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More quick takes

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  • Ghostface Killah and Run the Jewels are selling ugly Christmas sweaters this year. Not a new meme, but it's new in that hip-hop performers are turning it into swag. I'm waiting for Nick Cave's, or maybe Iggy's, before I reach for my wallet.
  • Sleeping At Last is continuing to add one new cut a year to a Christmas album that originated back in 2012. This year's cut is "The Christmas Waltz (2016)."
  • Taraji P. Henson apparently had a Christmas special full of R'nB takes on Christmas songs from such folks as Missy Elliot, TLC, Smokey Robinson, Snoop Dogg and Pharell.
  • Fiona Apple used "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" to take a poke at Cheeto Benito. It's clearly something off the cuff she did into her iPhone, so I'm just going to let it stand rather than write something more elaborate.
  • The Regrettes had a cover of "Marshmallow World" out for this just-passed Record Store Day on 7-inch vinyl, but it doesn't appear to have become available any other way so far.

"Keeping Christmas," Carly Jamison (OK!Good)

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We had Carly's single "Christmas May Have To Be Postponed" up last year, and she's back for 2016 with a nice crunchy rocker about keeping Christmas spirits high. It's just that simple, just that upbeat, and just what you need to rock the holiday. It's on Amazon and Bandcamp, and various streaming services have it too.

Snowdrift EP, Vocal Few (self-issued)

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"A guy and his pregnant wife making music" in Seattle brings us this 2016 mini-collection of Christmas originals. (Apparently the kid is out and about since this Bandcamp blurb was written.) This is acoustic pop, nicely orchestrated and arranged, starting with "Ice Storm 2008," a singalong holiday ode no doubt based on a real-life experience. "Oh Holy Night (There's Only Love)" is more pensive and not based on the familiar carol, "Not Giving Up" and "Beloved" are minor-key ballads with religious overtones, and "Cheers to Your Holiday" is a little more upbeat lyrically to close the EP. More mellow than we normally go for, but these are good original songs well played.

These guys have been popping up the last couple of holidays with fresh original alt-rock-pop takes on the holiday, and this is 2016's offering. A nice midtempo ode to warm-weather holidays in the tropics, the time being December but the weather befitting July. As these guys are residents of Phoenix and Minneapolis, this apparently was a natural subject to broach. Come to Bandcamp and listen (and buy).

Old-school soul star Bunny had a Christmas album out in 2012, and at the time it struck us here as being just a bit too much adult contemporary/easy listening for visitors to the site. But for 2016, they plucked Bunny's version of Der Bingle's song from the album, remixed it, juiced up the arrangement and cut nearly two minutes off the run time, and I like it a lot better now. Grab it from Amazon and iTunes, or just check it out below.

"A Hint of Nutmeg," Black Flamingos (Hi-Tide)

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I mentioned these guys in the Seasonal Favorites: Vol. 4 post and they got back to me to mention that their "How the Gurch Stole Christmas" from that album is also on a vinyl single for the first time in 2016. This is the B-side, a slightly mellower surf instrumental than their frenetic A-side. Apparently it's just out, so new it's not even mentioned on their website, but I'm sure that will change shortly. Meanwhile, enjoy.

bongoboy.jpgBongo Boy is a record label that appears to specialize in compilations of lesser-known independent artists, and for 2016 they've rounded up 17 tunes across a number of rock/pop/soul genres. I can't say for sure whether any of these tunes were commissioned specifically for this album, although I know Les Fradkin's Spector-esque original "Say You Love Me For Christmas" is from his decade-old holiday album. Similarly, the synth-pop dance floor anthem "I Love Christmas Times (Remix)" by Wayne Olivieri & DJ Chris Ibe purports to be an updated version of an existing song, and Walter Rossi's rocking shuffle "Jingle Jangle" appears to have been around for a while, according to Mr Google. Inches From Sin trumps Walter with "Jingle Jangle Jingle," a 70s soul workout, Dennis Sy gives a more contemporary R'nB sheen to "Christmas Morning," as does Tammi T and Keith Hines Production on "Go Wish." Steel featuring Bubu the Producer brings the hip-hop on "Have a Gigolo Xmas," and Cousins Steel does a bit of the same on "1, 2, 3." Ysanne performs "Christmas in the Sun," a reggae carol, and Deborah Henricksson offers "The Angel Gabriel," a spare holiday ballad. The Forty Nineteens bring a bit of that mid-70s hard rock crunch to "Frosty the Snowman," and Jackie Kringle & the Elves (aka the Doughboys, or at least most of them) do a garage take on the collection's title song, also mis-punctuated as in the title to this post. Sarantos goes soft pop on "It's Christmas Time," which the press release identifies as something from an old school Christmas special, and you probably won't disagree. Bob Shaw gets the most Bongo Boy love with three tunes, a ballad in E Street Band style called "I Wonder Where You Are This Christmas," a country/jug band exhortation called "Don't Forget the Christ in Christmas," and a comedy sketch called "The Sleigh Ride" in the tradition of those old Beach Boys album fillers like "Bull Session With the Big Daddy" and "Cassius Love vs Sonny Wilson." Easily downloaded from the usual suspects, don't know if any hard copies are being manufactured.  

seasonal4.jpgThis surf music label sporadically comes up with a Christmas compilation, and 2016 is the year for the latest entry. Some of the individual tunes we've seen before, like "Lump of Coal" by the Barbary Coasters, "Hot Rod Hanukkah" by Meshugga Beach Party, "Groovy Old Saint Nick" by Los Straitjackets, and "Ye Merry Gentlemen" from the Falcons is from a decade-old album. The majority of these tunes are surf-style instrumentals, with a bit of late-50s-early-60s balladry mixed in, as in disc opener "Christmas in July" by Martin Cilla. Black Flamingos give us "How the Gurch Stole Christmas," their spelling not mine, which taps on the mood if not the precise melody of the Grinch's theme song, while the Twang-o-Matics go more spaghetti western on "Staffan Var En Stallendrang," a Swedish tune I could get very little about from Google Translate. The Other Timelines bring us "Public Access Christmas Special," a neat guitar-organ duet, the Crazy Aces give us a medley of popular carols called "Crazy Acemas," and the Kanaloas do "X-Mas Palm Tree." The Nutcracker gets a couple of different takes as Fronkensteen's "Nutty Sweet" is essentially a cover of "The Nutrocker," while Travelers of Tyme bring a bit of the tiki hut to "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy." More familiar carols are performed by Aqualads, "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Surf" by the Takeoffs, and "Jingle Bells" by Tiki Joe's Ocean. Vocals aren't completely ignored here, as Whoa Nellie Vera and Johnny recast the Johnny B. Goode story as "Little Johnny Got a Japanese Guitar For Christmas," The Beagles take on "Snoopy's Christmas" with a "Hang On Snoopy" chorus, and the best cut here, "Xmas Is a Bust" by the Ogres, is a snarky original with more of the garage sound about it. Apparently only available from the label's website, no download or streaming at this time. UPDATE: "I Saw Three Ships (Mr Rebel Version)" by Urban Surf Kings was recorded new for this collection; I erroneously assumed it was from a previous album by them.

The band name is actually just Paris-based English singer-songwriter Kate Stables and her musician friends, and this Christmas single is a nice synth-based version of the "Peanuts" staple, backed with "La Peregrinacion," Spanish for "The Pilgrimage," as the song originates with Argentinian composer Ariel Ramirez. It's the Nativity story set to a beautiful South American-inflected melody. You might like the B-side a bit better than the well-traveled A-side. From 2016, get it from Amazon or Bandcamp.

The only outlier in the 2016 Snowflakes series, this one is dark, atmospheric and almost foreboding, in contrast to the other uptempo rockers on offer in this series. If your Christmas isn't complete without a full airing of the Kate Bush or Tori Amos Christmas albums, you'll want to add this classically influenced number to the playlist. The approach remains the same on the flip side, "Dreaming of a White Christmas," a deconstruction of the Bing Crosby chestnut. Vinyl or Soundcloud.

"Who Needs Summer?" The Haywains (Snowflakes)

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Here's a cool lo-fi pop-rocker with a bit of classic-era Jonathan Richman to it, which also manages to keep Christmas out of the title but not the lyrics. Part of the 2016 Snowflakes series, they sneak singing kids into the last verse, but we'll let that slide. Flip side is "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," in a 70s style early pop-punk major-chord arrangement. Good stuff, on 7-inch or visit Soundcloud.

"Never Had Christmas," Rope Store (Snowflakes)

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Another Snowflakes Series vinyl single, these guys do a nice '70s glam rock shuffle that needs to be on your 2016 holiday playlist. Great work. The flip is a similar treatment for the David Essex song "A Winter's Tale," written by Mike Batt (Wombles) and Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar), but don't hold that against the song. Vinyl or Soundcloud.
This is one of four singles in the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Series for 2016. This band does a driving punkish thing to start the song, which then slows down into a dreamy Christmas interlude before kicking back into overdrive. The flip is a kind of emo version of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." Available on vinyl or stream them at Soundcloud.

More Than December, Jetty Rae (self-issued)

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This Michigan singer-songwriter has favored us with a holiday EP for 2016, and if all you get from this is the title song, you've done well, young padawan. It's a sprightly midtempo tune about extending the holiday verities beyond the last month of the year and it'll set your toe to tapping. She also give us "Christmas Kiss," a nice acoustic ballad of love. The remaining songs are popular favorites, "O Holy Night," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Little Drummer Boy," all done in an acoustic singer-songwriter vein. But that title song, well, gotta have.

"Back For Christmas," Andrew Belle (self-issued)

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This John Lennon Songwriting Award-winner from Chicago has been busily recording since 2009 and he's lately been spending a lot of time in Nashville hanging out with the Ten out of Tenn crew. But you wouldn't know that from this 2016 song, a lovely slice of electronic pop balladry that will take you back to the 80s and 90s. Sorry I can't give you more insight into the lyrics, which are a bit indistinct even on the third hearing, but I'm guessing they helped inspire the pensive mood of the song. I like this a lot.

Christmas EP, The Prissteens (Girlsville)

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This mostly-girl group from New York was active in the 1990s and had an album produced by Richard Gottehrer, who was well known for his work with the Go-Go's and Blondie. Their label recently dug out these unreleased gems from their heyday for 2016, only one of which, the lovely "Christmas Is a Time For Giving," is a holiday tune. Fortunately, it's one you simply must have; think the Go-Go's singing over a midtempo Ramones track as produced by Phil Spector, and you've pretty much got it. The non-Christmas tracks are worth the purchase too, including a recasting of the Rezillos' "Teenage Kicks" as "Teenage Dicks." Must get over to Bandcamp ASAP, as they're threatening to pull it down forever on New Year's Day.
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." 
Minnesota-based Red House Records seems a likely place for a Christmas compilation to originate, and yet it took them until 2016 to follow through. This collection of Americana artists does a nice job with a collection of classics and originals. John Gorka's "Holed Up Mason City" is a road song about having to yield to the wintry weather, Heather Masse sings the praises of "Mittens," Dale Watson & His Lonestars go nearly full country with "Christmas To Me," Robin & Linda Williams go folky on the intimate "Together All Alone," Suzzy Roche enlists Jules Shear for his co-written "Cold Hard Wind," Charlie Parr breaks out the dobro for the album's near-title song, the field blues "Slim Tall's Christmas on the Lam," and the Wailin' Jennys give us the front-porch gospel of "Glory Bound." Reaching for the songbook are Jorma Kaukonen with the finger-picked version of the West Indian carol "The Baby Boy," the Pines cover Gordon Lightfoot's "Song For a Winter's Night," Bill Kirchen and Austin de Lone put a little Nashville on Mack Rice's "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'," Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams serve up a traditional country "Blue Christmas," and Davina and the Vagabonds slip a little Dixieland into "Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me."  A fine collection of roots music for Christmas. 

Snow Globe, Kristin Chambers (Nubble Road)

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Missed this when it came out in 2015, but Kristin thoughtfully called my attention to it this year. She's a singer-songwriter and she's split the album with five originals and five classics. It's mostly mellow pop in sound, though "Little Drummer Boy" and her own bluesy "It's Not Christmas (Without You Here)" add some rhythmic crunch to the proceedings. Opening song "Christmas Eve," "Home" and "Frozen Heart" are all ballads, and she gets help from Casey MacGill on the country original "A Magical Guy," and yes, that's the jolly elf himself. "Silent Night," "Last Christmas" and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" are all mellow ballad treatments, and "Auld Lang Syne" brings in a country influence. This is mainly for fans of pop Christmas music.

Diplo's label keeps the string of hip-hop Christmas mixtapes/compilations going for 2016 with this just-out collection. This is enjoyable to listen to, mainly because there's a fair amount of Jamaican influence throughout, starting with opening track "Christmas Trees" by Major Lazer, a reggae-influenced number that is concerned with more types of vegetation than just the plant in the title, if you catch my drift. "Carnival" by 4B and "Mrs. Claus" by Bad Royale both float above the melody of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," and the latter is essentially a booty call for Santa's spouse (only song with an explicit notation, btw). Nonsens's "Gungla the Snowman" goes kind of reggaeton on Frosty's theme song, "Creepy Christmas" by Aquadrop & Big Fish isn't a shout-out to Halloween, but apparently addresses someone who's a "Christmas creeper" over "O Come All Ye Faithful." "The Christmas Party" by KiWi actually manages to mash up hip-hop and J-pop with a bit of Chipmunks thrown in, Jan Level's "World Peace" and Akira Akira's "Chrimbus" are instrumentals, as is DJ Douggpound's mix closer "Up On the Housetop." Some of these tunes get a bit clattery, but there's a lot of good pace-changers for your own mix. Heck, pull 'em apart and remix them yourself if you want.
We've had this Philly band on the site before, and for 2016 they popped out this fine airplay-worthy single with lyrics that follow the well-trod theme of missing someone for Christmas. It's a free download from Soundcloud for now, and you know what they say: if it's free, it's for me.

winterwish.jpgOh, Hush! has been on the Christmas tip for literally years, and they're back with guest vocalist Hanna Ashbrook for 2016. This is a contemporary hit-radio ready ditty about celebrating the holiday with friends, relentlessly upbeat with a deadly hook. Check it out below.

morganshaugh.jpgAtlanta-based Morgan had tacked this sweet rock anthem-styled ballad onto her Makeout Scars and Breakout Stars EP in 2014, but she's putting this out as a vinyl single for 2016, backed with an instrumental of her song "February Moon." Her biography notes she has "physical challenges" and that she recorded the EP from her bed, but don't listen out of pity, listen because she's really good and "Pretty Colored Lights" is a great holiday song.  You can go to her site to grab the vinyl artifact, or click on the cover to get just the Christmas song or the full EP. 

The Swedish singer-songwriter continues her decade-long string of Christmas originals with this wistful ballad for 2016. As with her last couple of holiday tunes, this has more of an Americana flavor with piano and pedal steel backing, no doubt inspired by her recent American tours. Check this one out. UPDATE: Although I've linked to Amazon via the cover art, Sofia also provides her Bandcamp link, where you can simply grab it free by naming your price and make a charitable donation in lieu of.
This singer-songwriter from London, Ontario has a nice original holiday love song that I missed in 2015 as it came out very late in the year. Sounds like a cross-border romance, with a boyfriend in NYC while she's back in London; a bit on the nose, perhaps? The duet with the guitar player really sells it, by the way. It's a delightful folk-pop shuffle that will brighten up your mix discs and playlists. UPDATE: Stubby's interpretation is that Mrs. Claus is the narrator here, which is a better interpretation than mine.

Christmas Eve, Wonderlux (Wonderlux Music)

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Surf guitar instrumentals, once the toast of the rock scene in the mid-60s, now are the subject of much cult adulation, particularly in Europe. Although "surf" might be a misnomer, in that the Ventures are the real granddaddies of this style. In the general pop culture, the sound most often pokes its head up in movie soundtracks (see the Dick Dale revival brought to us in the soundtrack to "Pulp Fiction"), so it's fun to hear it pop up in the Christmas realm. In this case, the folks who bring it to us for 2016 are Michael Fontana of the Blue Hawaiians, with the help of Big Bad Voodoo Daddies producer Brad Benedict. Just like the Ventures, they play one thing and throw in snippets of another for seasoning. The one thing you might not expect in this style is that the play times for the individual cuts are longish, in the 4.5-6-minute zone, but that's because most cuts feature multiple songs, as in "Yuletide Moon/It Came Upon a Midnight Clear/O Little Town of Bethlehem." Some of these titles appear to be originals grafted onto familiar tunes, as in "A Nightmare on Elf Street/O Holy Night," which starts with the familiar hymn and backtracks into something more Halloween-sounding in nature. It's not all twang; some string sweetening and female vocal choruses sneak in to build tension, but the twangy vibrato guitars and pounding drums return to the forefront soon enough. Things wrap up with "Mistletoe a Go-Go/Silent Night," which I highlight because I'm always up for alternate takes on this frequently played but oh-so-solemn carol. This is a gotta-have for your holiday playlists, and there are enough liberties taken that you won't feel silly playing it in the summer.

Popular indie duo Best Coast has offered up this song for an American Girl holiday special set to stream on Amazon Prime this season. So far, there's only this Soundcloud stream of it, but I'll keep an eye out for independent audio.
emptyhearts.jpgThis New Wave supergroup is comprised of Blondie's Clem Burke, the Cars' Elliot Easton, the Romantics' Wally Palmar, and Andy Babiuk of the Chesterfield Kings. They hit with a fine album back in 2014, and for 2016 they're back with this two-sided Christmas smash that hits all the high notes. (It's a download, I'm not aware if there's any vinyl of this.) The title song is a nice upbeat raveup that will remind you of the players' previous groups as well as the glam rock holiday singles of the early to mid-70s, while sounding perfectly up to date. The B-side, "Joyful Noise," is just that, the Bo Diddley beat with driving guitars, and the sound is a bit closer to the Chesterfields. Best thing I've heard this year so far.

Happy Thanksgiving

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Enjoy the holiday. This is just in case someone on your Facebook feed hasn't posted this yet.

The Washington Squares was a 1990s group whose premise was to be a tribute and throwback to the early-Sixties folk music boom, particularly the style of Peter, Paul and Mary. It was a side project for members of the Greenwich Village rock scene, and some found it refreshing while others found it twee. This just-released for 2016 track was actually an unreleased performance from their heyday, and I think it falls a bit on the twee side. But it does get points for actually speeding up the voices to get that Chipmunks vibe, though one might note that if that's important to you, might as well grab the original. But that's entirely up to you. Get it from iTunes or stream it from one of the services.

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