Monthly Archives: December 2018

PUTTING THE ‘X’ BACK IN XMAS: The Sixth (or last?) Annual Blurt Christmas Album Guide

Our annual—and always, in-progress, so keep checking back through Dec. 24.—roundup of seasonal platters. Guarantee: no evangelical caveats required; this is a rainbow roundup. X-tra points for any releases that come packaged with sex toys. Happy holidays, kids! (Ed. note: JBM = John B. Moore; FM = Fred Mills)

 BY JOHN B. MOORE, TIFFINI TAYLOR, & FRED MILLS)

  

 

RODNEY CROWELL – Christmas Everywhere
(New West Records – 3 / 5 stars) www.newwestrecords.com

Tired of the saccharine sweet Christmas songs that start to clog the airways just moments after Halloween? Have I got a record for you! Christmas Everywhere, the inaugural Holiday album from living legend Rodney Crowell is a holiday album that’s heavy on the honesty and humor and not so much tidings of comfort and joy.

With songs like “Christmas Makes Me Sad,” Merry Christmas From an Empty Bed,” and “Let’s Skip Christmas This Year,” Rodney never strays too far from his well-earned rep for pairing heartache and humor.

That’s not to say ever track here is for the brokenhearted, “Very Merry Christmas,” is an upbeat, jump and jive, almost standard Xmas tune with plenty of sax. But to be honest, that’s not exactly what a Rodney Crowley fan looks for in a Christmas album by the Americana great. They’re looking more for a song like “Christmas in Vidor,” a duet he co-wrote with Mary Karr years ago, about a near depression-level single mom not exactly feeling the Holiday spirit on the Louisiana/Texas border town.

Probably not the best soundtrack for you Christmas Eve Open House, but destined to eb a Holiday classic for Crowell diehards.

DOWNLOAD: “Christmas Everywhere” and “All For Little Girls & Boys”   (—JBM)

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THE MAVERICKS – Hey! Merry Christmas!
(Thirty Tigers/Mono Mundo Recordings – 4 / 5 stars) www.thirtytigers.com

One of the more depressing inevitabilities about the holidays is that obvious cash grab, forced Holiday album from a band that has no business putting out a Holiday album. Think Afroman, William Hung, Mojo Nixon or Jethro Tull (yup, all real). You know who can’t be accused of that? The freakin’ Mavericks! Their 10-tracks Christmas record is a thing of brilliance.

The band is always dynamic, no matter what they’re recording and singer Raul Malo is simply incapable of feigning sincerity – he just his. As a result, the band’s Miami mix of Folk, Rockabilly, Jazz and Blues-based Holiday music is simply divine.

The band mixes in two Holiday standards, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “Happy Holidays” with eight originals for a refreshingly new annual classic in the making.

Though none of the songs here deserve to be skipped, the dynamic opener “Christmas Time Is (Coming ‘Round Again)” and their almost anthemic take on “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” are early stand outs.

If you’re not capable of enjoying this one, you’re probably just a Scrooge… or an asshole (hey, maybe both!).

DOWNLOAD: All of ‘em.  (—JBM)

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A TAV FALCO CHRISTMAS  (4 out of 5 stars)
(Org Music / Frenzi – 4 / 5 stars) www.orgmusic.com / www.tavfalco.com

A new perennial favorite in the BLURT reindeer barn, and with special thanks to that awesome Tav Falco album that turned up recently for the Record Store Black Friday event. Memphis raconteur, filmmaker, photographer, and author Tav Falco is known far and wide as the guiding light of Panther Burns, that proto-Americana, R&B-championing outfit that once featured the late Alex Chilton as a member. For A Tav Falco Christmas he’s joined by bassist Mike Watt, drummer/sleighbellsman Toby Dammit, guitarist Mario Monterosso, and pianist Francesco D’Agnolo, and we are advised that the ensemble hunkered down at Sam Phillips Recording Service studios in early July—which, if you know anything about Memphis in the summer, is the least likely time of year when one would find oneself “getting into” the Christmas spirit.

But maybe working through this eight-song set of holiday staples and a handful of semi-obscure R&B Christmas standards worked some seasonal magic, because the music is, in a word, cool. Sammy Cahn’s slow, strutting “Christmas Blues,” in particular, is for all you finger-snapping, whistling hepcats, while a twangy, countrypolitan “Jingle Bell Rock” is guaranteed to have even the most stalwart Scrooge—such as yours truly, who is on record as not being a huge fan of Christmas records—joining in, no guilty pleasuredom needed.

Throughout, Falco is in fine voice, his Southern near-drawl adopting a Presley-like classy croon on tracks like “Blue Christmas” and Lieber & Stoller’s “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.” He’s nicely abetted by backing vocalists Lahna Deering and Tiffany Harmon, and the entire ensemble seems to revel in truly inhabiting the material. The LP, released for Record Store Day Black Friday 2017, is a limited edition (1000 copies) red vinyl gem, a perfect visual representation the holiday season. Christmas does come in July after all.

DOWNLOAD: “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Blue Christmas” (–FM)

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MATT ROGERS – Rated Xmas
(Party on Parody Productions – 5 / 5 stiffies)

This CD apparently was released in 1997, although I can find virtually nothing about it except for a cursory Wikipedia listing (which informs us that due to a lawsuit, most copies were destroyed) and an inflated-price listing at Amazon UK; there’s no listing for the title OR the artist at Discogs. No matter—a friend posted this to me as an early Christmas gift, no doubt aiming to help put me and Mrs. Mills, er, I mean, Claus, in the mood for laying out the Christmas eve spread for the kids. Wait – we already have a kid, and he’s 17… well, after listening to tunes here like “Have Yourself a 1-900 Christmas,” “Frosty the Pervert,” “Rudolf the Deep Throat Reindeer,” and of course “Suck On My Cock” I clearly can envision being “up” for the idea of making us a new little elf this holiday season. I mean, I could simply pull out some GG Allin records and cover similar territory, but hey, I’m feelin’ the seasonal spirit right now.

As the record label name suggests, these are naughty parodies of popular Christmas tunes, but rather than have to post a spoiler alert here, I will simply add that you can let your imagination to the legwork for ya. Cut up the CD, turn down the volume on your favorite RedTube video, and spread some holiday cheer… all over your significant other’s thighs.

DOWNLOAD: Mmm… better not. It might not be legal in your state or country.

 

 

SHE & HIM – A Very She & Him Christmas
(Merge – 4 / 5 stars) www.mergerecords.com

You’re forgiven for assuming A Very She & Him Christmas (originally issued in 2011) would be the hipster equivalent of The Carpenters Christmas Album, a holiday staple for every Williamsburg and Bushwick apartment. Despite the fact that the “She” in She & Him is Zooey Deschanel, hipster chick personified, the album is surprisingly irony free, just an even dozen Christmas standards updated slightly with Deschanel’s charmingly quirky lilt backed by the always impressive M. Ward. Even the ukulele on The Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” sounds a bit alluring, rather than forced. The album is a holiday classic in waiting, even if you don’t own a single pair of skinny jeans and couldn’t grow a beard to save your life.

DOWNLOAD: “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “Little Saint Nick” (—JBM)

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MARK KOZELEK – Sings Christmas Carols
(Caldo Verde- 5 / 5 stars) www.caldoverde.com

“I don’t feel happy… I just don’t understand Christmas,” Mark Kozelek mutters under his breath, in the middle of the Charlie Brown Christmas classic “Christmas Time Is Here,” and considering the tone of Sun Kil Moon mainman’s last several months, which included a highly public beef with War On Drugs and a so-called “meltdown” at the annual Hopscotch Music Festival, it’s easy to presume that Kozelek isn’t exactly a leading candidate for the lead character in a Broadway revival of Elf.

But listen carefully: Mark Kozelek Sings Christmas Carols is a remarkably faithful, utterly transcendent take on what I will humbly submit is the beatific, unadorned side of Christmas music. It’s basically just M.K. and acoustic guitar, and I will further submit that all the folk, country and Americana artists who go into the studio each annum armed with just their guitars but feel compelled to add pedal steel, fiddles and the like in order to “flesh out” their arrangements lest they come across as too spartan simply don’t understand how sometimes “less” can be more than just “more” — it can be “just right.”

From the urgent query of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and the innocently straightforward “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to heart-rending versions of the Pretenders’ “2,000 Miles” and Greg Lake’s “I Believe In Father Christmas” (which has some additional, subtle keyboard flourishes), Kozelek proves that despite his reputation as a crabby curmudgeon, he’s actually a sentimental bastard who remembers how magical the holiday season can be when rendered in song. I am not ashamed to admit that I teared up listening to his take on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” subtly abetted by backing vocalists and filtered through sweet Peanuts memories.

And “What Child Is This?” has always taken my breath away… no less so, here. Merry Christmas, Mark. You may claim to not understand Christmas, but I suspect you do in ways maybe you just haven’t yet figured out. It’s nice to close out the year with you this way, on such a wonderful note.

DOWNLOAD: Every bit of it. (–FM)

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VARIOUS ARTISTS – An Americana Christmas
(New West- 3 / 5 stars) www.NewWestRecords.com

Giving a nod to both Americana’s elder statesmen and the up-and-comers, New West Records – easily one of the genres best labels going right now – has just offered one of the freshest takes on Christmas albums in years. Despite some solid contributions by Bob Dylan, The Band and Johnny Cash, aside from John Prime’s brilliantly original number “Everything is Cool,” the real standouts here come from New West’s newest artists like Robert Ellis’s cover of “Pretty Paper” and Nikki Lane’s beautifully twangy “Falalalalove You” (Patsy Cline’s heir apparent?). While Christmas albums nowadays are as stale as a plate of Gingerbread cookies left out until April, An Americana Christmas is a refreshing take on the seasonal record.

DOWNLOAD: “Everything is Cool” (John Prine), “Pretty Paper” (Robert Ellis) and “FalalalaLove You” (Nikki Lane)  (–JBM)

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HERB ALPERT – The Christmas Wish
(Herb Alpert Presents – 4/5 stars) www.herbalpert.com

Herb Alpert is a trumpeter who has pleased many for decades. He has a unique way of making a trumpet speak. This is the perfect time of year for The Christmas Wish, a Christmas album form Herb Alpert. It has been around 50 years since he has had a Christmas album out, so why not write about it.

Need something to listen to while the yule log burns, then Santa Baby will make anyone smile. This song is a good Christmas list for anyone, but still not as expensive as 12 days of Christmas. The sound of trumpet is magical it has no need for lyrics. Imagine just sitting by the fire watching the twinkling lights on the tree listening to this in the background with a cup of eggnog in hand. A good Christmas eve evening.

Throughout this album not only will there be great trumpet, but it is with a symphony and a choir. There are a couple of medleys and they are wonderful. One that stands out is Carol of the Bells/ We Wish You a Merry Christmas, the crossover between the two songs will fill one with joy. The choir is beautiful, the strings from the symphony coincide beautifully with the trumpet.

Silent Night is a classic and for most a tradition. This is the song that sums up the season. The trumpet speaks on this song like no other. Herb Alpert brings the trumpet to life and gives it a heart. A smooth soft soothing sound that illuminates the heart. Merry Christmas, Darling spreading love to the ears. A bit of a modern soft jazz undertaking of this sensual song. It is one to be played to and for that special someone.

Another way to look at Christmas is through a child’s eyes, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. A favorite to play while Santa is flying, dreams of presents to all girls and boys. This is a soft re-interpretation of this classic. The Christmas Wish is the album name as well as a beautiful song that will make a tear drop of joy run down one’s cheek. The softness with the lovely voice presenting a song in a great way.

The Christmas Song is a must listen for any Christmas get together. It is what makes the season bright. Hearing it will make one cheerful and reflect on how wonderful and magical this season truly is and will always be. There are songs that one listens to and will make one think differently about everything. Trumpet on this one is simply amazing. This is what every office party should play at their Christmas party. White Christmas is simply spectacular with trumpets. The movie classic has competition now.

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? , this is one of those end of night songs to remind one that just because the 25th is gone the holiday season of joy and celebration is not over. A nice way to end an album that is filled with love and beautiful music.

This writer has 3 Christmas trees up in a tiny apartment, maybe this writer is a little crazy.  Sitting here watching the lights twinkle reminds what is important in life. The soft jazz sound of this album is what makes thoughts more special. Check this album out and Merry Christmas!

DOWNLOAD: Go for every holiday tune! ( – TT)

 

 

ORK POP REDUX! Chris Holmes & Yum-Yum

The pop classicist discusses his long-lost gem Dan Loves Patti, along with memories of the ‘90s and his experiences within the alternative rock milieu.

BY TIM HINELY

In the mid-‘90s there was a new breed of orchestrated pop band that were emerging, ork pop as some folks began calling it (or the more formal orch pop).  I myself fell in love with two records in particular, the S/T debut by Cardinal and a lesser-known record by a band from Kent, Ohio called the Witch Hazel Sound (later shortened to simply Witch Hazel) who had released 1995’s Landlocked. Both happened to be on Seattle label and Sub Pop subsidiary, Flydaddy).  Then, in 1996 and seemingly out of nowhere, came a record by a Chicago band called Yum-Yum that fit right in with the ork pop oddballs.

The mastermind was a gent named Chris Holmes whose name I had only known previously in a space rock band called Sabalon Glitz (love that name).  The record came out on a label called TAG Recordings which, I believe was part of the Atlantic label. I loved Dan Loved Patti and all of its sweeping grand gestures but after a handful of reviews and article mentions it seemed like the band, record and label all sort of ….vanished.

I was beyond excited this year to learn that the Omnivore label would be reissuing Dan Loves Patti with plenty of bonus tracks. That day came a few weeks back and the record is getting the second life is so richly deserves. The publicist, the always reliable Cary Baker, was more than happy to send some questions Holmes’ way and he answered them quickly and concisely, all about the history of this band known as Yum-Yum. Read on, dear readers. and enjoy.

BLURT: I know you had been in Sabalon Glitz…how did the idea for Yum-Yum come about?

HOLMES: When I was in Sabalon Glitz, I kept writing songs that didn’t fit with our sound, so I would set them aside and put them in a bucket to explore at a later date.  I love playing live in Sabalon Glitz, it was a great band, but I was limited in what kind of songs fit in with our sound.  Carla was a great live performer, and lead singer.  She had a very powerful and unique style.

While I loved playing in Sabalon Glitz, I was pretty miserable in the band.  Carla and I had dated and had a horrible codependent trainwreck of a relationship that made both of us miserable.  Some of the band members had some pretty bad drug problems and the energy around it was pretty dark.  After Carla and I broke up, I felt free to make music with Yum Yum and Ashtar Command.  It was like therapy for me.  I would enter a world of music that brought light into my heart, like the Zombies, Love, Nick Drake, and Bubble Gum Pop of the 60s.

After a while I had a couple of dozen songs in the that Yum Yum bucket, so I got some friends together from University of Chicago and put together a string section organized by Marina Peterson who played cello.  Her ex-husband, Brad Bordine, and I had started a modular synth kraut experimental rock band with me called Ashtar Command around the same time.

At the time, I just tried to surround myself with awesome people that I loved to be around and played music with.  We ended up recording around 12 songs with the string section up in my bedroom in the south side of Chicago (Kenwood/Hyde Park). It was like a dark cloud had been lifted and music was fun again.  I circulated the bedroom sessions on cassette tapes with friends around the Chicago music scene and eventually played started live shows with Yum Yum.

 

At the time did you feel any kinship with any of the other “ork pop” bands like Cardinal or Witch Hazel or did you feel more like out on an island?

I loved that first Cardinal record more than anything.  It was perfect.  There was also Plush from Chicago that came out on Drag City.  Their first 7” was a masterpiece.  I also loved the New Zealand Xpressway Records.  I had Love’s “Forever Changes”, Big Star’s “#1/Radio City”, Chris Bell’s “I Am The Cosmos”, Stereolab’s “Emperor Tomato Ketchup”, My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless”, Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” and Zombies’ “Odyssey and Oracle” on repeat.  All of that music influenced me heavily.  I was program director at WHPK at the University of Chicago, so a lot of my life revolved around indie rock and pop.  Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Beat Happening, the Raincoats, Hazel, Sebadoh, Red Red Meat, so many of those bands gave me inspiration to make beautiful music.  It was music you could get high and filled with bliss by just listening to it.

What do you remember most about the recording of Dan Loves Patti? Any watershed moments?

I remember finding the two “Dan Loves Patti” guitars that I based the concept of the record around.  My drummer friend Kriss Bataille was working at a guitar shop in Evanston and called me up to let me know that the store had just gotten two amazing acoustics in; a Gibson Hummingbird (featured on the front side of the Dan Loves Patti album) and a Martin D25 (featured on the back side of the record).  They couldn’t sell them for anything near their true value because someone (apparently named Dan) had carved a bunch of crazy stuff in them.  I went over to check them out, and instantly fell in love with them.

Dan had carved his name in the top of the guitar “Dan Loves” and then carved the names of his ex-girlfriends and crossed them out.  He left only one name uncrossed, Patti.

At that moment everything kind of came together.  My Yum Yum songwriting process had been a way for me to help process my own depression and heartbreak.  It crystalized everything I had been trying to do with Yum Yum.  I wrote the rest of the songs for the record on and around those two guitars.  Thinking about the loves he had shared, and the pains he must have experienced in crossing those names out.  More than anything, it was all about the hope of loving again with an open heart, even though the scars from the other relationships were right there on the surface.  That what “Dan Loves Patti” is all about.

It’s songs about the beauty of those scars from heartbreak and opening up your heart to love again.  It’s a record about the rush of letting down your defenses and opening up your heart to with fall in love again even though you know it will probably end in heartbreak as well.  After all he ended up selling the guitars so things probably didn’t work out with Patti, but he never crossed her name out.

How did the reissue come about?  Did Omnivore contact you or vice versa?

That is a cool story.  Over the last 20 years, I moved more into producing, remixing and DJing.  I was djing and music directing a charity event with an organization called Art of Elysium I’ve worked with for the last decade.  A couple at the gala came up to me and told me they were my #1 fans.  I was confused; did they have the right Chris Holmes?  Were they Paul McCartney, Daft Punk or Radiohead fans?  It turns out that it was John Legend’s manager Ty and her husband Erik.  John Legend was the host of the gala last year.  Ty and Erik were massive “Dan Loves Patti” fans.  They had all the singles, and tapes of live shows and unreleased demos.  It blew my mind.  Erik wrote me the next day and said he had an idea for a reissue on Omnivore.  I was a massive Omnivore fan, from their work with Big Star, Chris Bell, and Wilco.  The next week he linked me up with the wonderful Cheryl from Omnivore, and we got together and talked about music.  It was amazing and overwhelming to sit at a table with Erik and Cheryl.  Their combined music knowledge is absolutely encyclopedic.  It was such an amazing honor for me to do anything with Omnivore.  As a music fan, I love what they do so much.

 

I think some of the bonus tracks are fantastic and I’m surprised a few of them didn’t make it onto the record. 

Most of the bonus tracks included were meant to be a part of the second Yum Yum record, which never happened.  Predictably there were a lot of massive changes with Atlantic as soon as I signed, as is the case with every major label.  Focus shifted there from Yum Yum on to Ashtar Command, because they believed it had more commercial potential I guess.  I worked with some really wonderful people there, especially John Rubeli, Bobbie Gale, Darren Higman, and Janet Billig.  While it wasn’t ideal, it was an amazing experience and I learned so much from it all.

 

How were the live gigs received? Did you have any string/horns during them?  

The live shows were great, especially in Chicago.  We had a string section with Marina, Darcy, and Hilary on strings, Jim Newberry on bass and organ, Mike Kirts/Kriss Bataille on drums, and several female singers and finally Barbara Gretsch who sang vocals on the record.

At the time the Chicago music scene was pretty angry, hard and testosterone driven with bands like Jesus Lizard and Shellac.  We would dress up in pink bunny rabbit outfits and play soft love songs.  We had some amazing times.  It was pretty difficult to take on tour because we didn’t have a big tour support budget, so we eventually went on tour with some bands as a 5 piece with guitar/vocals, viola, bass/organ, drums and backup vocals.  It was hard to capture the lushness of the recordings with the stripped-down lineup, but it was fun.  My favorite show ever was opening for Phranc, in LA as she did her Neil Diamond tribute.  We had a massive party afterwards with dozens of drag queens at the Roosevelt Hotel, and the biggest fruit basket I’d ever seen (a gift from our manager Joe Shanahan on the release of the record).  I have great memories of those times.  We met a lot of amazing people on our travels.

 

How do you feel about the record 20 years later? Is it weird to see it back on the shelves?

It feels wonderful that the record has a second life.  It was caught in a weird period between the birth of digital streaming and the death of the major labels.  After TAG (the sub label at Atlantic that released the record) folded, most of the Yum Yum records ended up in warehouses and never saw the light of day.  It’s a beautiful record that captures a very special period of that time and my life.  I had forgotten how much I loved those songs.  It’s a joy to share it all again.