. Of the covers, Katie Webster swings a great boogie-woogie "Deck the Halls," Tinsley Ellis takes on Mack Rice's "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'," Charles Brown does a nice period-sounding "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus," Elvin Bishop goes for it on "Little Drummer Boy" and Charlie Musselwhite closes with "Silent Night" on harmonica. Blues fans will eat this up, but there's plenty here for everyone else, too.

Santa's Got Mojo, various artists (Electro-Fi)

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santamoj.jpgThis contemporary blues collection came out of Canada in 2002, made up mostly of blues originals, although there's a sweet shuffle of "White Christmas" by Curley Bridges and a walking bass version of "Winter Wonderland" by Mel Brown and the Homewreckers. That band kicks off this CD with "Don't Plan No Party This Christmas," a wronged husband's complaint, and that's followed by Jack de Keyzer's "The Twelve Blue Days of Christmas," which turns the traditional holiday round into a foray through blues history, evoking lyrical ready-mades as well as the styles of some famous players. "Country Christmas Blues" by Rick Fines is just as advertised, an acoustic country blues ballad. The rest of the album, featuring players like Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Snooky Pryor and Chris Whiteley, is more of the same, a holiday trip through numerous blues styles, all strong performances.
bluexmas.jpgNo running afoul of the consumer protection laws here, the title says it all. This 2001 collection, produced by Carla Olson of Textones fame, was specially recorded for Evidence. Rather than a collection of submissions by individual artists, Olson rounded up a house band to back a who's who of contemporary blues performers. The Mistletunes bias toward vocal music has been noted elsewhere on the site, but anyone inclined toward this kind of thing will have nothing to worry about; there's equal weight given to the original melodies of the songs as opposed to the riffing and improvisation that is so much a part of the blues. The song selection consists entirely of familiar carols and pop standards with strong enough melodies to stand up to a blues interpretation. It's really difficult to break out who's featured on each song, as the house band sometimes takes over from the lead musicians, so I'll just list some of the players: guitarists Denny Freeman, Otis Rush, Guitar Shorty, Rusty Zinn, Son Seals, Alan Youngblood Hart, Becky Barksdale, Albert Carter, Walter Trout, Joe Louis Walker, Tommy Castro and South Side Slim; harmonica players Kim Wilson, Charlie Musselwhite, Paul Oscher and Sugar Blue; saxophonists Ernie Watts and Tom Jr. Morgan; bass, Phil Upchurch; drums, Alvino Bennett; organ, Deacon Jones; and piano, Barry Goldberg.
blaktop.jpgThis collection of Texas and Louisiana bands from 1995 takes a bluesy look at the holiday with a mix of originals and standards, although Grady Gaines' "Grady and Santa Is Coming To Town" is probably better known by the title it would have if Santa came by himself. Likewise, "Joe's Christmas Salutations" by Big Joe and the Dynaflows sounds a lot like "Merry Christmas Baby." Rick Holmstrom's "Sleigh Ride" is the traditional song done in a fast shuffle, and Sam Myers with Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets does a credible job on Lowell Fulsom's "Lonesome Christmas." Robert Ward's "Wouldn't It Be a Merry Christmas" is uptempo in tone, if not in rhythm. Mark Wilson and Kaz Kazanoff do a jazz horn chorus version of "Good King Wenceslaus" and Bill Kirchen's "Santa! Don't Pass Me By" is flat-out country. A good blues album with lots of distinctive cuts. And by the way, the record company thoughtfully offered a poster version of the CD cover back in the day.

saltcity.jpgThis 1993 regional compilation hails from the Syracuse, N.Y. region and consists mainly of originals with a bluesy tinge. Only "The Christmas Song," "Back Door Santa" and "Blue Christmas" are covers, and their arrangements are no surprises, except for Mark Doyle's vocal intro of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in the beginning of his instrumental version of "The Christmas Song." Tom Townsley and the Backsliders cut loose with an original New Year's song, "Resolution Blues." Notable originals include Gary Frenay and Lil' Georgie's "Santa Man," Z-Bones' "Here Comes Another Christmas" and Muddpuppies' "Silent Night, Lonely Night." Kim Lembo does a great blues mama take with Ronnie D's "Under My Tree," too. Mostly blues oriented, but well done. UPDATE: The Muddpuppies' song gets an update in 2009 from its original vocalist.
bullseye.jpgTwo appearances by the grandfather of rockin' Christmas, Charles Brown, highlight this 1995 compilation of blues holiday tunes. He solos on Hammond B3 organ while singing a medley of his two best-known Yule tunes, "Merry Christmas Baby" and "Please Come Home For Christmas," then duets with Johnny Otis on Charles' "Christmas Comes But Once a Year." Later, Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson does a full band version of "Merry Christmas Baby," an uptempo one at that. The Memphis Horns help out on Little Jimmy King's "Happy Christmas Blues" and Larry Davis' "Help the Poor." Smokin' Joe Kubek with Bnois King do "Poor Man's X-mas" and Lowell Fulson performs his own "Lonesome Christmas." (I'm not sure of the history of this song; it's been out for years, but this sounds like a recent re-recording of it. Bob Bailey confirms my suspicion that Fulson has recorded it numerous times.) The Preston Shannon Band does "X-mas Blues" and Michelle "Evil Gal" Wilson takes on Pearl Bailey's "Five Pound Box of Money" in an arrangement that's faithful to the original. Outside the regular Christmas theme are Champion Jack Dupree's "Freedom" and The Persuasions doing the Brecht-Weill "Oh Heavenly Salvation," the latter more appropriate since Sept. 11, 2001.
hbombs.jpgJohns and his band are a regional bar band attraction, and this 1990 album is about what you would expect when such an ensemble gets together and says, "Hey! Let's make a Christmas album!" Johns writes or co-writes most of the nine songs here, and the originals are mainly instrumentals that do little to suggest Christmas apart from their titles; "Mule Size Yuletide," for example, is a jam on the riff from "Day Tripper." And I have no idea what a cover of "Telstar" has to do with Christmas. UPDATE: Jay Karr enlightens us: Telstar, the first communications satellite, was launched in 1962 by the U.S. on behalf of AT&T. Famed British producer Joe Meek was inspired by this event, probably because Telstar's Earth receiving station was the BBC's Goonhilly Down facility, to record the original song with the band The Tornados. It went on to become a worldwide smash and was even reputed to be Queen Elizabeth II's favorite song -- she even worked a mention of Telstar into her Christmas address that year. End update. The vocal version of the title song is not bad, and "The Little Cajun Drummer Boy" is exactly what it sounds like, a Cajun version of the classic carol. 
Tcastro.jpgFree downloads from the blues-rock guitarist's website, featuring Marcia Ball singing "Everyday" and Calvin Owens doing the honors on the Charles Brown classic. No surprises, but solid blues performances free of charge.
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