1. Free Creature - Youse A Humbug
2. Uncle Tiki - The Potato Song
3. The Tom & Jim Yuletide Contraption - (All I Want For Christmas Is A) Big Black Eye
4. The Fresh Prince of Brain Wizard - Christmas In This Modern Age
5. The Green Pajamas - El Rorro
6. The Dyer Spawn - Wild Christmas
7. Three Ninjas - Black Dog Family
8. The Fastbacks - Oh Come All Ye Faithful
9. Cain Morehead and The Elves Bells - All Those Christmas Songs
10. Zelda Starfire - I Hate Christmas
11. Captain Christmas and the Winter Solstice Singers - Christmas Boogie Woogie
12. Steve Martinelli - Pretty Cute Christmas Kitty
13. Ed Portnow - (Peace Can Happen) On Christmas
14. Tom Dyer - Joy To The World
15. Pleasure Island - Winter Wonderland
16. Guns of Nevada - Liquor In My Stocking
17. The Write Brothers Sonic Soul Consortium featuring Stefanie Lee Knowlton - A Misspent Mercury Tear and A Cold Obsidian Heart
18. Eric Padget - 12 Drummers Drumming
The Matrix is broken. I mean, there is a way Christmas records are made. There are months, possibly years of planning. Song selection is critical. Arrangements are meticulous. The proper studio is booked, the proper musicians hired. And, with all that, the vast majority of holiday releases in any given year are insipid and instantly forgettable. And I know you look at this blog and say, "But, but, but, Stubby, you like everything." And I do legitimately like and love the music I talk about and review. But you have to know that, for every album I rave about, there are hundreds that I consider a detriment--nay, an insult--to the seasonal canon. Let me give you an example. There's a record out there this year called "A Chrisley Christmas". This is the first (and last) time I'll ever mention it. I won't even put it on our chronological listing. Yes, I'm familiar with the TV show. No, you couldn't pay me enough to watch it. Now I'm sure there's someone out there who likes the record. Probably a bunch of people. To which I say, get your own damn blog. That record is nothing short of air pollution (IMHO). And, while I realize we're about to enter into an upsidedown world where air pollution is celebrated (welcome to Trumpland), I, personally, don't want to breathe it.
Geez, I always get sidetracked. Here's the point. Green Monkey Records doesn't waste any time with planning. Tom Dyer, who runs the label, sends out an email to a bunch of artists in the Pacific Northwest (primarily) that he knows or knows of, saying, "Hey, anybody want to do a Christmas song this year?" Green Monkey spends zero time on song selection. Whatever comes in comes in. Arrangements? We don't need no stinking arrangements. We just play and that's that. Hell, we don't even need every song cut in a professional studio. That Wollensak in the bedroom is fine. And yet, somehow, every GD year, Green Monkey puts out one of the best Christmas albums of the year. How? The Matrix is broken. In fairness, I'm sure the artists involved put in more time and effort than I'm suggesting. And they're pros. They know what they're doing. Although, kids, this is one time where you can go ahead and try this at home. Not saying you'll find the same kind of magic, but it could happen.
Green Monkey Records has been around since 1983 (like a 45 record, there's a hole in the middle where the label took a bit of a siesta while they waited for the rest of the world to catch up to where they'd already been for a decade). They are all about Rock And Roll--Alt Rock, Indie Rock, Garage Rock, Underground Rock, Old School Rock, New Old School Rock, Experimental Rock, Experimental Indie Alt Underground Garage New Old School Rock. Rock.
I say it every year, but "All I Want For Christmas: GMR Xmas VII" might be Green Monkey's best yet.
That's followed by "The Potato Song" by Uncle Tiki--perhaps the only song ever that could match "Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn" for sheer exuberance. Except, this song gets down to the true meaning of Christmas...the food. Then its on to the tune which gives the collection it's title "(All I Want For Christmas Is A) Big Black Eye" from Tom & Jim's Yuletide Contraption which combines "Hit The Road Jack" "walking" rhythms with New York Dolls attitude, and production choices worthy of Sir George Martin (another light we lost in 2016). Really, you're going to want to listen to this one a lot, if only to figure out everything that's going on back there.
The Fresh Prince of Brain Wizard grace us with a superbly Dream Poppy "Christmas In The Modern Age". Tom's hoping to get a full Brain Wizard album out in 2017. One listen to their Christmas song and you'll be anxiously waiting for that. The Green Pajamas, who have long been a favorite of mine, surprise and delight with an original arrangement of a traditional Mexican carol that's as haunting as Marley's Ghost and as beautiful as a perfect sunset. The Dyer Spawn bring a bit of Indie Folk Rock (with some Blues overtones--subtle, but its there) on "Wild Christmas".
"Black Dog Christmas", by GMR regular Three Ninjas, is what you'd get if Bob Dylan wrote a song with Billy Joel and then handed it to a one-man band to record. Amazingly, it works. Parental Advisory on this one and, thematically, its about how you can't pick your family, but you can sure pick your dogs. And your dogs will love you unconditionally and never pass judgement on you. A solid and important Christmas message. And, like pretty much the whole album, I like it more with every listen.
Zelda Starfire is back from last year's set with some more Indie Uke Pop. This year's is an anti-Christmas tune, "I Hate Christmas". The weirdness flows on "Christmas Boogie Woogie" from Captain Christmas & The Winter Solstice Singers. Attributed to an old 78, the sure to be Dr. Demento favorite even ends in a skip. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea but, if your mixtape comes up a minute short, "Christmas Boogie Woogie" will likely get better reception at your Christmas party than any other one minute track I can think of (and I do know a few).
Steven Martelli's "Pretty Cute Christmas Kitty" is....I guess you'd call it Alt Lounge. Musically, it's fascinating. But the vocals don't do it for me. I did go check out some of Steven's other stuff and his vocals are great elsewhere. But the song's about a kitty (I think...unless it's a metaphor...................nah!), so I'll give him a pass.
Not that his fingerprints aren't all over this record to begin with, but Tom Dyer steps up to the mic solo (more or less) on "Joy To The World". Tom plays it straight and the organ is what makes it work. We get Garage Surf on "Winter Wonderland" by Pleasure Island. Guns of Nevada shows us how Roots Rock is done, son, with "Liquor In My Stocking". The Write Brothers Sonic Soul Consortium featuring Stefanie Lee Knowlton contribute possibly the most beautiful song on the album. "A Misspent Mercury Tear and A Cold Obsidian Heart" is one part Indie Rock one part Classic Rock. And it has to be said: combining the name of the band and the name of the song, you'd get in just under the wire on Twitter. Might have enough characters left to say "is great" or "is awesome", but that's about it. I suspect, though, the song is destined for a long life on Internet Christmas playlists.
And what do we get when we get to the last track on "All I Want For Christmas: GMR Xmas VII"?
I'm sure I probably missed a Parental Advisory along the way although, let's be honest, your kids probably already have those words in their vocabulary. My personal faves from the album? "Youse A Humbug", "All Those Christmas Songs", and "(Peace Can Happen) On Christmas". Close behind are "Christmas In The Modern Age", "The Potato Song" and "Black Dog Christmas". You'll find your own favorites, I'm sure.
"All I Want For Christmas: GMR Xmas VII" is, as the title suggests, the 7th Green Monkey Christmas compilation. It is vital and alive and one of the best Christmas records you'll hear this year. Tom describes the process as "a minimum of planning and a maximum of chaos". Well, whatever they're doing, it's working. Those of you who have been addicted to Christmas music as long as I have know...we would have killed to have an album like this in the early days. Can you imagine the joy we'd have felt if we found a Green Monkey Christmas compilation in the record bins in those days...before the Internet as we know it? Though, recognizing its a digital release, we might be pretty stoked to find it in the record bins today, too. And, as if the music weren't enough reward, all proceeds raised will go to charity--specifically MusiCares. Scroll back to the top for purchase links or to visit Green Monkey Records.