So if you thought the last post ended rather abruptly, you'd be correct. I simply could not keep my eyes open. For those of you who caught the post early, the typos should have been a dead giveaway. Seriously, "Stunny's"? And nobody told me? You were going to let me walk around with that piece of toilet paper dangling from my shoe? So, anyway, I may return with another post of free stuff, later, although our festive friends have been pretty much on top of those things since our last go.
But we found a bit of vinyl fun to brighten your holiday and thought we should let y'all know about it.
The Misfits are the group most often credited with starting the Horror Punk genre, and, lord knows, my Halloween mixes have been packed with their stuff for decades. I don't have to tell you, if you ever listened to the Misfits at all, that the band has gone through several lineup changes over the years. But the players that have passed through the Misfits reads like a who's who of the punk music scene. And its always fun when they put out some new sonic waves. Well, the Misfits have finally gone and released a Christmas single. Or, er, singles, actually.
Horror Xmas, as they've called it, comes in two versions, both on colored vinyl and each limited to just 777 copies (you randomly could get one of the even more limited splatter vinyls). The blue vinyl version features "You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch" (featuring Osaka Popstar) on the A-side and "the long anticipated" cover of "Blue Christmas" on the flip (not sure if this is an old recording or a new one; the details seemed kind of vague to me). The green vinyl version also has "Grinch" as the A-side, but the B-side features an original written by Jerry Only, "Island of Misfit Toys". There is (or was) also a "Horror Bundle" which features/featured one of each single pressed on red vinyl, limited to just 333 sets worldwide. It reads "out of stock", at the moment, so they either sold through already or aren't offering it yet. These are considered "pre-orders", as the vinyl is set to ship for arrival by December 24, but your purchase includes a free instant download. And these are said to be available ONLY direct from The Misfits. I haven't zoomed through the web to confirm that, but that's what they say.
Hating "Blue Christmas" as much as I do, I opted for the green vinyl. "Grinch" is OK. They punked it up pretty good without losing its essence, but I loved "The Island Of Misfit Toys" and recommend it highly. I'm sure the band and their fans won't see this as a compliment, though I mean it as one; "Toys" has a bit of a feel and sound of the best of early Knack, only with lots more energy. It would have been my choice for the A-side, without question. Your mileage may vary.
For more details or to order, just mosh on over to The Mistfits online store.
While we're in this Alt Rock mode, let me give you the 411 on another collection that you shouldn't miss out on. Merry Krampus is the 5th annual Christmas collection put out by Seattle's Green Monkey records and, really, they're all pretty great. But I have to agree with Tom Dyer that this may be the best of the lot.
If you're reading this, you know how much trouble you go to every year trying to find a soundtrack for the holiday that isn't hackneyed, trite, or boring--a soundtrack that's different, yet utterly listenable--fascinating and, well, its a bonus if it rocks. I'm here to tell you you can stop your search right here. Merry Krampus is the thing. Put this on at your next gathering and you'll have what you were looking for without any of the blood, sweat and tears of comping your own self. Your guests will think you're a genius.
There's so much greatness in this collection, its hard to know where to begin. The members of the Green Pajamas are everywhere on this thing. The Deadlies offer up a bit of surf punk (the Deadlies have their own Christmas record, by the way), there's psych galore, pop that rocks and rock that pops, an infectious song about Dick Clark's annual New Year's ball drop, even a song about suicide that (considering its subject matter) is very compelling.
I was immensely captivated by the "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus/Snow Miser" medley from The OF. It's got a little bit of everything in it--some "Time Has Come Today", some "Day In The Life", some "Take Five" styled Jazz, even. All tossed together seemingly at random, yet brilliantly coherent. Oh, and, "Spoiler Alert", The OF saw Mommy "bury" Santa Claus, so perhaps not for the kids or that squabbling neighbor couple.
Hands down, though, the track that makes this set a must have for the Christmas music conniseur is Dyer's own "No Lou This Xmas". This homage to the late Lou Reed captures all the raw, fierce passion of the best of the Velvet Underground (using the chord progression from "Rock And Roll", no less). They done Lou proud. If your mix this year doesn't include this gem, you're truly missing out. And so are all your friends.
This one's download only (via Bandcamp), but so completely worth it. And, as it happens, all proceeds (100%) will go to MusiCares, a group that helps out musicians in need, no questions asked. But, hey, if you don't have the dough, you can still stream the record at Green Monkey.
Here's a short version of "No Lou This Xmas" (the full version runs 5 minutes).
Thank goodness for my friends at Christmas A-Go-Go. I was beginning to think the Internets had gone crazy. There's FREE Christmas music out there--including some of the annual traditions we all wait for with baited breath--and nobody's mentioning them. Except Christmas A-Go-Go. Bless their eclectic hearts. Forget Black Friday. No sale beats FREE.
Now, I know. Its Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and all. Places to be, people to go. And, me, too, I usually like to listen and evaluate and offer up insightful commentary and clever witticisms. And that's all well and good for some of these. But the ROSEBUDS "Christmas Tree Island" is only available FREE for a week. And about half of that week is gone. Run, do not walk, over to Noisetrade this very minute and get ye a download code. I'll wait.
"Christmas Tree Island" is simply brilliant Alt Rock/Indie Pop stuff. Don't take my word for it. Check this review from my pal at Christmas Underground. Released just last year, this band from my adopted home of North Carolina WOULD likely have made my Top Ten of the year, had I bought the album. Money was tight then. Its tighter now. And I will buy that CD one day soon. But FREE? How can you turn that down? Go, go, go! Noisetrade. Now!
But wait! There's more!
The annual Paste Magazine Holiday Sampler is out! Released just today, I haven't had a full chance to check it out, yet. But there are certainly some familiar names alongside the new discoveries. The names don't come any more familiar than Otis Redding. This year's Paste Sampler includes his classic version of "Merry Christmas Baby". The best of the best! There's a track from the new Nick Lowe album, here. And Sufjan. Gotta have a little Sufjan. This 14 course holiday feast is free for the taking at Noisetrade.
1. Christmas In The Room/SUFJAN STEVENS
2. Snow Falls Down/GOOD OLD WAR
3. Christmas Thyme/THE OLMS
4. Joy To The World/SEABIRD
5. The Christmas Song/MICAH DALTON
6. Children Go Where I Send Thee/NICK LOWE
7. Merry Christmas Baby/OTIS REDDING
8. Blue Christmas/BRIGHT EYES
9. Everything's Changed/DREW HOLCOMB & THE NEIGHBORS
10. Could've Been Summer/MAGGIE CHAPMAN
11. Jesus Gonna Do His Best/J RODDY WATSON & THE BUSINESS
12. Baby, It's Cold Outside/LITTLE HURRICANE
13. They Shined Up Rudolph's Nose/DAVE MAYFIELD PARADE
14. Carol Of The Bells/THE LAST BISON
Even Christmas A-Go-Go hasn't gotten around to mentioning another of our favorite annual Christmas delights, "XO for the Holidays". And Volume 6 is now fully cooked and ready to eat, thanks to the holiday music chefs at XO Publicity. I still haven't figured out why this public relations firm got into the free Christmas music business, but I'm awfully glad they did. I sampled the new edition earlier on, before all the tracks were in. Let's face it, you can never go wrong with Piney Gir. Also very much enjoyed The Smoking Flowers' contribution and Magnuson's "O Holy Night". Get "XO fot the Holidays" FREE from XO Publicity. And, heck, if you missed any of the earlier volumes, they're all still there for you to be had.
1. ST. CLOUD/Bombay Beach Christmas
2. MAGNUSON/O Holy Night
3. THE SMOKING FLOWERS/Ho Ho Ho (A Bow And Nothing More)
4. PINEY GIR/Every Day's A Holiday
5. HERE COMES EVERYBODY/Christmas in September
6. FRED ROTH REVUE/Reindeer Get Lonley
7. ELECTRIC SHEPHERD/Angels in the Grove
8. PAPER TONGUES/O Come
9. THE HAGUE/Hey Parkers Its Christmas
Now that you can't rely on Stubby's--and you can't, not this year anyway--where are you going to go to find the best free Christmas music? For my money (which is to say none), nobody is better on that beat than Lie In The Sound. They just might be the best blog ever invented, period. In fact, I just moved them up the Festive Friends list, since I go there so often (What? You thought those links were for you?). Christoph and Brigitte are good friends of our little corner of the web and vice versa. This year's Christmas reviews are in German only, but music is a universal language. I found some real gems there, already. A 2009 collection from the Pursesnatchers (knew about "Christmas Lights", but not the rest of it, and its wonderful), a nice Starbucks styled Jazz cover of "Let It Snow" from another resident of Germany, Jenny Scott, and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics is offering up downloads of 4 of his original Christmas tunes from the still unavailable Cocktail Christmas album (it's a Twitter thing and I don't do Twitter).
But there was another free download presented at Lie In The Sound that just might be my favorite new Christmas song of the season (although I am very fond of the title track from Kelly Clarkson's latest)--"The Last Christmas" by Brainpool. Not speaking/reading German, I was immediately drawn to the cover art...a kitty cat staring at a golden handgernade Christmas ornament. I couldn't resist. Could you? And I was blown away. No, no, no. This is no Wham cover track, but an original that juxtaposes the jolly of the season with the absurdity of modern times. Peace on Earth? Yeah, right! Musically, the song has a bright and cheerful Indie Phil Spector vibe. It's just the cheeriest, most upbeat music imaginable. It's so infectious, the lyrical punch sneaks up on you. About the second or third chorus, you find yourself singing along and then you realize, wait, what now? God, this is awesome! Check it out.
I never worry that the pop and rock (and even country) Christmas tunes will get some blog play. But, much like Stubby's, Lie In The Sound, casts a much wider sonic net. That's why they're invaluable.
My own travels, through the series of tubes that make up the interwebs, have been few this year, but I did find a tasty treat or two to tickle your ear buds.
For example, here's a digital EP that you probably wouldn't hear about anywhere but here. Glenn Crytzer's Savoy Seven play old school Hot Jazz and they play it very well. A Little Love This Christmas features 5 tracks and two alternate takes for the price of...well, whatever price you want to pay...at Bandcamp. You can swing out to "Jingle Bells" or get yourself a cup of java and a front row seat for the title track. But my fave, here, is "Old Man Winter Blues". Whatever else he does, Glenn plays a mean guitar, and that talent takes center stage on this one. I wanna jam with that dude; he's got hip chops.
Finally, you rarely see a cover of Joe Turner's Jump Blues holiday classic "Christmas Date Boogie" And there's good reason for that. I mean, c'mon, you're never gonna beat Joe Turner; his version of that song is definitive. But so is Bing's "White Christmas" and that hasn't stopped anybody. Joe Bonamassa went there, and he gives the track his best rock and roll swagger and stray cat strut. Lots on energy on this one, available from Joe's web site.
Nope, still not here, really. But I feel a bit of Catholic guilt over not doing our Hanukkah countdown this year. So...there's this.
I've sincerely come to look forward to the annual holiday offerings from Six13. Their 2013 track is, uh, a bit specialized. Might be another 2000 years before you can use this in your mixes again. You can get "The Thanksgivukkah Anthem" at Amazon. And/or send a free Thanksgivukkah eCard to family and friends.
Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm not here. And, now that the word's out that I'm not here, nobody's stopping by anyway. But how could I resist....SINGLES! And not just any singles, but limited edition VINYL singles...from the Netherlands! I mean, that's just too cool to ignore.
Now, pretty much all the cool folks in our Festive Friends list to the right have told you about this project--and I will in just a bit--but I think I'm the first to be able to report to you that THE PRE-ORDER links are LIVE, Yo! Expected to be up by the end of October, the pre-order links went live yesterday. Its the Netherlands, so I don't even know when yesterday was, there. Official release, if I recall correctly, is scheduled for the end of November.
The folks at Snowflakes Singles--a start-up Indie label--want to celebrate the Christmas Single. Its a time honored tradition that is fading a bit in this digital age. The plan is to release four Christmas singles a year. Obviously, a lot is going to depend on how well the series is received. Each is numbered to just 500, is pressed on snowflake white 7" vinyl, and comes with a full color picture sleeve. One side is an original and the other side is a cover. Along the way, they also hope to tribute and preserve some of the great Christmas singles of the Indie era that maybe slipped by as digital downloads only and deserve to be permanently pressed to beautiful, warm, wonderful vinyl.
Now if this was just crappy crap crap crap crappy crap, I wouldn't have come out of my self-imposed semi-retirement to alert you. But we're talking some of the best of the best of Indie bands.
The first single is from the Smoke Fairies, who are just HUGE right now (and deservedly so). "Simple Feeling" is their original offering and their cover is "I Wonder As I Wander". Sold! Then we also have singles from The Miserable Rich, The Silhouettes and, oh my God, The Garlands! I've been in love with The Garlands for years...ever since I first heard them sing "Christmas Song" in 2008. For this series, The Garlands have rearranged and rerecorded "Christmas Song" and they'll back it with a cover of the wonderful Margo Guryan classic "I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You". Sold, sold, sold!!!
The Snowflakes website and Facebook page will tell you all about these groups and their Christmas singles and, as we told you above, the preorder links are LIVE, yo! You can buy just one or get a discount by purchasing all four. Keep this in mind, though. These are coming from the Netherlands. The price for the full set is 24 Euros. Shipping is another 9 Euros. Translated to U.S. currency, you're looking at $45 plus for the set. Me, I'm not buying a lot this year, but the Snowflakes Christmas Singles were at the top of my "must have" list. And have them I will. Just in case these singles aren't in your budget, Snowflakes plans to post some audio on their Soundcloud page in the not too distant future (yeah...Facebook...Soundcloud...Twitter...they're rolling out the whole magilla gorilla).
Thanks for stopping by for this important announcement. We now return you to your regularly scheduled "closed until further notice" Christmas music blog.
I really appreciate all the kind comments to my last post. At the moment, I can't access The Fa (I hate computers), but I do post occasionally over at Imwan (use the link on the right).
But if you'd really like to do me a solid, if you've enjoyed this blog, there's still time to contribute to the Kickstarter project from the Bowmans. They only have until August 1 to reach their goal and they're less than a third of the way there. If they don't reach their goal by August 1, none of the pledges will be collected and Mrs. Katz (not her real name) is not going to be happy. And, make no mistake, she'll blame me. All the info and links you'll need are in the piece just below this one.
Since I'm here anyway, I'll mention that Nick Lowe has a Christmas album coming out October 29. Songs include "Children Go Where I Send Thee", "Christmas Can't Be Far Away", a ska take on the Roy Wood classic "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday", "Old Toy Trains", and some Nick Lowe originals. Read all about "Quality Street" at Imwan (http://www.imwan.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=32&t=84577).
Hey, so where've I been? We'll get to that. First, some Christmas joy!
This is about the time of year when we start hearing about the lineup of upcoming holiday releases. On the schedule, so far, are seasonal projects from Kelly Clarkson, Pat Benatar, Patty Smyth & Scandal, Meatloaf ("Hot Holidays"), Kim Wilde, Gretchen Wilson, Mary J. Blige ("A Very Mary Christmas"), Anthony Hamilton, Leona Lewis (yeah, fer realz), Restless Heart (well, we've been waiting on that one for a long, long time), Shania Twain (also fer realz, though she's being quite mysterious about the whole thing--just do it, Shania, I promise we'll love it), Martina McBride, Diane Schuur, Jason Catron, Terry Bradshaw and a comp from Fearless Records called "Punk Goes Christmas". There's even a release planned for those Duck Dynasty people. Smokey Robinson's Xmas CD is still floating around in the pre-release atmosphere as well, as are some others that planned their release last year, but missed the window (Matthew Morrison of "Glee" fame springs readily to mind). And, oh yeah, the album I'm MOST excited to hear--the third record in the Jillaine Christmas trilogy, "Jazzy Christmas To You III". Last year's is going to be tough to beat. On top of all that, we are expecting the Greatest Movie Ever Made (tm) to drop this year--JINGLE BELL ROCKS! So much excitement in the air (Is that what that is? I thought it was pollen.)!
But here's the project that inspired me to put on my blogging cap for the first time in many months. The Bowmans are twin sisters from Cali (fornia, that is). Sarah writes wonderful lyrics and Claire is quite the artist. Their music tends to fall in that Country/Folk category, with a touch of Blues--Americana, really--and they've got that harmony that only sisters seem to have (The Bowmans are frequently compared to The Roches). You'll find their albums (featuring Claire's amazing cover art) in The Bowmans Merch Store (https://sites.google.com/site/thebowmansmerchstore/) and you can listen to a few of their songs on ReverbNation (http://www.reverbnation.com/thebowmansmusic).
Anyway, The Bowmans are hoping to put out a Christmas CD and accompanying illustrated book this year and they're raising money for the project on--where else--Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thebowmans/the-bowmans-christmas-album-and-illustrated-book). Now, I'm a big fan of Christmas music and of Kickstarter. But what was the added spice that had me sipping egg nog and humming "White Christmas" on the 4th of July?
Check the amazing illustration from Claire to the right. Hmm? Ain't that great?
But wait! There's more! As with all Kickstarter campaigns, there are various levels of support and corresponding incentives. Me, I'd have been happy with the autographed CD and the book in digital form, myself (a mere $25). But Mrs. Katz (not her real name) would have none of it. Every time I turned away from the keyboard, she'd scroll down to the "Art & Animal Lover" package--which includes a signed print of a Claire Bowman illustration of your pet or the animal of your choice. "No," I'd tell Mrs. Katz, "it's not in the budget." But, before I knew it, she'd punched the mouse (I've got a bone to pick with whomever named that thing) and I was pledged. Ah, well, she'll get her print and I'll get the CD. At least Mrs. Katz respected my poverty enough to not select the "Iconographic Animal" package. These personalized packages are very limited, so either hurry on over to Kickstarter or keep your pet away from the computer for a few days. It's the music you want. Here's a rough mix of some of it.
And those be The Bowmans to the left. Attractive young ladies and talented to boot. Read all about their Christmas project and please contribute if you can. (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thebowmans/the-bowmans-christmas-album-and-illustrated-book) Every dollar counts. And, you know how this works, if The Bowmans don't reach their pledge goal by the end of the month, well, then Mrs. Katz won't get her print and there'll be hell to pay around here.
Now for the bad news. Those of you as old as I may recognize the title of this entry as part of an old Lewis Carroll poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter".
"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings"
Well, the time has come to speak about this here particular blog. In brief, I think we're done. I wish I'd started this blog 15 years ago; then maybe we would have reached the Christmas music Nirvana I hoped for. As it is, I think we had a good run and I'm pretty happy with what we did. I wish I could say there were just one reason why I'm hanging up my keyboard, but there isn't "just one reason." Not to get all spiritual on you but, being as I'm pretty thick and stubborn, the universe (or God or whatever) has always laid out the choices very clearly for me. I'm very lucky like that. I'm always (or almost always) shown what the "right thing" to do is. On one side are all the realities and on the other is just thick, stubborn me. The choice is mine, of course, but--most of the time--I come to my senses and take the path that's been presented clearly as the "right thing". Right now, there is the family health issue that has always been priority one. It's even more demanding than it was last Christmas. In addition to time issues, there are monetary issues.
And there's this whole computer thing--and this is a pretty big factor for me. Two years ago, my computer was top of the line; it's already completely obsolete. And I know some of you tech-savvy younger folks are thinking "of course it is", but I can't afford to drop 2 grand on a new computer every other year. And, no, I'm not interested in computing or blogging "via phone" (if I may... f#@% that!). This whole "cloud" business is a trap and a cancer. Don't say you weren't warned. What business presents as a "convenience" always is revealed later on as a scheme to separate you from your money. Technology, I'm afraid, is advancing so fast at this point, that the benefits the Internet presented us--the democratization of information, if you will--is being stolen right back quicker than you can say "Dude, you're gettin' a...". It's so bad, now, that I can't purchase from iTunes on a MAC. Think about how absurd that is. I call them up and they say, "Maybe its your browser; how you tried Chrome?" Dudes. The browser shouldn't matter in the first place--its freakin' iTunes--but Safari is YOUR browser; you created Safari just for MAC and MAC programs. If your own browser can't handle your own programs anymore, maybe you're in the wrong line of work. And, just for the record, I couldn't buy from iTunes using Chrome either. So there. Pfffttt. Always been a big MAC fan. But, since Steve Jobs died, they have ceased caring about their loyal customers. Any Apple Head will tell you the same. I know one guy who has been with them since the beginning. Bought every new phone and pad and pod and, basically, anything Apple ever made. Steve Jobs dies and, suddenly, he can't access his MAC email account of 20 years or more. What's up with that?
As it is, as you can see, I can't presently even format properly for this blog. And THIS computer (not MY computer, but the one I'm working with most often at present) doesn't even have a soundcard. How am I supposed to do a Christmas music blog without a soundcard?
There's the whole Storage Wars thing going on, too. Soundcloud has been deleting my tracks, here, one by one. Mind you, I never made them available for downloading, just streaming. But God forbid a blogger try to do what everybody and his mother do on YouTube--share music so people can hear it. Its a losing war, on their part, anyway. But small, honest bloggers will be the casualties of that war--not the actual thieves and pirates. It's kind of like the War on Drugs; there's a bunch of poor folks doing hard time for smoking a J while the mega-dealers live in mansions and the politicians and agents cracking down are snorting lines off their girlfriends' stomachs in the back room.
And might I just add, here, that I'm sick and tired of emails from companies that want to "optimize" my web site and make Stubby's #1 on Google. I know its your job and all, but, seriously, piss off! If I cared about that, I have places I could go and people I could ask. But I don't care about that and never did. I just wanted to be Stubby's. Let some other fool worry about being #1. I don't make money doing this and never really wanted to, alright?
Anyway, rant off.
You never know, of course, so its my intention to leave Stubby's up for awhile. I'll likely renew the domain and the PO Box, when they come due. Maybe some day, I'll have something to say. Or maybe, some day, I'll have the time and technology to move forward. I doubt it, personally. But you never know. And there are lots of good folks carrying on the Christmas music hunt. There's a bunch of them in that list of Festive Friends over to the right. Those are good folks--the ones I know are, certainly--and they've done some damn fine work in the genre long before I got here and they'll be doing it long after I'm gone, I suspect. Go check them out now. I'll wait.
But, hey, its been a blast. Really, it has. Hope we turned you on to some cool stuff you'd have otherwise missed. God's honest truth: finding Jillaine--and doing my small part to get other people to find her--was worth the whole trip for me. And, yeah, the Stubby's House mixes were a lot of fun to do, too. Hope you enjoyed them (but don't ask; I'm not reposting them).
There's some great Christmas music out there. Go get it.
Just because Christmas has passed doesn't mean we're not still uncovering great holiday music. The Free List is still growing by about a track a day (wish it were more, but...time is not on my side) and, every now and then, we even add something to our Previews section.
Got an awesome new track up, today, on the Free List from the Russian Folk Punk band, the Garlic Kings. Russian. Folk Punk. Need I say more?
First off, a reminder that the 2012 Stubby's House Christmas mix is only up through January 7. People seem pleased with it, so far as I've heard. And it's also the only place you can get "Jingle Bells" by the Fayetteville Ska Alliance free (Stubby's House Exclusive! Yay!). So, if you haven't found the time to download it yet, get a move on.
Everybody's got there year-end Best Of lists and we at Stubby's are no different. Although it's always my intention to post such a list earlier in the season, it never seems to happen that way and this year's list is our latest ever. So be it. We have some added issues for 2012 in that I've listened to fewer new albums that I have in any Christmas for at least the last decade or more. But the fact that its impossible to listen to everything is why I've never thought of this listing as a "Best Of". And, while its one thing to say I haven't listened to Rod Stewart's album or Cee Lo Green's, I also have yet to listen to Tracey Thorn's which, by just about every account, was one of the season's finest. These are just my personal favorites of the ones I have listened to (all the way through). There is no particular order, though, generally speaking, I like the ones nearer the top more than the ones nearer the bottom. Albums that were available as free downloads are not considered here, for these purposes. Album art is linked to a purchase site (generally Amazon).
JILLAINE - JAZZY CHRISTMAS TO YOU II (full review here)
I don't know that it is possible to be any more effusive about this album than I've already been in our full review. Jillaine is an artist I was already fond of and I admit I had certain expectations going in (and nothing kills an album more certainly than high expectations). "Jazzy Christmas To You II" exceeded even my most unrealistic expectations. She completely blew me away. This album is a Jazz tour-de-force, as far as I'm concerned, and Jillaine proved she could hang with any of the greats. From one of the best, if not THE best, versions of "I Wonder Ar I wander" I've ever heard to a classic original Blues song, "Santa's Blues", that's as well written as it is performed, to a snazzy Jazzy rendition of "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus" worthy of Ella, there's no disappointment of any kind, here. Just pure bliss. Jillaine has announced that there's a "Jazzy Christmas To You III" on deck and I can hardly wait to see how she surprises me and shatters my expectations yet again. Get to know Jillaine; she's truly moved into a class with the great Jazz/Blues vocalists and should become a staple of any radio station library or personal collection.
LUNCH AT ALLEN'S - ZUZU'S PETALS
Once again, I walked the dangerous road of high expectations on "Zuzu's Petals" and lived to tell about it. Lunch At Allens is a supergroup of sorts of 4 Canadian singer/songwriters, each very accomplished in their own rights, whose voices and talents blend together every bit as strongly (IMO) as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. "Zuzu's Petals" was the new album I listened to the most this year. It struck just the chord I needed this year--soft and furry, warm and reassuring, nostalgic and pretty. The original songs were brilliantly written and the old favorites were delivered with both freshness and reverence. And it's hard to think of a weak track from this Folk/Pop set. In fact, the weakest tracks on this album would have been home runs on any other. But my favorites, after so many listens, are fairly clear: "Every Time It's Christmas", "Zuzu's Petals", "Old Tin Star" and "Oh, What A Christmas Eve". I recommend the album without reservation. I think you'll find it fits the holiday season like a pair of cozy slippers on a cold winter's night.
THE NEW ROYALTY - SPEND CHRISTMAS WITH ME (mini review here)
There were two faults I can find with The New Royalty's "Spend Christmas With Me". First, it came way too early in the season and, thus, was missed by a lot of Christmas music maniacs. Second, it was a digital only release, which is a shame since it deserved the permanence of hard copy. Hell, vinyl even. (If there were hard copies available in New Jersey, would somebody please pick one up for me? Thanks.) I love Christmas albums from bands on the rise--new bands are fearless and unfettered when attacking the Christmas genre, full of energy and still in the process of discovering and defining themselves--and The New Royalty did not disappoint. If there was ever any doubt, they put it to rest on the opening number. As I wrote at the time, "Not many bands would have the BALLS to open a Christmas album with "O Holy Night" (easily my favorite traditional Christmas song) let alone to rock it into the next century." With a balance of classic carols, modern favorites, and brand new originals, The New Royalty brought presents to the party for every rock fan everywhere. The young Central Jersey Pop Punk band takes no prisoners as they conquer the Christmas music kingdom and lead vocalist Bree Iafelice is in top form throughout. Aside from "O Holy Night", it's the originals that take center stage--especially "Toys", "I Believe It's Christmas Time" and, for those who'd prefer something a little slower with a little more emotional depth, "One More". Don't wait until the band breaks big, which they're bound to do; grab "Spend Christmas With Me" now. If you love to rock, you'll be digging this one for decades of Christmases yet to come.
VARIOUS - SANTA'S GOT MOJO 2
Hard to believe, given my love of Blues, that I could find any 2012 Christmas album better than Electro-Fi's long awaited sequel to their 2002 collection, "Santa's Got Mojo". "Santa's Got Mojo 2" was an oasis in a Christmas Blues desert (we get far too little real Christmas Blues anymore) from the Canadian label's extensive roster. To be honest, the original was loaded with unbeatable tracks, including Curtis Whitley's "Lonely Shepherd" which has fast become a Blues Christmas standard. But "Santa's Got Mojo 2" has its share. "Hot Cider Cinnamon" by Harrison Kennedy paints a wonderful picture in Country Blues colors and Shakura S'Aida's "Be My Santa Claus" is delightful. But the late Mel Brown steals the show with a previously unreleased workout on "Merry Christmas Baby" recorded in 1999. If you love Christmas Blues like I do, "Santa's Got Mojo 2" is a must-own.
FAYETTEVILLE SKA ALLIANCE - MERRY, HAPPY, JOLLY, GOOD TIME
It might be that the only thing we get less than Christmas Blues is Christmas Ska. And that's exactly what inspired these cool cats from Arkansas to record "Merry, Happy, Jolly, Good Time". The Fayetteville Ska Alliance approached the project with the idea of enjoying the process, having fun, and making a record that they'd want to listen to (as opposed to tailoring an album to some nebulous poll-tested consumer base). And, (I think) because of that, the album succeeds greatly. From the covers of "Jingle Bells" and "Deck The Halls" to originals like "Have Another Piece Of Pie", "Why Can't Every Day Be Christmas" and the title track, the album is a two-tone blast and a half. Yes, I dare say it's a "Merry, Happy, Jolly, Good Time". And that's kind of the point of Ska to begin with. If you're not having fun with Ska, then you ain't doin' it right. The Fayetteville Ska Alliance done did it right. And all proceeds will go to charity, so even more bonus points for that. If your Christmas library has a huge hole where the Ska should be (and even if it doesn't), this album is definitely one to add. A Mrs. Katz favorite, as well as mine (and she hates just about everything).
GARY "U.S." BONDS - CHRISTMAS IS ON (preview here)
As much as I looked forward to the Christmas album from the legendary Gary "U.S." Bonds, I kept my expectations low. I've seen far too many of my favorite artists from the past record Christmas albums with voices showing their age and with no heart and, especially, no soul. Mostly, I just wanted a hard copy of Gary's take on "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" which he gave away as a free download a few years back. And, indeed, we did get that. But Gary surprised me by putting together a holiday set worthy of his legend. He was in fine voice throughout, gave nods to both of his hit making eras with fresh arrangements and tight performances, and the original songs were all pretty awesome Rock N Soul tunes. "Christmas Is On" is a terrific rockin' Christmas album. I could have lived without another Doo Wop version of "White Christmas" but, other than that, no Gary "U.S." Bonds fan, no rock and roll fan, could possibly be disappointed. Highlights came, largely, from the originals. I was partial to the R&B "Christmas Is Just A Phone Call Away" and the Classic Rock "Tis The Season To Be Lovin' You", but my absolute favorite, here, was the surprise ballad "Baby, Baby It's Christmas", which is a beautiful Christmas song (IMO) that I hope sees a lot of cover action down the road.
SCARLET CLUB - THE CHRISTMAS ALBUM
I have to admit that, during the Eighties, I wasn't very fond of the music being made. I was a 60s and 70s fan and, come the 80s, I was exploring Jazz and Blues and Folk. Even so, it was impossible to escape the sounds of Culture Club and the Thompson Twins and Big Country and the other bands that dominated the airwaves and the then fairly new MTV. And I did find some appeal to the bands, then, that weren't scoring huge hits like O+ Positive and Black. But a quarter century later, I find myself quite nostalgic for 80s music. So maybe it was inevitable that "The Christmas Album" from the UK synth-pop duo Scarlet Club would find a warm place in my heart. Based on the little I knew of Scarlet Club, I guess I was expecting a one-note synth samba, but the pair created a Christmas collection that gives nods to ALL the best music of the decade, from hard rocking, guitar driven, near Punk to sounds echoing the New Romantic movement to fluffy Sunshine synth pop to just old fashioned Rock N Roll. This really is a letter perfect 80s Christmas album, though it doesn't sound the least bit dated. My faves from Scarlet Club are "Party Susan" (David Bowie meets The Beatles), "Little Miss Mistletoe", and "The Bauble At The Bottom Of The Tree". But, really, there's not much here I didn't love. (OK, maybe "Robots Need Christmas Too" was a bit outside of my nostalgia zone). Even if you hated the 80s, I think you'll love Scarlet Club.
B3 KINGS - YOU BETTER WATCH OUT
There were lots of really good Jazz Christmas albums this year, but, for fans of classic Jazz--by which I guess I mean the kind that was being made in the early 60s--"You Better Watch Out" from the B3 Kings was head and shoulders my favorite of the bunch (excluding Jillaine's CD, of course). The B3 Kings had last been preserved on CD on "A Cellar Live Christmas" (also highly recommended) in 2005. Led by saxman Cory Weeds, the band exists solely to jam Christmas tunes in December. Technically, "You Better Watch Out" was released in 2011, but it didn't get a wide release until this year. Aside from Cory, the trio features Chris Gestrin on the Hammond B-3 (and nothing says Christmas like a Hammond B-3) and percussion from Denzal Sinclaire. Part of what separated this one from the pack were Denzal's smooth, smokey and warm vocals. The B-3 Kings bring the swinging bop to such chestnuts as Vince Guaraldi's "Skating" and "Bring A Torch Jeanette Isabella", the band gets all after-hours funky on "Angels We Have Heard On High", and Denzal croons a pretty tune on "Christmas Dreaming", "There's A Train Out For Dreamland" and "Ave Maria". There's a nice variety of tempos and sounds and the album is paced extremely well. Hard to pick a favorite track, but "You Better Watch Out" will join my collection of Jazz Christmas favorites for all the years to come.
TRIBECASTAN - THE TWISTED CHRISTMAS (mini review here)
"The Twisted Christmas" EP from TriBeCaStan was just so...different, I found it impossible not to love. From my perspective, there's a Jazz foundation with World Music crafted over the top, all melted together with a huge helping of chaos. Well, if you dig Jazz and Rock, it's not really chaos--there's definitely a method to the madness. And, at times, TriBeCaStan actually sounds fairly traditional. At times. It's endlessly fascinating, and no less Christmasy for that (at least I didn't think so). "The Twisted Christmas" got repeated spins in the Stubby household and I know I'll return to it again and again. As I said back in November, "This is the disc you'll still be amazing your friends with 50 years from now...or the one you'll regret not having picked up when it was there for you to be had." Favorite track of the 4 here? "Noel Ye Faithful", though it's hard to ignore "God Rest Ye 3 Kings".
WILL SCRUGGS JAZZ FELLOWSHIP - SONG OF SIMEON
There might be a dozen records all bunched up around this point in my new favorites list, and I really would have trouble separating them out. "Holidays Rule" was a solid comp, Jigsaw Seen's "Gifted" was exceptional, I dug the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra and was happy to come across them. But I'm going to give this spot to an album you probably haven't heard anything about this year. "Song Of Simeon" is a concept Jazz album. Will Scruggs, highly in demand as a session sax man, set out on a sonic journey, looking for a deeper (mystical) meaning of the season (and based, at least somewhat, on the biblical Song of Simeon and the message therein). The CD is a suite in two movements. And I have to confess, I'm not a big fan of long form Jazz. I like detachable tunes, myself. Fortunately, you can approach this set from Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship either way. And, when you cut the suite into its component parts, this is really a very excellent Jazz album. The songs, mostly recognizable carols, are all given the greatest respect, but the Jazz arrangements and playing are magnificent. The solos absolutely sparkle. And, sure, there's a huge spiritual component, but taken purely for it's Jazz, this one's a keeper. Sadly, the 30 second clips you're likely to be able to sample won't do it proper justice. So just take a chance. I think you'll enjoy "Song Of Simeon", if you like Jazz at all. Favorite tracks include "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", "Song Of Simeon" and "Twas In The Moon Of Wintertime".
Now, as I said, there's an awful lot I haven't listened to--more this year than in many others. So, if you didn't see your favorites listed here, I'd love for you to tell us what you loved this year and why. The comments section awaits.
One "Last Dance For New Year's Day"? We love our MashUps, here, and we were pointed in the direction of the French band Hot Couture by a poster (regularjoe) at the FaLaLaLaLa.com forums. "Last Dance For New Year's Day" is his latest and features mostly a MashUp of assorted Liza Michael covers--including U2's "New Year's Day", Kool & The Gang's "Celebration" and, of course, "Auld Lang Syne"--with Donna Summer's "Last Dance" and a few other drops. It's a free Soundcloud download. Hot Couture mixes their live band music with MashUps in a way that, to be honest, I don't quite understand, but the important thing is that they are a real band...that does MashUp mixes. I think. Hot Couture actually has nearly an album's worth of holiday MashUps available on Soundcloud, including "You Can Ring My Jingle Bells", "I'm Dreaming Of A Barry White Christmas" and "Let It Snow LMAFO". Not the best MashUps I've ever heard--those would be on the Santastic sets from djBC--but not bad. And certainly worth a free download. More about Hot Couture at Facebook and their home web site.