Amazing how the late Sharon Jones seems to have sung a perfect song for almost any occasion. Over time, people have forgotten that Woody Guthrie wrote this as a protest song. Sharon restores it to its original purpose.
[Links have been removed, as promised]
From the land of better late than never. This is a lot of work, yo.
So, anyway, it's that time of year again (thank you, Captain Obvious). And tomorrow is the big day. That's right. Doctor Who is back! But, aside from that, it's also Christmas...and Hanukkah. And regulars know that I like to slip my own little gifty under the tree.
The "rules" are simple enough. These selections are all songs that were offered as free downloads by the artists and labels, and they have to be freebies that we talked about over the course of the year. I believe our first entry this year was in March and, yes, that first freebie of the year is on here. They don't have to be 2016 songs, so long as we talked about them in 2016 (which we couldn't do if they were no longer free). Now it doesn't matter to me if a song is no longer free right now, so long as it was at some point, but I don't think that's an issue this year.
"A Stubby's House Christmas" goes up today, for your downloading pleasure, and comes down around Midnight January 6--what is known as "Little Christmas". "Little Christmas" was a big deal in the Italian neighborhood I grew up in, and it's also the end of the Breaking Up Christmas celebrations in the Appalachians, near where I live now. Once it comes down, it will never see the light of day again. It's gone forever like the cookies you leave out for Santa.
Song titles are linked to our write-ups and artist names are linked to their websites or Facebook pages (where available).
And the most important rule: I get to break them (we don't need no stinkin' rules). But I usually don't.
2016 is a bit different from past years in that Hanukkah and Christmas-to-New-Year's sync up precisely. I'm told it was like that some 40 odd years ago, but I don't have a memory of it. Most years, Hanukkah is long gone by the time of the Stubby mix, so Hanukkah doesn't get much play on them. This year, there is a set of 5 Hanukkah tunes on Disc 2 (and a spare track on Disc 1). Sure, I wouldn't mind doing a whole side of Hanukkah (I've done several full Hanukkah mixes for friends and for my own head); it's just that there aren't so many quality freebies for Hanukkah in a given year.
There are TWO songs, here, we haven't talked about this year--both in the Hanukkah set. One is a brilliant bit of Blues in Hebrew from Lazer Lloyd. It IS free (you'll find it here); it's just not a Hanukkah song. But there are lots of tunes we consider Christmas tunes that aren't. I'll post the English translation of the lyrics for "Ha'am Sheli" in the comments.
The other tune we haven't talked about is our Stubby's House Exclusive this year (yay!). The Elemeno Pea had, earlier this year, posted a song on Soundcloud (stream). They pulled it down from there and from Amazon. As I was about to buy it (before it vanished), I contacted the band and, well, nice folks that they are, they agreed to let us have it as a Stubby's House Exclusive (yay!).
The Elemeno Pea is a songwriting and production team in L.A (Jessie Shapiro and Rob Shore at the helm). They do a lot of stuff, including music for films, jingles, and commercials as well as the occasional full-blown Pop song. I'm assured that The Elemeno Pea have plans for 2017, including for their song "Light Up For Hanukkah", an awesome piece of groovin' Electro Pop. I believe it's back up at Amazon, now, but this is the only place you can get it free (as part of the Stubby's House collection). Let's have a quick listen.
OK. Didn't mean to talk your ear off. As usual, one of the biggest problems is getting all the levels in the same ballpark. Did my best. Trimmed a few sleighbells and what not to make for better flow. Disc one is all over the place and it kinda works because of it (but only kinda). Disc Two is tightly focused and I'm almost a little proud of it. Almost. It's been a miserable year in most any respect, and that is reflected in the songs that got chosen and the order of play. Usually like to start upbeat, but we open with Charlotte Carpenter's "Cheer". Don't worry. It gets upbest. Hopefully, it'll serve as catharsis and you'll feel better at the end.
Favorite song, this year, is Chelsey Cope's "Holiday Party". Man, what a great song that is. Second favorite is from Yuuwii and Weiwen (I've been listening to that one since March). Always like to tell you who almost made the cut, but didn't. That song, this year, was "Naughty X-mas" from Cali Miles. I love that tune. But I figured others might disagree (especially given the legal troubles), so I dropped Cali this morning and tacked on The Holiday Scene's new Hanukkah tune instead.
The zip file contains all of the tunes, properly tagged, and all of the artwork you should need to make yourself a CD of "A Stubby's House Christmas & Hanukkah 2016". Regulars also know that any of the artwork in this post will take you to the download (except the Elemeno Pea pic). But, just in case, here's a link [links removed, as promised] for you. Gone after January 6th, so don't dawdle.
I am really sorry this took so long. I am. But we will be back tonight to kick off the 8 nights of Hanukkah. And I imagine we'll have something for Christmas Eve as well. Peace.
1. CHEER - CHARLOTTE CARPENTER
2. 358 DAYS - FOLKINCEPTION featuring THE HOLY BROKE
3. KIDS COME BACK AGAIN AT CHRISTMAS - SLOAN
4. CHRISTMAS WITHOUT MARIA - THE JAC featuring THE CHRISTMAS CREW
5. CHRISTMAS (BABY, PLEASE COME HOME) - LAST TRAIN HOME
6. WEIHNACHTZEIT (CHRISTMAS TIME) - TORSTEN KUDJER
7. BRING BACK MY CADILLAC - JOE BONAMASSA
8. HOLIDAY PARTY - CHELSEY COPE
9. CHRISTMAS EVE - NIGHT FLOWERS
10. CHRISTMAS EVE/PIERSTON QUEEN - CHASE HUGLIN
11. THE MOUNTAIN WIND BLOWS COLD - LAURA ASHTON JONES
12. WARREN CITY CHRISTMAS - KISSING PARTY
13. YOU STOLE MY XMAS SWEATER - RAT FANCY
14. A MAN IN A RED SUIT - TYLER BERNHARDT
15. CHRISTMAS EVERY DAY - WINTERVAL
16. CHRISTMAS MUSIC - CHARLES JENKINS
17. IT'S THE ONLY PLACE I WANNA BE - MARKEY BLUE
18. GORILLABOT SANTA - GORILLABOT
19. CHRISTMAS BRAND NEW - BONNIE & THE BARROWS
20. SILENT NIGHT - MARK JEGHURS
21. SIMPLY CHRISTMAS - FIREFLAKE
22. EIGHT DATES A WEEK - THE HOLIDAY SCENE
13. CHRISTMAS IN A TENT - DAVID ROVICS
14. WINTER DREAM - FAUX FAWN
15. CLOTHE YOURSELF FOR THE WINTER - SOFIA TALVIK
16. CHRISTMAS EVE UNTIL I LEAVE - HOTEL BOOKS
17. HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS - ENID
18. THERE WILL BE NO CHRISTMAS - YUUWII & WEIWEN
19. NEW BEGINNINGS - FEVER FEVER
20. XMAS TIME - LO FI ACOUSTIC TRIO
21. WHITE CHRISTMAS - RICKY COOL & THE IN CROWD
22. MERRY CHRISTMAS TIME - SOMERDALE
There's a small independent label in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that you might never have heard of. I never had, anyway. Bad Apple. Somehow, I ended up on their mailing list. I'm on a lot of mailing lists--honestly, it takes me at least an hour to go through my mail every day--but I don't recall having bought or downloaded anything from Bad Apple before. Well, what the hell. The email made notice of two things--a new Christmas EP from Re-Education Camp and a free download Christmas EP from Why They Came. Never heard of either of them. But I'm always down for free Christmas downloads.
Bad Apple, founded in 2001 by Brandon and Sarah Miles (more musicians than media moguls), is on most of the social media outlets. They do Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Patreon. As an old dude, I gave up after Facebook. Everything that's come after is like another country to me. In fact, most social media platforms are more foreign to me than foreign countries. That might be why I don't know of them.
So anyway, it turns out that Why They Came have FIVE free download Christmas EPs--one from each of the last 5 years, each featuring 3 or 4 tunes. I searched around a bit and heard about 15 seconds from the Re-Education Camp record. Figured what the hell (again) and dropped it in my cart.
Taken together, the 5 Why They Came "Holiday Special" EPs give you an hour of free listening, with a wide variety of music. Up top was my favorite from #5, "One More Sleep 'Til Christmas", a great song from The Muppets you almost never hear (here's a Uke Pop cover from Hannah Freeman; bonus points for the Kermit outfit). Stupid me never asked who the female vocalist is on the Why They Came track. And several songs from the rest are instantly impressive. They do an excellent "Grinch" ("Holiday Special I"), a nice Grungey "Jingle Jingle Jingle" ("Holiday Special 4"), a brilliant "Christmas Time Is Here" ("Holiday Special 3"), and a great "Just Like Christmas" on "Holiday Special 2" (honestly, I think it's impossible to do a bad version of that tune).
But something wasn't clicking for me on some of the other songs. I mean, who knows why you like something or don't, really? Maybe you had a bad day at the office, or you've got the flu, or someone ate that turkey leg you were saving for a Midnight snack. Here's what turned it around for me.
That's effing brilliant, that is. I can't believe it only has 220 views. Hey, is this counter working? I could watch that on a loop for a week. I could listen to that song on a loop for a week. "Up The Wrong Tree" is from the new Why They Came album, "Holy War Hymnal". And I'll tell you honestly, there was a glitch in my order of "Christmas At The Camp" and they offered me a free download of "Holy War Hymnal" to make up for it. And I turned it down. And then I saw this video and I ran back and took it. I was like, "Oh my God, I hope that link is still active!" I swear it's true (hey, I'm not proud).
And, when I went back to the Christmas EPs, they suddenly clicked. I suddenly could enjoy every track (well, except "Blue Christmas"; I hate that song and nobody has done a version yet that I like). I felt like something had connected or a switch had been thrown or my ears had been cleaned out (This must be how Odell Beckham feels when he scores the game winning touchdown).
So, look, the Why They Came "Holiday Special" EPs are all free. You've got nothing to lose by throwing them in your Bad Apple shopping cart and taking the free downloads. But, just my opinion, I think you'll enjoy them more if you listen to some of their non-holiday music, if you get to know the band in their natural environment. I recommend "Holy War Hymnal" (personally, I don't see how anyone could deny the brilliance of "Up The Wrong Tree"), but feel free to get a second opinion.
That leaves Re-Education Camp and "Christmas At The Camp". From the Christmas set, they're a band that combines Blues, Rock and Hip Hop. And it still isn't really my thing. The Beastie Boys I could take in small doses and I can't stand Eminem (and don't even bring up Kid Rock who I can't even stand as a person). I don't even know if those are fair comparisons. The band says they're trying to bring the music back to it's Blues roots, but I'm a Blues guy and I'm not getting that from a lot of this record. I mean, if that's what you're going far, I'd recommend this album from Amerigo Gazaway. But I'm probably not the guy to go to on a Rap record, anyway. Or maybe I just need to buy one of their non-holiday albums. While it lasts, though, you can make up your own mind by checking the Bad Apple Soundcloud stream.
I will say that I did like three of the eight tracks on the record--"O Holy Night" (which was an instrumental and more of a showcase for guitarist Derek Price of Sempervivi, I felt), "Three Kings" and "To The Faithful" (featuring Leigh Ann Napier). Coincidentally, those are the 3 songs I hear the Blues influence in. And this is a good place to mention that (aside from "O Holy Night"), these are songs "inspired by traditional carols", but wholly original. The goofiness of D'Awesome and "Holiday DJ" didn't help me any.
But, overall, I'd say this little label might be one to pay attention to. At least they're trying things. Perhaps the best way to keep up with Bad Apple is the (usually) weekly Bad Apple podcast. Bookmark it.
And, in fairness to Re-Education Camp (and for those too lazy or busy to visit the stream), here's "Three Kings".
Yes. There are always more singles.
First up, an anti-Christmas tune for the seasonally depressed and distressed. We were alerted to this one by a reader but I'll tell you honestly, it's just dumb luck I read it timely. I get so much mail about Christmas music this time of year, its like a game show as to which ones I'll read on any given day.
I'm unfamiliar with Whissell, though she's apparently a Nashville based Alt Pop artist. But the song--"All I Ever Get For Christmas Is Blue"--is, if I recall correctly, an Over The Rhine song featured on "Snow Angels", which was easily my favorite Over The Rhine Christmas album. And Whissell does it up nice and dreary, like it should be. She also gets an assist from Matthew Perryman Jones.
"All I Ever Get For Christmas Is Blue" is available at the usual spots (such as Amazon).
Once upon a time, Punk Rock was political. It was a statement. Now, its just a music and lifestyle. At least I don't hear the political end of it much anymore. Which is too bad, in a way. But I guess music styles go through that.
As a musical style, its still a lot of fun and kicks ass when done properly. Brenna Red used to be the lead vocalist for Fiction Reform. After a couple of well received records, it looks like Fiction Reform split up in 2013 and Brenna's been going it solo (well, she's also the vocalist for The Last Gang). It helps when you have friends, though, and Brenna's gathered a bit of an All-Star band for her Christmas single, "Punk Rock Christmas". On guitar is Greg Hetson of Bad Religion and Circle Jerks. Producing and on the bass is Brian Thoryk of BT and Big Tank. On the drums, we've got Danny Thompson of Face to Face. And handling the mixing is Hoobastank's Chris Hesse.
As a song, "Punk Rock Christmas" is a lot of fun. In the land of Trump, though, I'd like to see some of that old political fire from the genre. Amazon has this as a CD-R single, in addition to the digital.
From the nearly ridiculous to the sublime, Alissa Lindemann might be a new name for many, but she's been dropping seasonal songs like breadcrumbs as she builds her credits and following. In 2014, it was a nice two-song Wintery EP at Noisetrade (still there, still free, go and get it). Last year, she covered John Lennon's "Happy Xmas" (though I don't think it was ever available for purchase or download, you can stream it on Soundcloud). This year, Alissa has written an original Christmas song, "Snow Angels". In "Snow Angels", Alissa addresses one of those seasonal convergences. For, as much as we revel in the nostalgia of Christmases past, we also get to sweep away all of those "ghosts" of the past year we don't wish to visit us again. Or, as Alissa puts it, "turn all our ghosts to snow angels". For the moment, you'll only find "Snow Angels" by Alissa Lindemann on Bandcamp.
Not to complain about my age again, but I find that what used to take me 6 minutes to do now takes me a half hour or more. So I've pretty much not been listening to the music featured on Christmas Underground and Christmas A Go Go this year. It's like, "Good, they got that covered; let me see what isn't getting covered." I fully intend to get back to the music they've posted. I just seem to have zero time. And that's because its taking me so long to do anything anymore. And that's because I'm ancient.
So I came across this beautiful song by Katie Malco and I remembered seeing the name over at Christmas A Go Go. "Be Good At Christmas" is truly beautiful, if a bit meloncholy. But hopeful at the same time. Now that I've heard it, I have to post it. It'll run you £2 GBP on Bandcamp (which, right now, is about $2.50 American), but its worth it. Also, let this serve as a reminder to check in with our festive friends early and often, lest you miss some great stuff.
If I've said it once, I've said it 1000 times, there just isn't enough good Christmas Shoegaze. OK, I've never actually said that. I don't think I've ever even thought it. But, if you're a Shoefaze fan, you may well have. Well, Santa's taking care of everyone on the list this year. That includes the Shoegazers. And this one is pretty good.
Match Party are fellow New Jerseyites, though their exit was a bit north of mine (but I worked in Randolph; that's gotta count for something. No, not Rudolph--Randolph...whole different thing entirely). Anyway, the group takes Charlie Brown out for a spin and give us a "Christmas Time Is Here" that starts out normally enough...til the Shoegaze kicks in. I've been to lots of parties like that, though not recently.
I kinda dig the flip, "Gravity", though I'm not entirely sure what's going on. Sounds like Christmas dialog over an atmospheric music bed. Or maybe it's Sandra Bullock and George Clooney at one of those parties I was just talking about. But it's kinda cool in its own special way.
Also cool is that you can get the single on CD, if you like. Limited edition of 300, $6 postage paid within the continental United States. The digital version is the usul price and the magic all goes down via Bandcamp. Just so you know, for party conversation or whatever, Match Party's musical mastery isn't limited to Shoegaze. They're more than capable with Metal, New Wave, and Punk, so long as they're having a good time. Remember kids, if you're feeling good, you're supposed to and, if you're not feeling good, then you ain't doin' it right (all credit to Big Joe Turner for that fabulous line).
You know me. I love a good Pop song. Something bright and sunny that you can tap your toes to, sing along to in the car. Just a good Pop song. David Brodie wrote one and recorded it and its out there, now, just waiting for you. David is known for his songwriting as much or more than as an artist. He's got the versatility to write winning songs in a bunch of different genres (check out the man's Soundcloud feed). But, when he turns his talents to writing a Christmas song, he clearly knows what he's doing. "December 24th" takes you through all of the pre-flight preparation by the man in red and does so while acknowledging Mrs. Claus, the woman behind the man. There are bells and choirs of children and all that Christmassy stuff. But, at its core, its just a solid Pop song that gives you all the good Christmas feels. You can practically hear the song in a Rankin-Bass special (I think that's the second song I've said that about this year). It's a song that both kids and adults can get behind and enjoy, and those songs tend to have some staying power. I'm kind of interested to see who covers it first. Someone will. Look for "December 24th" by David Brodie on all the major platforms, including Amazon and iTunes.
Oh, hey, look at that. This is another song written by David Brodie. The man's on a roll.
I'm feeling overly pleased with myself right now. I was looking at the cover art and listening to "Santa Sees" and I'm thinking "There's something very familiar about this." It took me a while to track it down but, HA, I was right. This Emily Conway is the same Emily Conway who has been singing and playing Celtic music with her family and, specifically, her brother Tommy for a while now. Very, very talented young lady. You don't have to be familiar with the Conway family to hear how advanced she is as a vocalist. But she plays a mean fiddle, too. That's not all she plays, either, but I'm not going to dwell on it because it's starting to make me feel like a failure. I'm an old man and I can't play anything. I even suck at maracas. How tough are maracas, for Pete's sake? And, when I try to sing in the shower, the shower shuts off the water on me. On purpose. Talk about a bad review.
No bad review for "Santa Sees", though. It's good to see Emily stretch her wings a little bit beyond the Celtic (though I still love that stuff). "Santa Sees" hews a bit closer to Radio Disney territory (which, when I say that, I mean it as a good thing. Bubblegum Child, remember? I love that Radio Disney sound.). "Santa Sees" is a snappier and less creepy way of getting to the Santa Claus is Coming To Town theme (He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake....Eesh! Just creepy). Now in "Santa Sees", Santa still, you know, sees. But whether its the music or the lack of the "you" pronoun after, the song doesn't have that creep factor. Plus, the song puts as much energy into promoting good behavior as it does in pointing out the bad (sometimes, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" sounds like a guy reading a criminal rap sheet). Good song from a very, very talented individual. Keep an eye on Emily Conway. She's a special talent. And grab "Santa Sees" wherever fine downloads are sold, including Amazon and iTunes. And look for an album from Emily and Tommy Conway this coming spring. She's 14? Oh, man, I really have to figure out some way to pad my resume. I'm more than 4 times as old as she is and what have I done? Stupid Christmas blog.
One of these days, I should try playing Christmas song bingo. Today, I get to mark Poland on my card. Not that we haven't featured artists from Poland before. We have, but those have all been folk singers. Today we get to feature two beautiful ladies whose Christmas single is soulful Pop. You'll find them at the various online digital emporiums as Siostry Hybiak, but that translates to the Sisters Hybiak, Kosia and Goshia (Siostry Hybiak is definitely the cooler name). They've been singing together for a long time--since kidnergarten. Kasia's influences include Etta James, Janis Joplin, Tina Turner and Toto. Goshia cites Aretha Franklin and Beyonce as her influences. The sisters studied acting but decided to make music their career, stating off with the Whiskey Rock'n'Roll Band in 2011.
What I really love about "Love For Christmas" is the combination of fifties Pop Soul with mid-sixties Girl Group Soul (there's a touch of Supremes, but it's not really a Motown sound). And I wondered a bit about that until I saw Etta James in the mix. Now it makes perfect sense. I wish the Hybiak Sisters luck in their journey. Based on "Love For Christmas", I think they're going to do quite well. Look for it on Amazon and iTunes.
If you couldn't make it out to Record Store Day (or if the nearest participating record store was hundreds of miles away), The Regrettes cover of "Marshmallow World" is now available digitally at both Amazon and iTunes. That was the RSD offering that most interested me. If you had your heart set on vinyl, the prices on eBay haven't reached the outrageous level....yet.
Gonna close with something different, today. It's not a single (well, not presently) and it isn't new. I just came across it and it deserves a wider exposure. And, as its a Blues tune, I'm sure it will be enjoyed by many of my readers (who know that this is where you come for Christmas Blues).
Richard Marks (not to be confused with Richard Marx) was a funk guitarist, singer, and songwriter from Atlanta. Artists who worked the Southern Soul circuit--including the greats like Eddie Kendricks and Al Green--all knew Richard and his talents, but Marks had trouble breaking through as a recording artist. A small handful of 45s on local labels, recorded between 1968 and 1972, is all he left behind--most of which you probably couldn't afford today if you could even find them.
By no means could you call Richard Marks a failure. He was a husband and father who kept his family together while working and playing poor hours in any venue he could find six nights a week. That's a success in my book. Richard died of cancer in 2006, never having released an album in his lifetime. His complete known works, including two previously unreleased tracks, were released as "Never Satisfied" on vinyl in 2014 and on CD last year. "Never Satisfied" includes 2 sides of a Christmas single. Not having bought the record (yet), which includes extensive notes and photographs, I don't know what year saw their release (or if these were the previously unreleased tracks). "Home For The Holidays" is a soulful slice which should have been popular with fans of southeastern Beach Music. But "Mr. Santa Claus (Santa Claus Helping Hand)" is a pretty awesome Christmas Blues. And, if you're a fan of the Funk, you really need to check out the rest of this album. Take my advice and check out "Funky Fingers" and you'll be hooked. You can purchase the Christmas tracks a la carte from Amazon.
One of the most important bands in modern Christmas music is the band Low. Their 1999 Christmas album is, of course, legendary and brilliant. And it was that record that established Indie Christmas music as "legitimate". By which I mean that Indie music was being written off by the industry en masse as sub-par and disposable. It was just a fad and was never going to last. Especially when it came to Christmas music. Ah, those Indie people...they just give that stuff away...no one would actually pay for that. But Low's "Christmas" demanded respect and attention. Even though its ascent to legendary status was a bit of a slow burn, no one could dismiss it. As far as I'm concerned, "Just Like Christmas" has already established itself as a seasonal standard which will exist in perpetuity as "White Christmas" has done.
It is a bit of a double edged sword, of course. It's kinda cool to have a kind of music that belongs to just you and your friends--dismissed by everyone else. It's intimate and personal and, yeah, a lot of Inde bands built their names by giving music away. Once you gain acceptance from whomever it is who is in charge of such things, the genre belongs to everyone and it becomes commercial. It no longer feels special, no longer feels like it belongs to you and you alone. It's a bit like when your parents got Facebook pages. It isn't the cool thing anymore. But the truth of it is that all new music goes through this. Either that or it dies. Aren't we happy they still make Rock and Roll Christmas records? I am. I mean, for all the crap Rock out there, there are still some true works of genius.
So, anyway, when Low puts out a new Christmas song, you sort of have to sit up and pay attention. Their last Christmas single was a bit of a bore, in all honesty. But, this time, they done good. Only available digitally, so far as I can tell, "Some Hearts (At Christmas Time)" is vintage Low. It's as stark as winter and honest as the midnight moon. It has the simultaneous warmth and cold of a walk alone through the woods in the pre-dawn hours, with the occasional bite of the wicked wind. "Some hearts will break at Christmas Time. Some hearts are made too hard to find." Let's be honest, here. 2016 has been a miserable year and some of our brightest and best have been called home. Survival of the human heart requires finding hope is desolation. (I still can't believe these guys are an American band) Low is touring the UK and Ireland this month. They'll be singing all the old Christmas favorites. And this new one. "Some Hearts (At Christmas Time)" is available through Amazon and Sub Pop Records.
Some songs are just required listening. I know there are some out there who will think this is merely a novelty record and, with my well known scorn for the goof, will argue that I'm being a hypocrite. But, if anyone was really that up for an arguement over a Christmas song, I'd pull out a Venn diagram and point out that there is an overlap of some songs that may register as novelty records, but are nonetheless also tunes that simply must be in your arsenal. You may not need it every day or every year. But the day will come when you will absolutely need to have this one available. We've just been waiting for someone to write and record it. And now someone has.
"Christmas In The Asylum" from Big Top Heartbreak officially releases as a single December 16. But there's no need to wait as the track is included on the album "Deadbeat Ballads", which was released in October. The album can even be had in limited edition vinyl. Dare we hope for a vinyl 7"? Are you ready for this?
This one just came out yesterday and its already one of my favorites this year. It's from UK Indie Rockers The Twang. "On the 24th" finds a young man spending Christmas Eve in the local pub, downing a drink while the Christmas lights reflect off the ice cubes in his glass. He looks around to see all the familiar faces--not friends, mind you, but the same people he sees every night he sits at the pub...probably all thinking about what's lacking in their lives just as he is. All of which leads to the question, "Do we still believe?" And, if we do, do we still believe always or just on one day a year? I don't know what it is about the Brits. They can write the most depressing song ever and still make it sound like a good time. Maybe that's why Punk was bigger overseas. They had that sarcastic snear that said the whole thing was a put on, while a lot of American Punk bands just sounded angry.
I wish I could embed some audio or a YouTube video, but I can't. But lots of the bigger music sites did get the embed, so you can stream the tune here. And you'll find "On The 24th" by The Twang available for purchase at iTunes and Amazon. It's a good one.
OK, time to mix things up a bit. Here's some Reggae Christmas music from Long Island. The group is Bete Noire and they tell the tale of Rudy, that red-nosed reindeer, with Jamaican rhythms (Hmm. I always thought Jamaica was in Queens). I like the video better than the song, to be honest, but "A Message To Rudolph" is not such a bad little Christmas song. It just needs a little love is all. And its good to have some new Reggae on your mix and we don't get that much. And Bete Noire, they do know how to bring the fun in. Grab the tune at Bandcamp or via Amazon.
One nice thing about writing in these godforsaken hours is I get to be one of the first to see what Guuzbourg is up to over at Christmas A Go Go (I assume these are more normal hours for him). Anyway, today he's got the single from the Sleigh Shakers, "Jingle Hell". Which is awesome. The A-side from this Dutch band, "Jingle Hell", may be rocked up and rough, but that's a Muddy Waters riff they're doing. No doubt. And you know me and Blues (Blues Rock qualifies). The B-side, "Christmas Chicken Blues" is fun, but more Little Feat than Chess. Guuzbourg says there is going to be vinyl on this one, too. I hope I can gets me a copy. Once again, I can't embed any audio (I can't do Spotify and the Soundcloud stream is "private"). But you can hear "Jingle Hell" at Christmas A Go Go and you can hear "Christmas Chicken Blues" at PressParty. While we wait for vinyl, the digital version released today on Amazon.
Part of me wishes they'd chosen anything other than "Little Drummer Boy" and part of me is glad they chose "Little Drummer Boy", but piKziL's version of the well worn chestnut is our favorite genre...different. Indeed, piKziL basically describes their music as coming from an alternate universe. It's a blend of modern Lounge or Chill with Electro Cool Ambient. The style was very popular from the late 90s to about 2010 and has receded back to more of a sub-genre of various sub-genres in the last few years. It does have the virtue of bringing together fans of certain kinds of New Age Jazz and fans of House. Anyway, enough with the lecture.
I still like "Little Drummer Boy" as a song, but I recognize that a lot of people don't. So I wish they'd covered a different song so that more people would be open to it. But I'm happy they chose the song because, presented differently, it's possible more people might be open to it. If it sounds like I'm conflicted, you're right. But I have hope in that I don't think piKziL is finished covering Christmas songs.
piKzil is the collaboration of music veterans Liza Oxnard and Kip Kuepper. If you can't quite get there with "Little Drummer Boy", take a chance on their September release "Songs From My 3rd Life" which shows a much stronger Jazz influence. And, if you like their take on "Little Drummer Boy", you'll find it on iTunes and at Amazon.
I always feel bad for kid singers. You know, you're like 10 years old and everybody gives you extra points just for being so young. And then you grow up and your just another singer. I mean, its gotta be tough. Personally, I've always felt they should just let kids have a childhood. But what do I know? And we've had a couple of well known kid singers grow up to be absolutely wonderful adult artists. I've really been enjoying the grown up Jackie Evancho more than I thought I would (when she was a kid singing Classical, I was just bored). And, now, here's Hollie Steel after what seems like a long absence.
Hollie Steel, who I don't think had the same kind of classical training as Jackie Evancho, was on Britain's Got Talent at the age of ten back in 2009. She got a lot of publicity that even reached American shores when she forgot the words to a song and broke down on stage in the second round. They gave her another chance and she recovered, eventually finishing 6th. And, for a few years, there were Hollie Steel records, including a lot of Christmas singles. Haven't heard much of anything from Hollie since, oh, 2012. I hear she's still big on social media and YouTube. She has a new Christmas single out, "Patched & Sewn". And I really like it, though I think I'm just amazed at how young she still is (for the record, she's 18, now). So there's this kind of vicarious youth transfer that comes through the song and video. It's like that Twilight Zone episode, "Kick The Can". And if I ever needed that, its this year. If you're looking for a youth potion on record, "Patched & Sewn" is available on Amazon.
I read about this one a long, long time ago and I've been waiting for a purchase link and some audio to turn up. But "Shadows" is now available. This is Christmas music for your head and your soul, if not the kind of thing you'd put on your mixtape. Trevor Sewell is at least a bigger name in this country than his native UK, but mostly for his songwriting and not nearly as big as he should be. "Shadows" is a song he wrote and has tried to record for a little while (he's actually recorded it a few times, but never released it). He could not find a comfortable vibe for the tune. Janis Ian sits down at the piano and, immediately, everybody knew it was right. They did it in a single take. You can't improve on perfection. "Shadows" is a song about unconditional love--and you can take it as something spiritual or something earthbound. Either way, it's just a beautiful song that will reach inside you and pull out the darkness.
Trevor's been working on a new album and I'll be looking for it as another one of the guest performers is Tracy Nelson (God, remember Tracy Nelson? One of the greatest natural Blues voices I've ever heard.). In the meantime, go get "Shadows" at Amazon or wherever fine downloads are sold. A portion of the proceeds from the single are going to Janis Ian's Pearl Foundation, assisting with education ans scholarship programs.
This is one of those weird years where Hanukkah and Christmas coincide. I mean really coincide. Hanukkah 2016 begins at sundown Christmas Eve and ends January 1. In a way, its cool, but as a Christmas music blogger who likes to feature Hanukkah music when he can, not so much. I've barely looked for new Hanukkah music this year and then this one falls into my lap. It turned up on Soundcloud and I didn't even realize it was Melissa Manchester when I pressed the "play" button. Man, there was a time in my life where Melissa Manchester was The Bomb. Might be hard for you younger folks to relate, but I listened to a lot of Melissa Manchester. And I'm happy to say I was listening to her before she'd charted a single record. The title cut of "Bright Eyes" was my jam ("O my heart, I cry"). What a voice on her. Damn. Now I've gotta pull out "Bright Eyes" again. Love that tune. Nope, I don't think that makes me at all uncool (kids, don't ever feel uncool just for liking the music you like, no matter what anybody says; crank that sucker). And Melissa's still a mighty fine looking woman. I don't mean to be sexist or anything; I just always had a crush on her (well, I had a crush on a lot of women, but Melissa was right up there with Carly Simon).
So, anyway, Melissa did a full Christmas album back in 1997, followed up with a Christmas single in 2006, but she'd never done a Hanukkah song before. Melissa says she wrote "Let There Be More Light" in 2008 following a bombing in Mumbai that killed many including a young rabbi. Gatherig at a synagogue in this country to mourn, another young rabbi asked the congregation, “How do we carry on? Do we meet such darkness as this with more darkness? No. God commands us to bring more light into the world. More light!”. If you're looking for a new Hanukkah song this year, at least we've got Melissa Manchester and "Let There Be More Light". Grab it from Amazon or iTunes.
Let's pick up the pace a little bit with the Lady Luck Combo, a Rockabilly trio from Sweden. Oh, yeah, Rockabilly is huge in Scandanavia. No idea why. Their new holiday single is "Welcome Mr. Santa", but you may have come across the tune before. The video above was posted in 2012. Still, it's some mighty fine Rockabilly. And, anyway, I needed a buffer between Melissa and our closer. "Welcome Mr. Santa" is available domestically from Amazon.
What do you get when you combine two of your favorite things, or two of your least favorite things, or one of each (taste being relative)? You get Darth Elvis & The Imperials, an erzatz Elvis act that sings songs about "Star Wars". Yes, Darth Elvis is real. And, for the second year in a row, they're releasing a Christmas single. This one is "Rockin' Rebel Christmas" and it drops on December 16. All proceeds from the sales of the single will be donated to ASSERT (Angelman Syndrome Support Education & Research Trust). Angelman Syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes severe learning difficulties and the Trust helps to support families and carers of people living with the disorder. We don't have audio as yet (nor a purchase link, but we'd expect it to be at all the usual spots), but we do have last year's single, "Sithmas on Hoth". You didn't ask for it, but you're getting it anyway. And, if you get a spare minute and want a good laugh, check out "I Want Chewbacca" (available to download free).
I'm shocked--shocked I tell you--that I haven't seen this one on the Christmas blogs. Usually that retro Motown-esque sound is an immediate hook that draws we Christmas music obsessives quicker than a tornado to a trailer park. And no one does retro Motown-esque Christmas music better than...the British? WTF? Yeah, we Americans invent these great sounds and then just throw them aside like the kid who gets tired of his Christmas toys in a matter of hours. "Well, that's enough of that, then." No. No. That was not enough of that. It will never be enough of that. What is wrong with you people?
The Faithettes, if you weren't aware, are Paloma Faith's live show backing band. Paloma Faith has long been enamored of classic Soul and, if you're gonna do it right, you need a high caliber backing band. But, if your gig is backing Paloma Faith when she's on tour, what do you do when she's not? Well, obviously, you make your own music. And that's what they do.
"Me And My Baby (Spend Christmas With Me)" is the group's Christmas single for 2016 and its as fresh as it is retro. Just a splendid high energy holiday song that could well have come straight off a Motown Christmas album. One thing of note. The Dead Mint label web site appears to be out of commission. At least I couldn't get there. So ignore all those prompts in the video to "download" the song there. It's not as if it was a free download anyway. So, to download the Faithettes' "Me And My Baby (Spend Christmas With Me)", head to the usual spots, like Amazon and iTunes. They'll hook you right up.
If you've got a smart radio programmer in your neck of the woods, you might have already heard "Christmas Without You" by Daisy Hicks. What am I saying? OK, let me amend that. If you've got a smart radio programmer in Europe or Australia, you might have already heard "Christmas Without You" by Daisy Hicks. In this country, you've probably been listening to the same 15 songs over and over and over again. And the ones who go all Christmas music this time of year? They tend to be the least imaginative of all. (Obviously I'm not looking for another radio job anytime soon).
Daisy Hicks was born in England and raised in Australia. She began her musical career in Jazz. And her albums to date have been more Pop oriented, with some Dance remixes along the way. But she's taking a turn, now, to bring in some of her Jazz influences. And let me add real quick that I've been privileged to hear a bit of her album coming in 2017 and its a stunner. But back to the Christmas song.
"Christmas Without You" is a gorgeous ballad which Daisy wrote. If there's a moral involved, it's to recognize and admit to your mistakes rather than stubbornly maintaining you didn't make any. "Christmas Without You" made me think about a couple of things. The music reminded me of a time when beautiful love songs were always part of the chart action. "It Must Be Him", "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me", "The Look Of Love"... there were always songs like that on the charts in the 60s, right along side the R&B and Rock N Roll. Not so much anymore. Lyrically, the song put me in mind of the movie "Family Man". That's the one where Nicholas Cage (I know; he's in everything) is shown the life he could have had, had he made a different decision years earlier. It's actually one of my favorite Christmas related movies and I'm not going to spoil it for you if you haven't seen it. But Daisy's Christmas song is about much the same thing. Decisions have consequences.
"Christmas Without You" is scheduled for release on December 2. It will be at all the usual spots, including Amazon and iTunes. 10% of all digital sales of "Christmas WIthout You" this year will be donated to BBC's Children In Need. And, while I don't have any sound to embed for you, you can listen to it over at Daisy's web site. And I strongly suggest you do so.
And now for something completely different. How often do we get original Christmas music from South Africa? Donovan Copley and his band Hot Water have been bringing a modern Indie Folk Rock vibe to the sounds of South Africa (or vice-versa) for over a decade. If you were enchanted by Paul Simon's work with Ladysmith Black Mambazo 30 years ago, you probably didn't know where to turn to continue the journey. A little Hot Water might do the trick. As always, this is the first I'm hearing of the group (in spite of their inclusion on some movie soundtracks) because this is the first time they've released a Christmas song. And it's an original that's filled to overflowing with the joy of the season, South African style. Released Monday, "Mama Xmas" can be found at iTunes and Amazon. Learn more about the group at the Hot Water web site.
A lot of the best singles this year--so far--are coming from Canada and the UK (Americans tend to procrastinate). This one from Isaac & The Beekeepers might be a one-joke record were it not for the fact that its so high energy and fun. "I Folking Like Christmas" sounds like it would be equally at home in a Folk, Pop or Punk playlist. Isaac Birchall is the group's songwriter and vocalist. He's based in Wales. Not particularly well known (or important), but my heritage is Welsh. Before this tune, about all the heritage I could claim was Tom Jones, coal mining and sin eaters (oh, and some godawful cookies I always had to make when the schools held their International festivals). Now I've got Isaac & The Beekeepers and "I Folking Love Christmas". So that's a step up in my book. The song should now be available wherever you get your downloads, but I'd go with Bandcamp for the extra sound quality options.
Tim Gill is an old school crooner--songwriter, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, etc., etc. He's a showman, a throwback to the days when Vegas and the stars who played there were larger than life. His Jazz and Swing shows are high energy and he's certainly not above having fun. "Twas The Night Before Christmas" is Tim's reading of the famous poem, but its a bit more than that. He opens with a bit of a Dragnet, then some Pop Noir/Beatnik riffs. But Tim's not content to approach the poem in just one musical styling. This journey is going to have lots of twists and turns--cartoons, 70s funk, and more. And not only does the music have multiple personalities, so does Tim. At one point, he's sounding very much like Captain Kirk, and if that closing isn't Bobcat Goldthwait, I'm not sure who else it could be. I don't know how helpful this track will be in your holiday mixology, but it's decidedly unique. It's different...and you know how much we like different around here. Officially, the track arrives on Black Friday. Tim Gill's "Twas The Night Before Christmas" is available via Amazon and Bandcamp. And, if you use the latter, you might even find a Big Band Swing arrangement of "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm/Jingle Bells" that you can grab for free. Just sayin'.
Always love it when old friends stop by. Carly Jamison has been jingling our bells and rocking around our Christmas trees for a few years, now (check the body of holiday work at Bandcamp). Her latest holiday extravaganza is "Keeping Christmas". The song officially launches on Friday, at which point I'm assuming you'll find it on Bandcamp and in other digital playgrounds. At the moment, we have a :30 preview at Amazon and, to my ears, "Keeping Christmas" sounds positively T-Rex. I don't think there's a higher compliment I could pay a Rock Christmas song than that. Mark your calendars. Friday's the day.
Y'all know I can't resist a good Pop song. And I know its a good Pop song when I listen to it all the way through every time. It's like part of me wants to lift that virtual needle for the sake of saving time....and....I....just....can't....do it. But I tell myself, "Self, you already know the song. You already heard it all the way through...several times. And there's still so much to listen to." Can't help it. If it's a good song, I just can't hear it enough.
Which brings us to Dear Stella's "My Favorite Kind of Gift". There's no re-inventing of the wheel, here. We're not breaking new musical ground. Nothing deep and ponderous about the lyrics. It's just a good, snappy, joyful, feel-good Christmas Pop song. And I like that.
Dear Stella (Stefanie Drexler) hails from Austria (that makes at least two this year), she's a singer/songwriter, and "My Favorite Kind of Gift" is her first original Christmas song. You'll find the single on Amazon and iTunes and probably a bunch of other places.
You know what else I like? I like videos that show people in the recording studio. I do. Always have. I think I'm going to watch this one again, right now...
Paste magazine debuted this one a couple of days ago. But, if you haven't heard it yet, you should. And, even if you have, you should again. Leah Nobel is an Alt Folk/Alt Pop and Americana artist. Well, based on this tune, anyway. She reminds me a bit of Aimee Mann, to tell you the truth, and that's very high praise.
Leah has an album due out in the new year ("Running In Borrowed Shoes") which is a concept thing. She interviewed 100 people--as diverse a group as she could find--and then wrote songs based upon the stories she heard and the themes she noticed.
Now this is the part where I tell you that "Christmas In My Mind" is NOT a Christmas song. Or so says Leah. The song, she says, was inspired by two themes that were fairly common ones among her diverse interviewees. One) regret at having witnessed parental conflict as a child and Two) the comfort and solace of the holiday season. Yeah, I'm two-for-two there, myself. So Leah's point is that "Christmas In My Mind" is that place you go for peace when bad stuff overwhelms you. Leah can say this isn't a Christmas song (and I get that, I do), but I think it's not only a Christmas song...it's a very powerful one. In fact, as frequent readers know, I've always said the best Christmas songs are the ones that simultaneously celebrate the happy and sad. "Christmas In My Mind" does that. It's also just a gorgeous tune. Pick it up at Amazon or any of the usual download spots.
ELSEE (Lauren Campbell) comes to us from Ontario (the one in Canada). She's trained in Classical, Jazz, Pop, Soul and Rock. For her own music, she paints with all those colors for a sound that is uniquely her's, yet accessible to pretty much anyone. I tell you what, there are some songs and arrangements with so much going on that a lot of people don't notice. But, if you do notice, it's amazing and delightful. "Every December" is one of those songs where I can't help but notice the pieces all doing their own thing but all coming together. The funky bass line, especially, because its mixed to be subtle. The keyboards and guitar each have their own parts, their own riffs, that do not meet. I can't explain it real well. Let's just say there's more here than meets the ear.
"Every December" is only the second song ELSEE (all caps) has released, though she's got something coming in the New Year. You can find it at Amazon or CD Baby. And 100% of the proceeds from the sales of "Every December" will go to Hamilton's CityKidz foundation.
Dear lord, I've gotta wrap this thing up. We'll close with one that, technically isn't a single and technically is from last year (although it isn't). But its Blues, so...
Val Starr and The Blues Rocket recorded "Spending Christmas With The Blues" late last year and managed to get it out to a few radio stations before Christmas. But the track wasn't commercially available until 2016 (my computer tells me I bought it in February). It was included as a bonus track on Val's latest, "Woman On A Mission". The album is available both on CD and digitally. But, if you just want the Christmas tune, you'll find it at Amazon and wherever fine downloads are sold.
I'm sure you know by now that the Killers released their Christmas album and final single. It's a bit anti-climatic since they didn't write a new song. Instead, they paid tribute to Christmas in the not-quite-so-old West with a spoken word introduction to "I'll Be Home For Christmas" sung (initially) by 86 year old Mr. Hansen, who was Brandon Flowers' 4th grade teacher. The collection, "Don't Waste Your Wishes" is up on iTunes.
We've got to deal with the limited edition vinyl from Canada's Sloan. Sloan have kicked the Christmas song tires before. The Alt Rock/Power Pop band, which has managed to maintain their independence from major label servitude for 25 years, dropped a charity single of "The 12 Days of Christmas" in 2011. And, in 2012, they posted a cover of Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" as a free download on their web site.
But Sloan's Christmas single this year is something different in that both songs are Sloan originals. The "A" side is "Kids Come Back Again At Christmas", which features the group's trademark harmonies and is described as a "galloping, acoustic driven future-holiday-classic". The flip, "December 25", is described as "a snowy piano song suitable for a slow skate". The single is pressed on red vinyl and will be limited to 500 copies. The purchase price, which might seem a bit steep, also includes the digital download and several artistic Christmas cards you can use or save. Sloan's double-sided Christmas single is expected to ship on December 1. Pre-orders began last week, so there's no telling how long they'll last. So decide on your level of interest ASAP.
Here's another reason I love international Christmas music. Zoe is Austrian singing a Christmas song in French after just having participated in the big Eurovision competition in Sweden and charting in Belgium. And, as of today, you can purchase her Christmas single here in America. I may be warped (ok, ok, I know I'm warped), but I think that's cool. Europe being what it is, being a multi-national artist is kinda built in.
Zoe turns 20 on December 1. She's been singing since she was 6, when she was featured in a song recorded by her parents. Don't know that it'll mean anything to most of you, but her parents were the very cool Folk Pop group Papermoon, which, as it happens, was one of those a-little-off-the-beaten-path groups that I always loved. Still trying to get my hands on their 2006 CD "Christmas Unplugged" (the digital album is available from iTunes in Austria....but not in the US).
Sorry I got sidetracked. Zoe's single is "La Nuit Des Merveilles" (The Night of Wonders) and it's in that mid-tempo Pop Vocal style that plays so well overseas. A little bit AC for the states, but nice in a Christmas song. Pick it up via Amazon.
Time for a little Jazz break.
That's just a little teaser for Jason Klobak's Christmas single, "Hark The Herald", which officially arrives on Monday. Downloads all around the usual spots (Amazon, iTunes, etc.) and limited edition hard copy CD singles from Jason, himself.
Jason's out there in Denver where, as I recall from my visits there, the Jazz scene is thriving. There are certainly other places where Jazz thrives but, let me tell you, eastern North Carolina ain't one of 'em.
Most of Jason's recorded work to date has been with the Jason Klobnak Quintet (which I'll be getting back to in a sec), but "Hark The Herald" is a solo effort (in spite of the big sound) and that keeps Jason's trumpet work very much in the foreground. "Hark The Herald" also has a more Modern Jazz or Crossover Jazz feel than the JKQ records, and it should therefor appeal in multiple formats (no reason Pop, AC, or FM outlets shouldn't give it some play). What I like especially, though, is that, even with a more modern sound, the Jazz didn't disappear. I think about some crossover Jazz artists I liked before they crossed-over.... Alright, what the hell, I'll name names. George Benson, OK? The guy was an awesome Jazz guitarist. He was a Jazz guitar god. "Body Talk"? "White Rabbit"? Brilliant stuff that you could lose yourself in for days. And even the early hits were fine. But then he turned into a Pop singer and the Jazz was just gone. "Turn Your Love Around"? Big hit. Not the best of George Benson. Just sayin'.
So I could jam to "Hark The Herald" and still appreciate the Jazz of it. Truly enjoyed it. But now it's time for a twist ending. (Don't do it Stubby)
So I'm writing up this paragraph and I almost always listen to the tune as I'm writing. It's a process. Not important. And I get to the point where I'm gonna mention the Quintet. And I'm thinking, well, I haven't actually heard the Quintet. Sweet Mother of God! That is manna from heaven. That is where I live. Sweet Jesus! Great googly moogly. Let me just hip y'all to one track from the most recent JKQ album, "New Chapter". It's called "Today's Forecast: Sunny, High of 80 Degrees and a Chance of Snow". Yes, that's the title. No, its not a Christmas or even seasonal track (although...in North Carolina...I've seen December forecasts like that). Just check it out (or anything else from the album). Please.
So, Jason, I apologize. I really like "Hark The Herald", which is coming Monday or, if you prefer the limited CD single , it'll be in your mailbox before you know it.. Yes, I really like "Hark The Herald", but I am head over heels in love with "New Chapter".
Alright, now, we're going to play "One of these things is not like the others". Ready. Take a look at this picture. Notice something, um, unusual? That's right, one of those people is a kid. He's frickin' 12 years old. I hate precocious kids. As if his being in a band at 12 wasn't enough to make me feel like a failure, the band is sporting his name. Yep, he's Carson Peters. The adults are Iron Mountain. Oh, don't worry, he's got a solo career, too. Carson's a world class fiddler. He's been playing since he was 3. He was competing at age 4. He's been on national TV with Jay Leno (couldn't have been more than 8 at the time), and he's played the Grand Ol' Opry with Ricky Skaggs (and then again with his own band, Iron Mountain). Carson also writes original music. I think I was still struggling with tying my shoes at 12.
The good news is that we've got a brand spankin' new Bluegrass single from Carson Peters & Iron Mountain. "Christmas Time In The Country" was written by the bass and banjo players in Iron Mountain, Ben and Eric Marshall. Although there's no audio on line for it, the :30 clip at Amazon is enough for you to appreciate that this is real authentic Bluegrass. One of the most Bluegrassy Bluegrass Christmas songs I've heard in many a year. I mean, this'll take you back to The Stanley Brothers and The Country Gentlemen. For Bluegrass fans, "Christmas Time In The Country" rates as a must buy. But its pretty close to that for obsessive Christmas collectors who like to hop genres in their annual mix. Digital only, at the moment. Available wherever fine downloads are sold.
Amazon is doing another one of those long-ass playlists of mostly new holiday tunes as they continue to try to suck people in to Amazon Prime (which is probably a good deal, but I still refuse to have a cell phone, so... ) Anyway, I bring it up because there's a brand new Train Christmas song on it, which I had earlier assumed was a single. It's called "I Miss You, Christmas" and it gets added Monday (although it might be an "album only" deal. Don't know). Frankly, I still haven't forgiven them for that Christmas Coca Cola tune.
Had to find you some Blues, didn't I?
I know what this is. I mean, I think I know what this is. And I hope, if I'm wrong, that the band doesn't take it as an insult. Not at all intended to be. But you may recall that I used to manage a Blues band in my younger days and this is awfully familiar to me. Let me first tell you a bit about the band.
The Blues DoGS are based in Colorado. They've been at it for 15 years or so. And they started out as a Christian Blues band. DoGS is an acronym for "Disciples of God's Son". It's a good sized group (they alter the size of the group as the occasion requires). They've got a horn section (known as the Horn DoGS, obviously. And the female vocalist on this particular tune is Mehgan Castor. "Blues 4 Christmas" is the title of the song and you can find it at the usual spots, including Amazon.
So, having managed a Blues band, this sounds to me like a straight up jam--pretty much improvised from start to finish. Maybe you've got a small piece of a lyric and a riff. Maybe not even that. The band I was with, at least, spent a lot of time getting the covers to sound just so--faithful to the original, yet our own. And you also work on the band originals where the music and lyrics are like the frame of a house and the frame has to stand intact, so you build around it. Again, its usually more work then it sounds like. So you take a break, every once in a while. And there are generally two things people in a band like to do on a rehearsal break...down a brewski and jam. Sometimes they just play, but sometimes you use those jams to write. (Although, as an aside, some of the band members hated the fact that I'd hear something in the jams that I wanted to keep for the show...which I get because its kind of like turning fun time into work time.)
But, anyway, I swear I can hear the Blues DoGS on a bit of a rehearsal break and someone says, "You know, we got those gigs in December. We probably ought to write a Christmas tune." Meanwhile, the guitarist is just playing a couple of licks, oblivious to the discussion. Then someone says, "That's nice, can you play around with that enough to do a whole song?" "Sure, that's easy. It's just a basic Blues thing." "What about lyrics? What should I be singing about?" "You know, jes Christmas." "Nothing about Santa and reindeer, OK?" "It's a Christmas Blues, that's all." "What are all Blues songs about? Your man done left you and you got the Blues for Christmas." And then they're off. We always recorded all of our rehearsals. Because you never know when something good is going to happen on the fly. And, if the jam was good enough, you just kept it as is. Why mess with it? It works. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.
Back to Canada we go for another Alt Rock/Power Pop group--The Odds. The Odds have been making music since the mid-80s and draw comparisons to Squeeze, XTC, Tom Petty, The Tubes, etc. "Love Is What You Get" is a charity single, with proceeds going to the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. That fund is all about bridging the gap between Canadians and the indigenous people in the Great White North (yep, we aren't the only ones who treat indigenous people like crap). No embeddable sound or video I could find (it may be on Spotify, but I can't do Spotify), but you can listen to it on The Odds web site (FYI, where it says "your price", the minimum is a dollar. It's for charity. Duh). If you prefer, it's also on Amazon. Great song, though. I think you'll like it. The Odds charitable work doesn't stop there. They'll be among the folks on the annual CP Holiday Train, which goes here, there and everywhere performing while raising money and collecting food for the local community food banks and pantries. It's cool, actually. They ask the people coming down to catch the entertainment to bring healthy foods with them to stock the food banks in their own community. They're figuring on 150 shows this year. Man, I'm tired just reading about it.
Gotta wrap this up and we've barely scratched the surface. I'll probably have to do more of these over the weekend.
Close this one out with the new Christmas single from Halestorm, the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal band out of Pennsylvania. I don't think there's any question that Lzzy Hale has one of the best voices in Metal, if not in Rock. I don't know if there's been a better female Rock voice since Grace Slick was in her prime. I also think there's a consensus that Lzzy is the sexiest vocalist in Metal (although there's not a lot of competition in that regard).
Lzzy released "O Holy Night" several years back, but that was an a cappella home recording (it was beautiful, though). This new Christmas single is a fairly faithful cover of AC/DC's "Mistress For Christmas". I haven't listened to the "B" side ("I Like It Heavy"), but the single comes in "Clean" and "Explicit" and that's all about the flip. "Mistress For Christmas" shouldn't have any "bad" words.
THE NOLA PLAYERS OFFICIAL WEB SITE
THE NOLA PLAYERS ON FACEBOOK
PURCHASE FROM AMAZON
PURCHASE FROM iTUNES
PURCHASE FROM BARNES & NOBLE
It seems ages ago, but one of the most memorable television moments for me in the last 25 years or so, was the appearance of Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews) on the short-lived series "Studio 60". Critics hated the show. Me, I loved it. But even critics couldn't deny that the entire world seemed to stop when Shorty led a collection of New Orleans musicians on "O Holy Night". in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Anyone who saw that performance was immediately consumed by three thoughts.
1) That is the single most beautiful thing I've ever heard.
2) Where can I get a recording of that?
3) Where can I find an entire Christmas album of this?
Thought 1 requires no further explanation. Thought 2 was quickly answered as NBC made the track available as a free download, and it remained a free download for years after "Studio 60" became a distant memory, if not from NBC, then from Trombone Shorty and Tipitina's Foundation.
But thought 3. Well, now, that one was a bit trickier. Andrews, himself, has refrained from putting out a full Christmas album, though he's popped up on the sets of others (including Rod Stewart and Cee-Lo Green). Lord knows, we've had plenty of excellent Christmas music coming out of New Orleans in the past decade...but nothing quite like that performance. It has taken a full decade but, at last, I'm here to tell you that "Christmastime In New Orleans" by The NOLA Players might just be the scratch for that itch.
I don't want to mislead anyone. Trombone Shorty is not on this album and none of the NOLA Players, so far as I can tell, were on that "Studio 60" episode. And the spirit on "Christmastime In New Orleans" is more celebratory than somber (though every bit as regal). But if you were to conjure in your mind an entire Christmas album to go with that performance (and, believe me, I've been conjuring for ten years), it might very well be this one.
The NOLA Players are 18 of the premier Jazz musicians New Orleans has to offer. They are veterans who have done it all, from playing on street corners and in dive bars to touring concert halls with the biggest of big name stars. And, the city being what it is, they've crossed musical paths with each other more than once or twice. You know those friends that maybe you see once a year and yet its like no time at all has passed? They're like that. And, when you know people that well, the magic comes easy. Emmy winner Mike Esneault wrote the arrangements and, knowing the others as well as he does, could write those arrangements to the strengths of the players. Grammy winning producer Christopher Alder set them up on a stage in the legendary Saenger Theater in downtown New Orleans and they did it live (though in studio conditions), which gives it all a fresh and funky spontaneity.
I've spoken before about how much Jazz, these days, misses the sweet spot--either by being too staid, stuffy and formal or by being too "smooth" and soulless. The NOLA Players, though, get it precisely right. They demonstrate that you can, indeed, brew up a batch that's as easy as a Sunday morning and yet still swings like Saturday night. And they make it all seem so effortless. Like any good gumbo, the ingredients might look a little random to an outsider, but these veteran chefs know exactly how much of each ingredient to add and when to add it. "Christmastime In New Orleans" doesn't overdo what you might think of as the New Orleans sound. You feel it, but its perfectly measured. That feeling is a little more evident in the second half of the disc. "Jingle Bells" is definitely full of New Orleans strut. On "Away In A Manger", Mike Esneault's piano strokes paint with shades of Dr. John, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, and a little bit of what I imagine Vince Guaraldi would sound like had he been raised in a New Orleans Gospel tradition. And "Go Tell It On The Mountain" has surely got that whole second-line parade down Main Street thing going on (and Charlie Dennard's too brief organ break is killer).
There's a thought I've been having trouble putting into words, here. I've written and erased a couple of dozen attempts, so bear with me. Some of the traditional Christmas songs have been presented so often and so often poorly in recent years that you grow to dislike them. After a while, you just want to tear your hair out and shout at the stereo, "Why are you doing this?" There's none of that, here. The NOLA Players breathe fresh life into some songs I'd long ago banished to my own personal graveyard. And it isn't just the arrangements, which are certainly as fresh and wonderful as any I've encountered in a long time. It's the spirit they bring to it. I mean, there's actually JOY in "Joy To The World". I'd given up all hope of the possibility. And, Oh. My. God. The sheer beauty of "The Holly & The Ivy". Where has that been all this time? Do you know how many limp and lifeless versions of that song I've sat through? Too many.
No doubt, the album reflects the spirit of the city of New Orleans. The sound is both big AND easy. Best of all, though, is that "Christmastime In New Orleans" is filled with the spirit of Christmas. From the opening notes of "Silver Bells" to the final note of "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear", there's the feeling of being young again and the awe and wonder of flying high above the world in Santa's sleigh. You can actually see the twinkle in the eyes of these 18 St. Nicks as they deliver their bundle of goodies to a far too often weary world. One of the other things I often say is that, if the musicians are having a good time playing the music, the listener is going to have a good time listening. The NOLA Players clearly had a blast making this record. You can't help but feel that. And it's contagious as all get out.
I don't know that I can even pull out favorites without naming every song on the album. "Silver Bells", "Deck The Halls" and the title cut may be the best one-two-three punch to open a Christmas Jazz album I've ever heard. "O Christmas Tree" goes through more seamless personality changes than Sybil. "I Saw Three Ships" is another track the NOLA Players rescued from my Christmas song graveyard, both for the big sound reminiscent of those old TV show themes ("M Squad" and "Police Squad" spring easily to mind, as does the old Tonight Show band...you know, the one led by Doc Severinsen) and a percussion solo you've really got to hear. And I've always been a sucker for the flute, so toss in "The Holly & The Ivy" and "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear". But there are no bad tracks on "Christmastime In New Orleans". And, with roughly an hour of Christmas jubilation, they didn't skimp out on the tune-age, even if you nonetheless find yourself feeling it was over too soon.
It would be easy to say, "If you like Jazz, you should pick this up." But I'm firmly of the view that, even if you don't like Jazz, you should pick this up anyway. You should also look out for the "Christmastime In New Orleans" special on PBS. As they say, check your local listings for dates and times.
Rather than try to pick out which musician shines in any given spot (beyond the little bit that I have already), I'm just going to give you the full list. They are all magnificent. Take a bow, guys. You done Christmas and New Orleans proud. You done great.
Mike Esneault, piano and arranger
Jim Atwood, Percussion
Roland Guerin, Bass
Terrance Taplin, Lead trombone
Jason Marsalis, Vibes and percussion
Geoff Clapp, Drums
Rex Gregory, Lead alto, clarinet and flute
Bobby Campo, Lead trumpet
Ashlin Parker, Trumpet
BJ McGibney, Bass trombone
Ray Moore, 2nd alto, clarinet and flute
Matt Wright, Trombone
Tony Dagradi, Lead tenor, and clarinet
John Reeks, 2nd tenor and clarinet
Jason Mingledorff, Baritone sax
Stephen Orejudos, Trumpet
Charlie Dennard, Organ and keyboards
Mike Vila, Guitar
I gotta be honest. I'm not sure I've got another Christmas mix in me. But Halloween? Yeah, I got that. Generally speaking, you know how this works. The sides are pre-mixed and run between 15 and 20 minutes each (which was about the length of an album side back in the day). Sound effects and actualities are gathered from the web including some from Soundbible (attribution required). All the tunes are linked up to where you can get them and artists are linked up to their websites (where available). Tracks with an asterisk are available as free downloads. Although the track from Vincent Price is linked to a listing for the actual LP (probably unavailable anyway), I actually got that one from the Wonderful Wonderblog, one of my favorite Halloween haunts, who did a Halloween mix several years back--"The Black And Orange Album". The radio ad for "The House of Seven Corpses" also came from that mix.
There is one change from past years. I've usually made this stuff so that it would all fit on a single CD (if the max length of a CD is 80 minutes and each side is 20 minutes or less, it should work out automatically). But this year I did a fifth side. So you're either going to have to use 2 CDs or kick one side to the curb. There were two reasons I did a fifth side. First, I had some tunes I liked that couldn't worm their way into the other 4. More pointedly, however, I'm not a fan of novelty records, even at Halloween. I think they wear out their welcome fairly quickly. And, after listening to "The Mummy" a couple dozen times, I couldn't take it anymore. But the side was already mixed and I did want "Disco Werewolf" in. So I cut a fifth, even though those songs are less "spooky" (except for "Spooky", of course, which...ah whatever). There is artwork for a CD that tosses "Side P" and artwork for a CD that excludes "Side S" (as always, the artwork is included in the zip file). And, yes, there is also artwork for the dreaded double CD. And, if none of the options appeal to you, there are also raw versions of the artwork for you (assuming you've got a program to do something with it).
I only included "The Mummy" at all because Rod McKuen passed away late last year and he was one of my mother's favorites. In a similar vein, when Otis Clay passed, I went looking to see if he'd done any Christmas tunes. Though I didn't find any Christmas tunes, I did find "Voodoo Queen" and I found Clay Otis as well. Loved "Disco Werewolf" and threw it in. While I was linking up the tracks a few days ago, I learned that Clay Otis had just passed, as well. It was quite unexpected as he was only 35 years old. Just a reminder from the powers that be that no one is guaranteed any day but today. Make the most of it.
A few other track notes. Kacey Jones also passed this year. She was mostly known for her novelty records, but her album of Mickey Newbury covers (from which we get "Apples Dipped In Candy") shows she could deliver a straight tune with exquisite power. Mr. Undertaker, whose "Here Lies My Love" is an All Hallows Eve classic, is Roy Hawkins. Hawkins life was fairly well cursed, itself. His right arm was paralyzed in an auto accident, inspiring one of his better known songs "Why Do Everything Happen To Me". But his best know composition was "The Thrill Is Gone". Poor Roy. When B.B. King recorded that one, Hawkins was not originally given the writer's credit and he lost out on tons of royalties. That's the kind of luck Roy Hawkins had. And, yes, Roy did record a Christmas track, "Christmas Blues", in 1948.
Greg In Good Company's "Monster's Lair" was inspired by the Netflix series "Stranger Things", which I've never seen. If you hadn't yet heard Fifth Harmony's "I'm In Love With A Monster", get used to it; that song's got legs (at least 8 of them) and it's going to be a Halloween staple for decades to come. And, while Katie Melua has other songs more appropriate for the witching hour, I just love "If The Lights Go Out" too much to use anything else. Its got jangly guitars and a hopeful message and I can't think of any better closing number.
If you've been with us for a while, you already know that clicking on any of the artwork images in this post will take you to the download (in theory, at least). As always, on these Halloween sets, you get roughly a week to get yer ghost on. After that, the collection will just dissolve into ectoplasmic goo and the smoke of non-corporeal spectres. All links will be removed and the collection will be buried six feet deep never to rise again. So, let's see, it's October 26. Halloween is Monday (ooohhh, that's spooky, boys and girls). Clock is running. I'll give you until Midnight Friday (November 4th, I believe). That's gonna be Eastern Time this year (possibly Central, but definitely not Pacific). We'll get it all out of the way before what is truly the scariest day on the calendar...Election Day. Ooup. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit, there. Now go on, get outta here. The children of the night are waiting. Ah, what music they make. BOO!
Man, I'm slipping. Didn't even see this one 'til somebody at The Fa pointed it out.
The actual record has better sound than that, but it's the only vid on YouTube right now.
Some of the best Christmas records are also some of the most obscure. It stands to reason. Lots of people making lots of music and no major label to put their weight behind it. There are bound to be gems that get lost. We've been fortunate in recent years to have seen some great Soul & R&B rescued by the likes of Tramp Records through their "Santa's Funk & Soul Christmas Party" albums. But there's still rescue work to be done.
Back in 1981, a Funk and Soul artist by the name of Joseph dropped some holiday cheer on the S&P Music label. You remember that one, right? No? Of course you don't. These days, we've got the Internet to connect us all to just about anything. In 1981, not so much. So the record may have gotten some regional play, but not much more than that. Over the years, though, the album developed a following. Northern Soul DJs, Southern Soul DJs, overseas DJs, and, lest we forget, Christmas music obsessives started to get hip. In particular, the song "Shopping" (above) became a bit of a seasonal fave. It's not my favorite track on the record but whatever.
The artist's full name is Joseph Washington, Jr. The album is "Merry Christmas To You...From Joseph". Original copies don't turn up too often and, when they do, generally run around $75 (as low as $40 and as high as $120, depending on condition).
Cut to today and there is apparently enough demand for Numero to issue a limited vinyl pressing of "Merry Christmas To You...From Joseph". There will be precisely 1000 copies, each and every one pressed on Candy Cane color vinyl. From Numero's advance press on this, it's just vinyl--no CD, no MP3. Now, who knows what they may decide to do later on. But, right now, just vinyl. And, as Numero has done vinyl only re-issues in the past, I'd say grab the vinyl now and then whatever happens happens, right? The album officially drops December 2. If you'd like to hear samples of all the tracks, Numero can hook you up. My favorites? I'm partial to "Jesus' Birthday" and "Merry Christmas", but its all good.
1. Winter Wonderland - Ka'au Crater Boys
2. Mele Kalikimaka Ia `Oe - Sean Na'auao
3. Santa's Hula - Robi Kahakalau
4. Mele Kalikimaka - Jingle Bells - Troy Fernandez
5. Silent Night - Po La `Ie - Ben Vegas
6. Little Drummer Boy - Ernie Cruz, Jr.
7. Where's the Snow - Ho'onu'a
8. Deck the Halls - Abe Lagrimas, Jr.
9. Hawaiian Santa - Gordon Freitas
10. Here Comes Santa in a Red Canoe - Rodney Bejer
11. O Holy Night - Herb Ohta Jr.
12. What Child is This - Ke Keiki Ali`i - Kawika Kahiapo
13. Christmas Island Medley - Aloha Delire
14. Holiday Hula - Kalei Gamiao
15. Mele Kalikimaka - Hawaiian Waikiki Beach Entertainers NEOS PRODUCTIONS WEB SITE
16. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - Robert & Tiera Kekaula PURCHASE FROM AMAZON
PURCHASE FROM MELE.COM
I've got a thing for Hawaiian Christmas music. Well, actually, I've got a thing for any Hawaiian music. It's like that soft easy breeze that gently blows over you when you're sunbathing. It's just.........Ahhhhhhhhh. Stress? What's that? We don't need no stinking stress. And here comes that bree......Ahhhhhhhhh. I could just lay here forever. Oh, this is just so.....rela--Ahhhhhhhhhh. Relaxing. You go on ahead. I'll catch up.
Still with me? Big big fan of Willie K, Na Leo, Sean Na'auao and others. Only the last of those 3 turns up on the latest in Island Christmas accessories--"Mele Kalikimaka: Island Style Christmas". Neos productions is one of the larger labels offering authentic Hawaiian music. In recent years, they've taken a special interest in issuing Hawaiian Christmas music, God bless 'em. This particular comp contains some music that they've previously released. They might all have been previously released as I did kinda lose track of Hawaiian Christmas music for a few years. But I recognize the songs from Sean Na'auao, Robi Kahakalau, and Kalei Gamiao. Pretty sure I've heard Herb Ohta Jr.'s "O Holy Night" before, too. But my guess is that you don't already have much of the music here. I don't and I'm usually crazy for Hawaiian Christmas tune-age. And lucky for all of us, the album turns up in the nick of time. "Mele Kalikimaka: Island Style Christmas" releases today! And, after the week I had and probably the week you had, we sure could u--Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Use it.
It's not on this collection, but the collection did remind me of the fine 2013 Christmas set from Kalei Gamiao, "Merry Ukulele Christmas". So I'm closing with this one. Cuz it's cool and I dig it. Maha--ahhhhhhh--lo.
I love Christmas, music, and cats. What more do you need to know?