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Recently in Compilations Category

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Seattle may be the home office of rainfall, but it's also where Green Monkey Records is located, ground zero for a lot of fun lo-fi indie rock music-making. And the label is down with Christmas, as the multiple releases of holiday compilations over the years would indicate. Spontaneity is not in short supply here, as the producer's notes state he put a call out for contributions only at the start of October. For 2016, we get more of what made Green Monkey famous, with your contributions to the cause being donated to MusiCares. The Green Pajamas offer their version of a Mexican carol, "El Rorro," Captain Christmas and the Winter Solstice Singers take on "Christmas Boogie Woogie," originally found on the Anthology of American Folk Music Vol. 5, the Fastbacks punk up "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," Pleasure Island does a surf-oriented instrumental of "Winter Wonderland," and compilation producer Tom Dyer (who pops up on several of these songs) does a fairly straight reading of "Joy to the World." That's it for the covers. Cain Morehead and the Elves Bells rock out to "All Those Christmas Songs," Zelda Starfire breaks out the ukelele to proclaim in a deceptively upbeat way that "I Hate Christmas," Uncle Tiki puts in his holiday menu selections on the punky "The Potato Song," and Three Ninjas salutes their "Black Dog Family," which appears to be better than their real ones. Ed Portnow offers a shambling folkish "(Peace Can Happen) On Christmas," Free Creature puts original lyrics over a Fats Waller tune on the good-timey "Youse a Humbug," whose horn solo is simply "The Dreidel Song," the producer appears again with The Tom & Jim Yuletide Contraption on "(All I Want For Christmas Is a) Big Black Eye," and his family, The Dyer Spawn, offer the holiday nature strum "Wild Christmas." Steve Martinelli offers an ode to a "Pretty Cute Christmas Kitty," Guns of Nevada rocks out with their one-item Christmas list, "Liquor in my Stocking," The Fresh Prince of Brain Wizard offers us a spacey "Christmas In This Modern Age," the Write Brothers Sonic Soul Consortium give us a mournful ballad with the mouthful of a title "A Misspent Mercury Tear and a Cold Obsidian Heart," and Eric Padget wraps things up in a neat little package with "12 Drummers Drumming," which is nearly 12 minutes of exactly that. Run over to Bandcamp and grab this.
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.

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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. 

Holiday EP, Empty Houses (Sargent House)

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This young Detroit band punches in for 2016 with their first Christmas release, a quick collection of five popular classics. No major conceptual ground is broken with these easily chosen covers, but they're well done and listenable and showcase lead singer Ali Shea very nicely. "Sleigh Ride" is a straight performance of the Phil Spector arrangement, "Santa Baby" is a more modern-sounding version of the original by Eartha Kitt, "Let It Snow" has a nice stride rhythm with horns supporting the vocal, and "White Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" put a little rhythm into what are otherwise ballad arrangements. Check it out at your leisure.
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This band management company has been collecting Christmas songs from their clients for years now, and as usual the 2016 product of their curation is free to download. Up front, I'm disappointed that Piney Gir's contribution is the same "Love Is a Christmas Rose" she contributed to Volume 8 of the series, but if you missed it then, you've got it now. Andrew Joslyn & the Local Strangers bring an orchestra to help them render the aching ballad "Under Mistletoe." EagleWolfSnake provide the folk-poppy "Make It Glow" that concedes San Francisco doesn't do much to provide a white Christmas. Bill Berry's "Twas the Night After Christmas" is a nice boozy acoustic blues, Occurrence breaks out the synths for "This Is How You Know (It's the Holidays)," and Texture and Light add a bit of electronic flavor to their cover of Aimee Mann's "I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up For Christmas." Magnuson knocks out a minor key "Silent Night" to a martial beat (just the thing for the new administration, am I right?) and Blue Skies For Black Hearts top off the collection with a gentle take on the Bing & Bowie medley of "Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth." Another winning holiday gift from XO.

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This record label is a UK-based concern promoting modern rockabilly and psychobilly artists, and this is their Christmas compilation. The label makes a point of releasing only material recorded in their very own studio, which helps them maintain a characteristic style. Not being a rockabilly specialist, I can't say I've heard of any of these acts before, but they all acquit themselves very nicely here. There are 22 tracks here, definitely value for money, with several artists making multiple appearances. Proceedings get under way with El Camino's "I Want Christmas," which starts out as a tribute to Elvis' "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" but quickly swings into a fine uptempo original. Little Timmy Tinsel & the Fairy Lights shouts out to British concerns with "Santa's Lost on the Underground" and also provides two versions of the rockin' "Blotto in the Grotto," Thee Elfmen also double up on the midtempo "Santa's Here," lament a "Cruel Yule," dance to the "Egg Nog Twist," and also give us a little of that Fifties novelty nostalgia with "Christmas on Mars." The Epileptic Hillbilly's (that's their spelling, not my typo) stomp out "Another Christmas Without You," the Bad Detectives keep one eye on the purse with "Keep the Receipt (This Christmas)" and "Christmas on Plastic," and Weazeldust demand that "Santa Claus You Dirty Rat (Bring Back My Guitar)." Sharna-May and the Mayhems give us a taste of Brenda Lee mixed with Lee Hazlewood with "We're Off To See Santa," Mary Kissmass also evoke Brenda with "Blue Mistletoe," Las Pistolas go for Fifties horror (and tell Bobby "Boris" Pickett the news) with "Creepy Christmas Party," the Go Go Cult goes a little dark on the beat with "Hey, Hey, It's Christmas," and Lew Lewis & the Twilight Trio throws their hands up and sings "Just Another Day To Me." Don't know if the rockabilly fanbase is concerned that some of these artists let their Brit flag fly, but it certainly doesn't bother me; this is fun from start to finish and a natural playlist on its own (minus the double cuts, anyway).
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This Seattle indie label has been on the Christmas tip for years, as the number in the album title indicates. It's also where the fabulous "No Lou This Christmas" by Tom Dyer originated a couple years ago, so expectations are a little higher for this label's compilations. Burnseer gets the prize for political awareness with their "The Little Refugee Boy," who in other Christmas seasons would be the drummer. "Here He Comes" by Cassandra Sky manages to evoke the middle-period Beach Boys even without the choral harmonies, Fur For Fairies goes all antique music on us with "Cherry Tree Carol," Glamourpuss breaks out the toy piano to accent their lo-fi poppy "Christmas For Everyone," Jeff Kelly digs out an ode for two teenage girlfriends circa "Christmas 1995," Kat Dyer solos on "I Heard the Bells," Pleasure Island features the surf guitar sound on the instrumental of "Merry Gentlemen," God rest them, and Sheila Powers confesses "Santa Left Me (On Our Last Date)" in an original ballad. The Elf-Tones throw the garage door open so everyone can hear "I See Reindeer in the Clouds," and then the Navins grab the instruments to rock out on "Jesus Under My Tree." Tom Nook's "Best Darn Christmas Ever" is fun, amateur thrash rock, Tom's New Pagan Choraliers tell the story of "Little Blair's Unpleasant Christmas," Toxic Socket hammers out the bluesy "Santy Claws," Zelda Starfire breaks out the ukelele to promise she'll be home for Christmas "Next Year," and 3 Ninjas get all profane about the holiday in "It's an Agonizingly Slow Death," retelling the "Wonderful Life" story in more depressing terms. Couldn't get behind "A Saucy Holiday Indeed!" by The GMR Chamber Ensemble, though I predict somebody might roll this out during a wintertime Renaissance Faire. All told, another great collection from the rainy city. Get it from Bandcamp.
indieholiday.jpgAs with last year's All Is Bright, this is not actually an album but a playlist curated by Amazon as a come-on to sign up for Amazon Prime, which in addition to giving you free two-day delivery on all purchases also gives you access to their video library and lets you stream all the music you can eat. You can go ahead and buy all the individual tracks, though there's no album package price for doing so. For 2015, the playlist features such known quantities as Robert Pollard, Sondre Lerche, The Leevees & Matisyahu, Reverend Horton Heat, Langhorn Slim and Lisa Loeb, along with a raft of lesser-known indie artists, and most of the songs are fresh originals to boot. Hitting the highlights, we have the funky "Who's Up There?" by Bhi Bhiman, the hip-hoppy "Outside of December" with The Leevees & Matisyahu, a soulful "It's Only Christmas" by Moon Taxi, and Oscar's "It's Christmas Again" crosses lo-fi pop with 80s mopey new wave. Tuxedo goes all 90s R'nB on "Holiday Love," the Rev. Heat does what he does rockabilly style on "Donuts in the Snow," and Yacht (not to be confused with The Yachts or yacht rock), gives us an upbeat synth-pop confection, "Christmas Alone." Esmé Patterson (mentioned several days ago on the blog) has a David Lynch-influenced ballad called "If I," A Silent Film's "Christmas At Our House" is one of the nicer holiday nostalgia songs I've heard lately, and Kill Hannah's "This Is Our December" brings the modern arena rock vibe to the collection. My two favorites from this playlist are Langhorne Slim's garage rock take on "Deck the Halls" and Lisa Loeb's thumping New Year's party song (and who'da thought from her, right?) "Champagne (I'm Ready)." There are no stiffs in this list to my ears, just songs I like better, and that'll probably be how you relate to it as well. Don't feel obliged to buy 'em all if you're not a Prime customer; graze the ones you like. 

I Heart the Holidays, various artists (Palladium)

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Palladium Records appears to be a combination management company and record label featuring modern pop-rock artists, and for 2015 they've prevailed upon members of their artist roster to contribute to a Christmas album. Map the Stars is on here twice, once with a wildly upbeat and deconstructed "12 Days of Christmas" and again with the midtempo original "This Holiday." Tim Meyers contributes four solo songs, an original "Joy to the World" with no relation to the familiar carol, further originals "For the Holidays" and "A Magical Season," and a thumping-beat version of "O Christmas Tree." He's also part of Fm Radio with Schuyler Fisk, and a song from Fisk's previous Christmas EP, "More Than I Wished For," is here too. "Glow" by Mozella is an original based on a poppy version of the Bo Diddley beat, Kathryn Ostenberg gives us a power pop "Count Down To Xmas" and covers "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in a similar vein, Lucy & the Cloud Parade break out the handclaps on "A New Time," and El May goes midtempo and bombastic on "All the Wonder." Serengeti & the Unknown goes for harder rock on "The Wish List," and just The Unknown break out the chimes and cellos for "Winter Night," and Nicole Vaughn resurrects the old Anita Ward disco chestnut "Ring My Bell" as a Christmas song, proving once again that context is everything. This is another collection worth checking out.

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Music She Blogged is essentially a woman named Sarah who, wait for it, blogs about music in and around Toronto. She's compiled this lengthy set of music as a benefit for Toy Mountain, a Christmas charity in her home country. This is a mostly punk collection, all pretty well-played stuff, and it appears to be mostly original songs except for No Doubt's "Oi to the World" covered by The Stragglers and a thrashy "I Heard the Bells" by Quick and the Dead. Many of these songs appear to be non-Christmas, however, so I'll stick to the holiday tunes. Carly Thomas' "Hold You" is more of a pop ballad, and as such sticks way out from the rest of the lineup. Audio Visceral's "Wonderful Life" plays off the movie, Last Imprint hammers out a speedy "Through These Eyes," Rebuilder screams about "X-Mas PunX," and Redambergreen does a crunchy, almost 70s rock "Christmas List." The Good Boys do a more pop-punk take on "It's Christmas Time and I'm In Love With You (Haven't You Heard)," and You Big Idiot offers the punk shuffle "A Christmas Song." My suspicion is that a lot of folks are going to want the Carly Thomas song and not the rest of the album, but if you're interested in contemporary Toronto punk, the album makes a good snapshot of the scene, though the Christmas highlights are few. Music She Blogged apparently did this a year ago with Holiday Headbangers, and the rundown of that album is straight punk Christmas with thrashy covers of familiar carols. Both albums are at Bandcamp, and the Headbangers set is free to download.

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Cleopatra Records takes two bites at the punk-rock apple for 2015 with this collection of female artists taking on the Christmas songbook. Yeah, it doesn't actually say "punk rock" anywhere on here, but a fair number of these folks have the sound and the attitude down, though this is a slightly more eclectic collection. And definitely a majority British collection, judging by the song selection and little hints like The Ethical Debating Society substituting "motorway" for "freeway" in "Run Rudolph Run." But punk kicks things off with PantyChrist's amped-up and profane "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Diploid renders "Silent Night" as a drone and a shriek, LIINES puts some hard rock crunch into Mud's "Lonely This Christmas," Matagot strips down the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," and Husbands n Knives liberally rewrite the lyrics of Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody." Snap-Her appear to have the only original song, "I Hate Christmas," which is as punky as you can want, Thee Merry Widows punk up "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," and more of the same for Kerosene Queen's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Frightwig hits the Hanukkah tip with South Park's "The Lonely Jew On Christmas," Majorettes cover the Ravers' "It's Gonna Be a Punk Rock Christmas," Charla Fantasma gets girl-groupy on "I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus," and Lez Zeppelin tops the album off with a medley of "What Child Is This/Frosty the Snowman" set to the melody of "Stairway to Heaven." If you don't have time for anything else on the album, grab that one.
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Not the most original title for an album in 2015, but certainly one that's accurate and descriptive of this 19-song collection. A good number of the artists on this collection, furthermore, are veterans of the original 1970s punk explosion -- Slaughter & the Dogs, the VIbrators, UK Subs, Anti-Nowhere League, Eddie and the Hot Rods, The Members, and there's an appearance by the Godfather of Punk himself, Iggy Pop, although that's the same semi-loungy "White Christmas" that's been compiled several times before. Everybody else came along later, like Suicide Machines, Unwritten Law, Smash Mouth and Reel Big Fish. Information out in the real world is sketchy, so I can't say with assurance that the original period punks' songs are from that time or were recorded later. This is a good collection, although it's best when the artists stretch the meaning of "punk" a bit, like Reel Big Fish's ska take on "Little Drummer Boy," Suicide Machines' punk-via-Broadway version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and Anti-Nowhere League's poppy if gruff "Let It Snow." Elsewhere, UK Subs do a version of Kevin Bloody Wilson's partially spoken-word (and profane) "Hey Santa Claus," Slaughter & the Dogs crunch down on "Run Rudolph Run," the Vibrators run with Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody," Unwritten Law cram "Please Come Home For Christmas" into a square wave, and Eddie and the Hot Rods recorded "It Feels Like Christmas" new in 2015. Smash Mouth gives us "Snoopy's Christmas," 45 Grave takes on "The Snow Miser Song," Bankrupt covered the Cheap Trick self-parody "I Want You For Christmas," and Batfoot! drew the short straw, taking on Mariah Carey's signature holiday tune "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Good fun for punk fans, and even if you're not, feel free to graze it for highlights.

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.

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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

sotaxmas.jpgSOTA is a production company from Georgia, or "music collective" as the popular phrase currently goes, and they promote, produce and even make their own rock-Americana flavored music alongside a small roster of artists. For 2014 they decided to try their hand at Christmas music, and they've put together a nice collection of music featuring their own roster along with a few guests from outside. Things kick off promisingly with a fine uptempo arrangement of "Silent Night" from Marshall Ruffin, a song that too often gets the reverent, or worse, the diva approach. The Shadowboxers acquit themselves well on "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday," Alex Gordon Hi Fi offers a guitar/bass instrumental rendition of "Deck the Halls," then they back Marshall Ruffin on "Angels We Have Heard on High." Indianapolis Jones offers a fine uptempo original by Galavanters' bass player Nicholas Niespodziani called "Peace and Harmony," and then that band comes back with their own organ-led instrumental take on "Jolly Old St. Nicholas." Big Mike Geier gets help from Larkin Poe on "Christmas Island," Trs Lechers perform a jazzy xylophone-led "Joy to the World" and Michelle Malone, who has a past Christmas album to her credit, performs the original "Feels Like Christmas." Stephen Kellogg, with help from the Galavanters, performs his syncopated original "Christmas in Cancun," the Handlebars render Ellis Paul's "Santa Claus & the Tooth Fairy," in which a mild Bo Diddley rhythm meets a child-sung chorus, Tim Smith takes on NRBQ's "Chrismas Wish," and Mike Snowden breaks out the cigar box guitar and accordion for a suitably rocking exit to the disc with "Auld Lang Syne." The producers imply in their liner notes that this may become a tradition, and that's all right with me.

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I stumbled over the first Noise to the World right when posting resumed in November and found it to be a great free EP of Christmas tuneage. Should have kept checking after that, because in December 2014 they rolled out #2, another fine collection that's free. (Except for the Michael Christmas cut, which has resisted all attempts at downloading. You have to go to Soundcloud and download the songs one at a time, and that one won't cough up a button.) Deer Tick's "White Havoc" steals some melody from "At Seventeen" and a bit of "Last Christmas" in a fine rocker, IamSul's "Next Season" and "Pleasant Winter" by Michael Christmas provide the hip-hop on this collection, GRMLN's "Before December (You're Alive)" is a driving indie rocker, Torreblanca featuring Iraida Noriega offer a spacey take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," with a duo vocal offering a bit of Lee Hazlewood with Nancy Sinatra, and the award winners for this collection are the Dum Dum Girls with "On Christmas," a nice girl group via synthpop rendition of a fine melody, getting a little help with synths from the guys in Ice Choir. That's two in a row for the makers of Chuck Taylors, so I guess I better put a note in my calendar for 2015.

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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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.
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.

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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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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.
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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 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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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.

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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.

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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