The Upshot: Isn’t it way too early to release a holiday album (much less review one – although we will probably re-post this one in our annual Xmas discs roundup circa mid-December)? But hey, it’s the friggin’ deebs! And this is the proverbial perennial classic.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
What if you put out a record and were subsequently allowed to update it every few years? Ask Chris Stamey and The dB’s. Originally released under Stamey’s name as an EP (1985’s Chris Stamey Group w/special guest The dB’s Christmas Time, on the Coyote label), the subsequently rechristened Christmas Time Again! has been re-released every decade or so (1993, 2006) ever since, adding new recordings along the way. This is its fourth incarnation, with a batch of new arrivals. Yo La Tengo joins with Jeff Tweedy for a rocking Hanukah-themed take on Gary U.S. Bonds’ “Eight Day Weekend.” Newcomers Skylar Gudasz (“The Sounds of Christmas”), Bret Harris (Harry Nilsson’s “Remember [Christmas]”) and Birds & Arrows (“In the Bleak Midwinter,” adapted from Gustav von Holst) provide lovely new Christmas ballads. The cast of Big Star’s Third, organized by Stamey, contributes a stately version of that album’s “Jesus Christ,” sung by ex-R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills. Robyn Hitchcock provides a truly strange spoken word piece called “The Day Before Boxing Day.”
Ultimately, though, the original highlights remains the highlights now: Marshall Crenshaw’s melancholy take on “Lonely Christmas,” the dB’s joyful originals “Holiday Spirit” (“Gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme!”), “Home For the Holidays” and the title track, Ted Lyons’ blackly funny “The Only Law That Santa Claus Understood,” Velvet Crush associate Wes Lachot’s gently jangly “Christmas is the Only Time,” Stamey’s acoustic instrumental version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and, most especially, Alex Chilton’s stark, beautiful version of the Mel Tormé-penned “The Christmas Song,” guaranteed to melt the coldest heart.
Given its perennial return every decade, Christmas Time Again! qualifies as a bonafide holiday classic – cue it up this Xmas morning while you open your presents.
DOWNLOAD: “The Christmas Song,”Holiday Spirit,” “The Sounds of Christmas”