Category Archives: Christmas

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)

 

 

Chris Stamey Launches Holiday-themed Radio Special

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On hand are Branford Marsalis, Nnenna Freelon, Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon, Skylar Gudasz, Django Haskins, Millie McGuire Kirsten Lambert, Eric Hodge, Walker Harrison, and Presyce Baez.

 By Blurt Staff

Longtime NC music scene aficionados already know the term “Occasional Shivers”: it’s a song penned by Christ Stamey (The dB’s) and released as part of a Christmas single in 1986. More recently, it has a new context: a “brand-new old-fashioned radio play airing this holiday season on public broadcasting” that Stamey has newly composed and produced.

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The play features the above artists (Marsalis is the host) plus a jazz band featuring the likes of Bill Frisell, John Brown, Scott Sawyer and Will Campbell, and is a “one-hour musical drama tells the story of two young lovers who meet at a pair of Christmas parties…. With characters such as society hostess Birdie McDavenish (“I Didn’t Mean to Fall in Love with You”), famed composer Paul Carter (“Intoxichoclification”), and aspiring songwriter Will Cassidy (“Manhattan Melody [That’s My New York]”), the play harkens back to an era, after West Side Story but before the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, when jazz had gone from hot to cool and it looked like rock and roll was on its last legs.”

It premiered live in September in Chapel Hill at UNC’s Kenan Music Building, and the broadcast is now going to be available as an expanded “director’s cut” starting Christmas Day via iTunes and Amazon. Below, watch a couple of versions of the trailer. Happy holidays, everyone!

Schoolkids Records’ Christmas Party Bands Announced

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Independent record store chain (3 cities) to blow it out as usual with The Veldt, Hank Sinatra frontman Jeffro, and Al Riggs.

By Blurt Staff

A lot of you probably know that BLURT has a sister business here in North Carolina, Schoolkids Records, which operates stores in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Our esteemed owner,  Stephen Judge, has announced the annual Christmas party, which will take place on December 23 on the Raleigh location’s stage. As usual, the bash is co-curated by Judge and Hank Sinatra frontman Jeffro, and with the latter also set to perform, who the hell knows what will be going down! And since the Raleigh store sells beer (local and premium draft as well as cans), a good rock ‘n’ roll time is guaranteed for all. See the full announcement, below, and then mark your calendars because everyone from the extended Schoolkids and BLURT families are invited—drop by and say hi to us, why don’t ya?

“Folks, please join us for our annual holiday blow-out party. The event is 100% FREE! and this year we are extremely proud to have gracing the Schoolkids – Raleigh stage: Al Riggs (8pm), Jeffro from Hank Sinatra & Friends (9pm) and The Veldt (10pm) all times are approximate but please arrive early! We all know 2016 has been a very tough year so let’s blow this sucker off the map rock and roll style! see you all then!! help us spread the word!”

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More details at the official Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/215963338847150/

Info on Schoolkids Raleigh: http://www.schoolkidsrecords.com/CustomPage/349

Map to event: 2237 Avent Ferry Rd #101, Raleigh, NC 27606

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Best. Christmas. Card. Ever…..! Drag City Records

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Special defacing U.S. currency issue…

By Uncle Blurt

Everybody loves us here at the BLURT tiny home. Yes, we have downsized to a 20′ x 60′ x 13′ space in order to reduce our carbon imprint. Plus, we can now pay way less rent since we are in an RV park. But I digress…

Among the thousands of Christmas cards we get at BLURT each year, virtually none stand out. Oh sure, we love seeing all those hastily-scrawled kudos across the back of an un-used album promo postcard from bands… ask us sometime about how much we scored on eBay for that ’90s Supersuckers autographed Xmas card. But those group photos of publicity agencies, you know, the ones where all the recently hired hot gals ‘n’ guys are pushed to the front row and the fat, greying veterans of the biz pose placidly near the back? Not so much. (NOTE to all our veteran p.r. friends: Just kidding. We look just like you, remember? See you in Austin!)

But once in awhile a much-loved (and ALL OF YOU ARE MUCH-LOVED!) correspondent simply nails it, Christmas-wise.

At the top you can see this year’s holiday card from the mighty folks at Drag City Records. Tantalizing, no? Below, check out what was revealed when we opened the card up:

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And yes, gentle readers, that IS an actual defaced American uno dollar bill. It has already been submitted to the Secret Service and they have verified it is the real deal, worth at least one U.S. samolian, or in layman’s terms, about 67 cents on the open market. And no, in case you are wondering: our favorite Starbucks employee will not be finding this in the tip jar tomorrow morning. It’s going to be displayed proudly on the BLURT Hall of Images.

Good on ya, Drag City. May all your Christmases be…. er, with apologies to Bing Crosby… green. By the way, who the hell IS that stylin’, hat-wearin’ cat in the hat subbing for our man George W?!?

2016: bring it on.

NICK LOWE & LOS STRAITJACKETS – The Quality Holiday Revue (Live) [RSD Exclusive]

Album: The Quality Holiday Revue (Live) [RSD Exclusive]

Artist: NICK LOWE & LOS STRAITJACKETS

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: November 27, 2015

www.yeproc.com

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The Upshot: We wish it could be Christmas every day with jolly ol’ St. Nick!

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s hard not to be cynical about a Christmas album being release in 2015. As a society didn’t we pretty much lock in every holiday album we would ever need by the third or fourth Sinatra Christmas record?

That being said, Nick Lowe makes a pretty solid argument that there may be room for one more, even if (or especially because) it isn’t entirely a Christmas record.

With the live album, The Quality Holiday Revue, Lowe and his backing band Los Straitjackets churn through a baker’s dozen of songs here recorded from a 2014 concert run. Most of the songs here are Lowe playing alongside Los Straightjackets, with the exception of the opening and closing tracks featuring Lowe solo with an acoustic guitar (playing “A Dollar Short of Happy and “Sensitive Man”) and Los Straitjackets doing a killer cover of Vince Guaraldi’s  “Linus and Lucy” instrumental.

Many of the should be holiday classics here like “Christmas at the Airport,”  “I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day” and “The North Pole Express” were featured on Lowe’s last holiday offering, 2013 Quality Street. This record was a November Record Store Day exclusive.

DOWNLOAD: “Christmas at the Airport,” “Sensitive Man” and “Linus and Lucy”

Listen to Warm the Bell do Classic Peanuts Christmas Song

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North Carolina outfit serves up the Charlie Brown goodness. [5th in our series of 2015 Christmas Songs, collect ’em all: (1) Luxuriant Sedans – “Santa Claus, Baby“; (2) Sleater-Kinney – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)”; (3) Southern Culture on the Skids – “Silver Bells; (4) Skylar Gudasz – “The Sounds of Christmas” ]

By Blurt Staff

Everyone knows the original version of “Christmas Time Is Here” written by Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi for, naturally, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now, Asheville, NC, dreampop group Warm The Bell has covered it for a holiday single, and they definitely put their own unique spin on it. Check it out:

Incidentally, you can read a review of Warm The Bell from awhile back elsewhere on the BLURT site. The single and the group can be found at the official WTB website, natch, and they are:

– Sam Brinkley – Drums, Percussion
– Vickie Burick – Vocals, Laughing
– Anthony Dorion – Bass, Percussion
– Sean Robbins – Acoustic Guitar, Percussion, Vocals

(Plus guest Wayne Robbins, of the Hellsayers, on Keyboards)

 

HOLIDAY MUSIC VERSION.2015: The Fourth (Or Last?) Annual Blurt Christmas Album Guide

Xmas Albums 2015

Music to bring some year-end cheer your way, courtesy Etienne Charles, Cassie Ramone, Nellie Mckay, Palma Violets, Count Basie Orchestra, Elouise, Rhonda Vincent, the Daptone Records crew and more! Ho-ho-ho to everyone out there in Blurt-land!

BY JASON GROSS

Despite the endless barrage of the same holiday music mercilessly piped through stores in endless loops, each year actually does add some nice little presents of new Xmas music otherwise. If you wanna get through the shopping season with a piece of your sanity intact, we’d like to recommend these aural pleasures as a fine way to do that.  You can hear all that Spotify carries of these songs and albums here at our special holiday playlist.

In addition, we asked the artists themselves offer up their own list of holiday songs they love, which we offer up to you here as another Spotify playlist to enjoy with 37 songs and two hours of music.

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Etienne Charles

Etienne Charles

Creole Christmas

Culture Shock Records: http://www.etiennecharles.com/

The title might seem to be a misnomer- it’s not Cajun or zydeco music here but it’s definitely flavored by the Spanish culture that fostered Creole music. The festivities especially shine with guests like the droll Calypso legend Lord Realtor and R&B singer/Broadway star Mykel Kilgore, who does a nice take on “This Christmas,” though no one can top Stevie’s version.  Other highlights include interludes from Hanukah on the klezmer-styled “Juliana” and “Roses of Caracas Waltz,” the raucous bish-bash drums of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” a salsa take on “The Nutcracker Suite,” the Django Reinhardt-like guitars on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and the low-rent holiday party of “Christmas Is Yours, Christmas Is Mine.” Multi-cultural-ism at its best.

Holiday faves from Etienne Charles

  1. Lionel Belasco “Maysotis”
  2. Ray Charles & Betty Carter “Baby It’s Cold Outside”
  3. John Williams “Somewhere in My Memory” (from the Home Alone soundtrack)
  4. Nat King Cole “The Christmas Song
  5. Elvis Presley “Blue Christmas”

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Count Basie

Count Basie Orchestra

A Very Swingin’ Basie Christmas!

Concord: http://www.thecountbasieorchestra.com/

I know, I know… Mr. Basie left us back in 1984 (who can forget his cameo in Blazing Saddles?) and you think you’re too hip for old school jazz. But damn if these guys aren’t having a good time here and living up to the title.  Everyone knows the songs already but from the blaring rows of horns on “Jingle Bells,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Sleigh Ride” to the easy shuffle of “Let It Snow” to the sweet Johnny Mathis cameo (“It’s the Holiday Season”) to the moody bop-like “Silent Night” to the breezy “Good “Swing” Wenceslas” (get it?) to the jiving take on “Little Drummer Boy,” you have a holiday record that you could easily share and enjoy with your grandparents, if not your parents.

Holiday faves from CBO Director/trumpeter, Scotty Barnhart

  1. Nat King Cole “The Christmas Song”
  2. Donny Hathaway “This Christmas”
  3. The Temptations The Temptations Christmas Card
  4. Johnny Mathis Merry Christmas
  5. Duke Ellington “The Nutcracker Suite”

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Elouise

Elouise

“Silent Night”

Landslide/KG Music: http://kgmusicpress.com/   http://landslidesound.com/

Admittedly, you have every right to be suspicious of any music that calls itself “Blackgrass”- a goth take on bluegrass- but the settings here are so graphic that they’re moving, pushing aside any question of kitsch.  The haunted, halting strings swirl around Elouise Walker’s cracked, broken voice, making a holiday hymn into a drawn-out, pained work of anguished beauty which reshapes the song and brings back fond memories of Chapel Hill grim realists Trailer Bride.  Not a carol anymore but emotional and stirring nevertheless.  And wouldn’t you want to see a black-clad chorus reenacting this?  Get your gloom at https://soundcloud.com/user-481899170/silent-night.

Holiday faves from Elouise Walker

  1. Slim Whitman “Star of the East”
  2. Sex Pistols “Nookie”
  3. Earl Scruggs “Jingle Bells”
  4. Tom Waits “Christmas Carol from a Hooker in Minneapolis” (studio version)
  5. Ukefink “Oh Death”

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Jazz at Lincoln

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Big Band Holidays

Blue Engine: http://www.jazz.org/blueengine/

Another jazzy take on the holiday but a touch more formalist, even if the Basie gang would really dig it too (not to mention that Wynton’s dad guests on the Basie record).  After a blaring start on “Jingle Bells,” award winning singer Cécile McLorin Salvant does a gorgeous take on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” followed by an appropriately sound effect-laden (and sensuous) take on Satchmo’s “‘Zat You Santa Claus?,” singer/actor Gregory Porter’s lush, warm version of “A Cradle In Bethlehem,” a Coltrane-like modal take on “We Three Kings,” Salvant returning for a bluesy version of “What Child Is This?,” Porter tag-teaming back in for “Merry Christmas Baby” in blues mode again and Salvant returning in Holiday (as in Billie) mode for “It’s Easy To Blame the Weather” and then finishing off with the joyous Basie classic “Good Morning Blues.”  You might wish that he’d spend more time stompin’ at the Savoy than in the ballroom but you gotta give it Wynton- he knows his history, knows how to pick a good cast and he can have a good time too while schooling you.

Holiday faves from Wynton Marsalis

  1. Ella Fitzgerald “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas “
  2. Louis Armstrong  “Christmas Night in Harlem” ­
  3. Duke Ellington Orchestra “Peanut Brittle Brigade”
  4. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross  “Deck Us All with Boston Charlie”
  5. John Coltrane “Greensleeves”

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Daptone

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

It’s A Holiday Soul Party

Daptone: http://daptonerecords.com/

Sure it’s as retro as the Wynton and Basie records listed here but if you have a jones for Jones’ mid/late ’60’s revival, you’ll be full of holiday joy to learn that this is her best record in years. Armed with a great voice and a great band, it’s hard for her to go wrong and her wonderful bleeding heart politics are upfront with the self-penned opener about Hanukkah and another original, “Ain’t No Chimneys In the Project,” that the Godfather of Soul would appreciate.  She even transforms some over-trodden classics: “White Christmas” is done via pre-comeback Tina Turner and “Silent Night” is done via the bluesy soul of Bobby Bland, “Little Drummer Boy” gets the funk, “Silver Bells” goes from gospel to Stax nicely and an instrumental take on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” could have wandered out of an Al Green/Hi session.  A holiday soul party indeed.

Holiday faves from Gabriel Roth- Dap-Kings producer/band leader

  1. Freddy King “Christmas Tears”
  2. Otis Redding and Carla Thomas :New Year’s Resolution”
  3. James  Brown “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto”
  4. Binky Griptite “Stoned Soul Christmas”
  5. Shaladas “Sha-la-da-la-la It’s Christmas”

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Neillie McKay

Nellie Mckay

“WEED (All I Want for Christmas)”

Courtesy of the always-surprising, fun-loving pop-cabaret chanteuse comes this sweet, light-hearted tribute to cannabis. Sharing the spotlight with Minneapolis scenester/R&B singer Maurice Jacox (who croons the verses) and set aloft by cheerful horns, McKay not only craves the chronic but takes on the ill-fated war on drugs in a rap/Jamaican-toast style (“40% of present penitentiaries/are on a pot-related charge”) on this delightful ditty which name-checks Willie Nelson, Jimmy Carter and Machiavelli. Also, the video is a hoot, with McKay dressed up as a giant pot leaf, funning around stores and playgrounds and making friends wherever she goes – watch it above, as the editor and I agree it is indeed a must-view, and it out-Mileys everyone’s favorite weed fan, Miley Cyrus. (Parents: Send the kids down to the basement first.)

Holiday faves from Nellie McKay

  1. Jimmy Durante “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”
  2. Elvis Presley “Blue Christmas”
  3. James Brown “Santa Claus Go Straight To the Ghetto”
  4. Vince Guaraldi “Christmastime Is Here”
  5. John Lennon/Yoko Ono “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”

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Palma Violets

Palma Violets

“Last Christmas On Earth”

Rough Trade: http://www.roughtraderecords.com/

A weird little number from this English indie rock band, the regal pace and ethereal keyboards, strained, sad vocals and shouted sing-a-long chorus (“We can’t even cry/’Cause we just wanna get nowhere”) takes the title seriously- it’s not just a romantic goodbye but also an apocalyptic bye-bye with poor ol’ Rudolph being shot down and pleas to Santa and Jesus ignored.  Yet even in its gloomy message, it’s somehow moving in its own way and desperate for compassion, making it an appropriate holiday song nevertheless.

Holiday faves from PV drummer Will Doyle

  1. Chuck Berry “Run Rudolph Run”
  2. Ramones “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)”
  3. Julian Casablancas “I Wish It Was Christmas Today”
  4. Bing Crosby and David Bowie “Little Drummer Boy”
  5. The Fall “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

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Cassie Ramone

Cassie Ramone

Christmas In Reno

Burger: http://www.burgerrecords.org/

Ramone’s a busy bee – in the last decade, she’s been a member of Bossy, Vivian Girls and the Babies.  Now on her 2nd solo album, the NJ native makes the historic link between Spector Wall of Sound and shoegaze, which is only appropriate ’cause the later couldn’t have existed without the former, right? Unlike Uncle Phil though, she goes low-key, with gorgeous voices and echoed guitar and occasional percussion in a one-woman show. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” sounds like the girl group classic it’ll always be and the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” is turned into an Animal Collective out-take (which is only fair) but Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run” is transformed into dream-pop heaven and McCartney’s icky “Wonderful Christmastime” is transformed into enigmatic psychedelic folk, the Elvis classic “Blue Christmas” turns into a brief wall of guitar fuzz and Brenda Lee’s “Rockin Around the Xmas Tree” trounces the original’s melody and seems to almost question the holiday spirit. When she does get the spirit back on “Sleigh Ride,” she seems to casually and mysteriously slip in and out of tune and lets her guitar bury her voice on the Peanuts classic “Christmastime Is Here,” only going (relatively) straight on the closer, “The Christmas Song.” Altogether, a gorgeous, subversive little record.

Holiday faves from Cassie Ramone:

  1. Mariah Carey “All I Want for Christmas is You”
  2. The Carpenters “Merry Christmas Darling”
  3. Boston Pops Orchestra “Sleigh Ride”
  4. Wham! “Last Christmas”
  5. The Ramones “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)”

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Super Hi Fi

Super Hi-Fi

Yule Analog Vol. II

Very Special Recordings: http://superhifimusic.com/

Following up on last year’s wonderful novelty, if you can’t get enough of trombone-led dub versions of holiday classics, here’s where you can cash in.  Silly as it sounds, it’s a hell of a lot of fun- catchy, spacey, adventurous without being too outré and it’s oh so unique.  Bassist/bandleader Ezra Gale leads the troop through some new takes on old classics and some surprises- you might think you know “What Child Is This” but not with wild guitar solos and an even more cosmic take on “What Version Is This?” follows.   Ditto the delicate but buoyant  “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and the more interstellar “Dance of the Sugar Plum Versions” and a strident take on “O Come All Ye Faithful” later redone as in a drawn-out, heavily echoed style as “O Come All Ye Versions.” And just when you think you’ve heard it all, there’s the original, hilarious ska/calypso flavored “Please Santa Bring Me An Echoplex.”  Languid joy even for those of you who don’t partake in the holy herb.

Holiday faves from Ezra Gale:

  1. Jimi Hendrix “Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne”
  2. Otis Redding “Merry Christmas Baby”
  3. Nat King Cole Trio “The Christmas Song”
  4. Kurtis Blow “Christmas Rappin’”
  5. The Cheetahs “A Message to Santa Claus”

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Ronda Vincent

Rhonda Vincent

Christmas Time

Upper Management: http://www.uppermanagementmusic.com/

If you’re a country fan who’s been naughty (as in bad), maybe LeAnn Rimes, Claire Lynch or Jessie James Decker have the holiday music you deserve but if you’ve been nice (you have, right?), then give them this bluegrass star a try, now making a long overdue follow-up to her 2006 holiday record.  Maybe it’s because she has a gorgeous voice that she doesn’t use to over-sing and go all diva or maybe it’s the simple, modest arrangements (including fiddle, mandolin, banjo, steel guitar) that do the trick.  It also helps that Vincent throws in some good originals too: the yearning, sweet “Dreaming of Christmas,” the heart-broken “Christmas Time” and the adorable, Western Swing of “Milk & Cookies.”  If that wasn’t enough, there’s a joyous, funny, star-packed version of “Twelve Days of Christmas” that would burst the Grand Ole Opry, including The Oak Ridge Boys, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, Dolly Parton, Ronnie Milsap, Larry Gatlin, Jeannie Seely and Pam Tillis and an extraordinary nine minute medley where she seamlessly weaves through six Xmas classics, backed only by piano.  Let’s see any bro-country act top that.

Holiday faves from Rhonda Vincent:

  1. Emmylou Harris “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem”
  2. The Isaacs “It’s Christmastime Again”
  3. The Isaacs “Santa Claus Is Real”
  4. Ricky Skaggs & James Taylor “New Shining Star”
  5. George Strait “Christmas Cookies”

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Blues Christmas

Various Artists

Blues Christmas

Cleopatra: http://cleorecs.com/

 

Leaving it to the blues to give us a more realistic take on late December than most of pop culture can deliver to us.  This collection is much more varied than you think and despite being all over the place then, it’s also a lot more consistent than you’d expect, drawing mostly from more recent acts.  Need some dirty, innuendo-filled blues? Try Popa Chubby’s stinging guitar on “Back Door Santa” and Stax legend Steve Cropper’s “Let’s Make Christmas Merry, Baby.” Downhome funk anyone? Try Larry McCray’s “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'” with its B.B.-like guitar. Downhome blues is covered here too with Kenny Neal’s take on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” Need a wild stomp with echoed harmonica? Try James Montgomery Band’s version of “Deck The Halls.” There’s even a girl group/Chuck Berry mash-up (Annie Marie Lewis’ “O Come All Ye Faithful”), rockabilly meets R&B (Debbie Davies’ “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus”), slow-burning metal (Eric Gales’ “Little Drummer Boy”) and even an odd, enticing acoustic-then-electric instrumental (Leslie West’s “Silent Night”). A bizarre, botched take on John/Yoko’s “Merry Christmas (War Is Over)” is easily counted with a pair of old school classics- Charles Brown’s re-make of his own “Merry Christmas Baby” and the gorgeous minimalism of Lightnin’ Hopkins “Santa.” Proving once again, sometimes it’s fun to have the blues.

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 HONORARY MENTION:

Much like the Xmas special it originates from, Phoenix/Bill Murray’s “Alone On Christmas” looks better on (virtual) paper- would have been funnier to have the video of Murray’s ‘duet’ with Chris Rock from the show. A happier holiday can be had via your favorite online ordering overlord Amazon and their Indie For the Holidays compilation which includes Rogue Wave, Fruit Bats and Reverend Horton Heat. Even better holiday cheer can be had via Alligator Records’ compilation A Blues Christmas, which culls tracks from their ’92 and ’03 holiday albums and features Koko Taylor, Shemekia Copeland, Elvin Bishop & Marcia Ball. If the Super Hi-Fi record sounds tempting and you want your dub with a taste of lounge jazz, try Astrocolor’s Lit Up: Music For Christmas. And though it’s half of a greatest hits live collection, Nick Lowe and Lost Straightjackets’ The Quality Holiday Revue (Yep Roc) does feature a few some nice holiday choices like his own drool “Christmas at the Airport” and a rollicking take on the spiritual tune “Children Go Where I Sent Thee” though you’d be better off tracking down his full Xmas album, 2013’s Quality Street (Yep Roc).

Listen to Skylar Gudasz do “The Sounds Of Christmas”

Skylar

Lovely new track now part of the classic dB’s holiday record. [4th in our series of 2015 Christmas Songs, collect ’em all: (1) Luxuriant Sedans – “Santa Claus, Baby“; (2) Sleater-Kinney – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)”; (3) Southern Culture on the Skids – “Silver Bells]

By Fred Mills

It’s our favorite time of year too, Skylar: North Carolina’s premiere indie chanteuse Skylar Gudasz recently appeared on the expanded version of the fan-fave holiday collection It’s Christmas Time Again! by The dB’s And Friends (Omnivore), doing “The Sounds Of Christmas.” Clearly the standout among the newly-added tracks to the record, the tune is now online to bring some additional Xmas cheer, so check it out:

Watch Sleater-Kinney Do Ramones Xmas Song

SK

We don’t wanna fight tonight either, ladies… [2nd in our series of Christmas Songs, collect ’em all: (1) Luxuriant Sedans – “Santa Claus, Baby“]

By Barbi Martinez, Blurt Intern

As the A.V. Club is reporting, last night in Cleveland at the House of Blues, Sleater-Kinney did a rip-snorting version of the Ramones’ classic holiday song, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” from ’89. The audio and video are ace, to boot. Check it out: