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 OUTThere 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.
We featured this video back on January 1, 2011. At the time, it was still a fairly obscure clip of a 2010 Indie Pop song from Ian Axel. Since then, the song has taken off a bit--appearing in the film New Year's Eve and the TV show The Amazing Race, among other things. Not hard to understand why, really. You don't want to start the New Year with hung over regrets of the year past, nor with fear and trepidation for the days ahead. You want to start the New Year off hopeful--making a bold statement and charging forth with confidence. If it wears off in a week or two, well, we can cross that bridge then. But it's important to start strong. Ian Axel's Indie Pop anthem also features Chad Vaccarino and, together, they now call themselves A Great Big World. "Our songs are your songs," they say and, just to prove it, you can grab "This Is The New Year" as a name-your-price Bandcamp download. And, if the song sounds like "more", you can get the whole album for the same Bandcamp deal. Just to add a little positive fuel to your New Year engine. Lots more free New Years tunes on the Free List, if you want 'em.
Say everything you’ve always wanted
Be not afraid of who you really are
‘Cause in the end we have each other
And that’s at least one thing worth living for
And I will give the world to you.
I've been working on our end of the year favorites, but that old time crunch is making it a slower process than I'd like. So, to keep you company in the meantime, here's a video from one of them. The New Royalty's "Spend Christmas With Me" was released back in August, so maybe you've forgotten how great they are. We'll remind you with "I Believe It's Christmas Time".
Here's an awesome New Year's song from The Mercy Brothers. The Mercy Brothers are a pair of Boston artists, vocalist Barrence Whitfield and instrumentalist Michael Dinallo. Born Barry White (but we already had one of those), Barrence is best known from his energetic Blues Shout/Rockabilly work with Barrence Whitfield & The Savages. As one half of The Mercy Brothers, Barrence demonstrates that he's equally at home with acoustic Country Blues."The New Year Blues" was included on the album "Strange Adventure", originally released in 2003. Like so much good American music, The Mercy Brothers were far more popular in Europe than the US and their album was reissued overseas in 2006 and 2008 with some bonus material. You can still get the album from CD Baby, though individual digital tracks are not generally available from the mainstream outlets any more.Unlike a lot of New Year's songs, there's no nostalgia for the old year in this one. "It's been hell to know ya," Barrence sings, "So good to see ya go. Can't get no worse, but, then, you know, it's been hell to know ya. So good to see ya go." I do know the feelin'.This performance was recorded at a radio station in the Netherlands in 2006. The acostics aren't the greatest, but the song is good enough to overcome those limitations. Anyway, I think it is.
As the New Year approaches, and with Christmas 2012 seeming already to be fading in the rear view mirror, it's only natural that many obsessive Christmas music lovers think it's time to kick back and take a few months off. Well, get that thought right out of your head! "Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no!"Now's the time to start planning for next year, to catch up on stuff that we missed (we've got a couple of new entries on the Previews page, including the annual Zunior Christmas compilation), to grab those free downloads while they're still free, and to help fund those projects that will make next Christmas the bestest Christmas ever! "Who's with me? Let's go!"........."What the eff happened to the Stubby's readership I used to know? Where's the spirit? Where's the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you're gonna let it be the worst. 'Ooh, we're afraid to go with you Stubby, we might get in trouble.' Well, just kiss my ass from now on. Not me! I'm not gonna take this."Sorry, got carried away. I do love Animal House.Point is, there's work to be done. Music to find and projects to fund.We're in the Home Stretch of the Indiegogo funding drive for Mitchell Kezin's amazing movie, "Jingle Bell Rocks!" It's a movie about us--we crazy obsessive Christmas music hunters--and the music we love, for Christmas sake. There's only 4 days left--tick--3! Just THREE days left! And Mitchell's not even at 10% of what he needs to finish this movie. Where's the support from the Stubby's readership? Where's the love? I'm ashamed of you. And you. And...no, not you, not you...but that guy...yes, YOU! Unlike Kickstarter, (I'm pretty sure) Mitchell doesn't have to raise the full amount for your pledges to count. But every penny really counts, because, in the end, he needs what he needs to make this movie. You better be good, for goodness sake. How bout ponying up a little bit of that Christmas cash, eh?Alright, OK, I can see this hard sell isn't working. We'll have to resort to....bribery! Bob Dorough, Jazz and Beat legend, the author (and vocalist) of Miles Davis' immortal "Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)", has kindly donated 5 (FIVE) personally autographed copies of his exceptional (and impossible to find) book and CD package, Blue Xmas. And Mitchell will give those bribes--er, rewards--to the first five people who contribute $125 or more to the campaign. For more info, check the updates section at Indiegogo.So what are we waiting for? "I think this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part and we're just the guys to do it!" THREE days left, people. Now, this rant was written with a bit of tongue in cheek. It's a--I say, I say--it's "hugh-muh", son. But, really, "Jingle Bell Rocks!" is a movie about us, about our prides and passions. It's about us, it's for us, it's our movie. Don't you want to be a part of it? You'll never have to explain to your friends and relatives ever again, as they roll their eyes (mentally mocking you) why we do what we do. You can tell them, "Just watch the movie." Check my previous rant here. THREE days left people. Go to Indiegogo, now, and give what you can. Don't make me come back here with Sarah McLachlan and a bunch of sad-eyed cats and dogs, alright?
Now another important matter has been brought to my attention by my friend, Ken, at Sounds of Christmas.Lester Chambers is a rock and roll god. He should be living it up on the royalties from all the great music he wrote and sang with The Chambers Brothers in the 60s. But Lester never got any of that money. If ever there was a poster child for the record industry's abuse and ripping off of an artist or artists, it's Lester Chambers. Of course, those of us who grew up with "Time Has Come Today"--one of THE single most iconic songs of the 6os--never realized how badly Lester had been ripped off until, when the Occupy movement was just getting started, this picture was posted online and went viral. It reads:“I am the former lead singer of a 60′s band. I did not squander my money on drugs or a fancy home. I went from 1967-1994 before I saw my first royalty check. The music giants I recorded with only paid me for 7 of my albums. I have never seen a penny in royalties from my other 10 albums I recorded. Our hit song was licensed to over 100 films, TV & commercials without our permission. One major TV network used our song for a national commercial and my payment was $625 dollars. I am now 72, trying to live on $1200 a month. Sweet Relief, a music charity, is taking donations for me. Only the 1% of artists can afford to sue. I am the 99%.”
Lester Chambers and his son, Michael Dylan Chambers
Think about that. For 30 years, the music industry made millions off of Lester's music before he ever saw a dime. That's an obscenity.We can't set right all the past wrongs of the world, but we can do our part to have Lester's back going forward. We can thank him for the music, for the joy, for the influence, by supporting him now.Lester Chambers is funding a new album through a Kickstarter campaign. And, yes, people have rallied to his side and Lester has already raised well beyond his $39,000 goal. The new album has been fully funded and will be made.So where can we come in? What's the Christmas tie-in, exactly? For a pledge of just $5, Lester will give you a pair of Christmas songs. You'll hear his take on "Jingle Bells" as well as Lester's version of the all-too-seldom heard Chambers Brothers Christmas song "Merry Christmas Happy New Year". More importantly, for a small contribution, you'll let Lester know that we, none of us, are as bad as the people who ripped him off. Buying his records, it was never our intention to deprive him of the fruits of his labors. We've got your back, Lester. We are the 99%, too.Now I'm sure I've offended someone, politically. And I'll tell you right now I will not tolerate a political debate on this Christmas music web site. But, frankly, I don't care. If you can't see something wrong in what was done to Lester Chambers, then there's just something wrong with you as a person. Get some help.You can find out more about Lester's backstory and the project, and you can make a donation/pledge if you wish to, at Kickstarter. The pledge drive ends January 9, 2013.
Closing this post on an altogether lighter note, the one and only Richard Cheese is raising money through Kickstarter for a new Christmas album he hopes to release in 2013, "Live At The North Pole". If you don't know Richard Cheese, you must be new here. Richard garnered gigantic giggles from the Christmas collector crowd a few years back with the now classic "Christmas In Las Vegas"--a mixtape favorite and cheese-y lounge send-up of Christmas Vegas style. Mistletunes called him "the Weird Al of lounge lizards". The album that ensued, "Silent Nightclub", featured cheese-y snarky lounge versions of New Wave hits, including a 20 second version of "Last Christmas". You see, "Cheese" isn't just his last name, it's his middle name. And it isn't just his middle name, it's what he does.Whereas Richard's "Silent Nightclub" featured satirical song choices for a Christmas album ("Ice Ice Baby" and "Holiday In Cambodia" for example), "Live At The North Pole" will feature Richard's satirical lounge versions of actual Christmas songs (like "Deck The Halls" and "Jingle Bells"). There will be a "Conversation With Santa Claus". No, really. He also promises his "hit", "Christmas In Las Vegas", and a new version, "Hanukkah In Las Vegas". Oy vey! It's a mixtapers dream (or nightmare) come true!As always at Kickstarter, there are incentives for your pledge. Just $5 will reserve a digital copy of "Live At The North Pole". For just $8, you'll get the physical CD (SRP $11). For just $16, you'll get TWO CDs, one autographed and one not. And $25 will get you SIX CDs--two of them personally autographed to whomever you wish. Get your 2013 Christmas shopping done before the New Year even starts, eh?So head to Kickstarter between now and January 22nd and say "More Cheese, please" with your pledge. C'mon. Be a Cheesehead. It's not just for Packers fans anymore. And, anyway, all the cool kids are doing it.
No Boxing Day feature, today, on our Free List. Ironically, I started doing that because I didn't have time to listen to all the free stuff that comes out every year and, this year, I don't have time to do that. Sorry. But we will continue to post the free stuff we find that we find worthy, certainly through New Years. There are some new ones up just now, including our write-up of the gift we received a few days ago from Lie In The Sound. So go. Off with you. Go discover something new and free.
1. Please Come Home for Christmas
2. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (duet with James Archibald)
3. Santa Baby
4. I Wonder As I Wander
5. Santa Blues
6. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
7. Last Christmas
8. I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
9. You're All I Want for Christmas
10. Dig That Crazy Santa Claus
11. The Holly and the Ivy
12. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By NightARTIST SITEFACEBOOKREVERBNATION
I have very much wanted to do a review of Jillaine's "Jazzy Christmas To You II" and I've been trying to find the time. So, as late as it is, I figure the only way to do this thing is strictly stream of consciousness. I know most of my stuff reads that way, anyway. But, for reviews, I honestly try to craft them a little better than that. Well, THAT'S not gonna happen, so let's just do this thing.A little background. Jillaine is a young singer from Utah. I've already spoken at length about her wonderful voice--unique, virtually one of a kind. She can sing the hell out of just about anything, and she's recorded her fair share of Alt Rock and Pop, plus the patriotic set "As American As Jazz" released earlier this year, but her passions, clearly, are Jazz and Blues. And, it seems, Christmas music. From last year's "Jazzy Christmas To You" (review here), then checking out some of the rest of her repertoire (which is my habit when finding a Christmas album from an artist I haven't heard before), it did appear to me that Jillaine felt considerably less shackled on the Christmas music--a bit more free to be her self, free to color outside the lines, free to breathe a bit. More than anything, she was having fun with it. And, as I've said way too many times, the listener can always tell when you're having fun and, if you are, they will. Anyway...
So I got the "Jazzy Christmas To You II" CD a while back and, at first chance, I popped it into the ol' CD player. "Jazzy Christmas To You II" opens with Charles Brown's "other" Christmas hit, "Please Come Home For Christmas". And Jillaine gives the song a fine reading, leaning toward the Jazz of the track rather than the Blues. Her approach, here, has the sound of a New Orleans after hours club. And, truthfully, that's not far from what Brown's intent was. It really became more of a roadhouse Blues number later on. My immediate thought was that Jillaine was picking up where she left off on "Jazzy Christmas To You". This was a very solid take on an oft recorded song--Jillaine did it up proud. And "solid" is very much the word I would use, here, which might seem unduly restrained on my part (as an admitted fan, at this point). But "Please Come Come For Christmas" gave me no idea what was to come.Jillaine next shares a duet with bass player James Archibald. On the first Christmas set, the pair sang "Baby, It's Cold Outside". On this album, they do "Let It Snow". "Let It Snow" is another fun romp, to be sure, and Zach Wiggins tickles the ivories very effectively. But I'm still getting the impression that this is a continuation of the first Christmas set. Nothing wrong with that.Next up "Santa Baby". And, no offense to anyone--I realize it's practically required these days--but that song hasn't sounded any good to me, really, since Madonna ruined it in the eighties. Honestly, I don't think there's ever been a worse rendition of a Christmas song ever than Madonna's version of "Santa Baby". William Hung laughs at her. It's not your fault, Jillaine, I just don't like the song anymore. Madonna, do me a favor and stay away from Christmas music. Notably, though, the band was very strong on this 2 minute number. Zach Wiggins (piano) and Jesse Quebbemen-Turley (drums) absolutely turn it up to 11 on "Santa Baby"...not in a Spinal Tap (volume) fashion, but in proving that they are top notch Jazz musicians in their own right when called upon to be that. The arrangements on Jillaine's first Christmas set were for a more sparse backing, which served to put Jillaine very much out front. That worked well. The arrangements here called for more...well, Jazz from the band and they delivered. Still, Jillaine's unique and powerful voice can't help but take center stage, no matter how busy the band gets. "Nobody puts Baby in a corner". That was a bit of a revelation to me (just a bit), but I still didn't see what was coming. Not even close.Now track 4 is where things, for me, got real interesting and "Jazzy Christmas To You II" took a hard turn towards true greatness and Jillaine, from my limited perspective of her work, blossomed into the fully realized Jazz singer she's destined to be. "I Wonder As I Wander" is not just one of my favorite Christmas songs, it's a song that separates the posers from the artists. It's a song which is as much about what's not there as what is, about what you add to it, about the spaces between the notes as much as about the notes. It's a song that's much more about the passion you put into it than about the notes on the page. It's a song that, done right, can't help but be a Jazz number. Me, I'm a coward. I'd never attempt that song, even as a back bencher in a 100 person community choir. Jillaine sings "I Wonder As I Wander" as though she were born to it. I do believe, and it's a risky thing to say this sort of thing, Jillaine's version of "I Wonder As I Wander" is the single finest version I have ever heard. I've tried to think of one better--there are several I'm quite fond of--but none measure up. Jillaine's voice flows freely and easily through the song, unrestrained by the music, undaunted by the obstacles. She's not playing by their rules anymore. Jillaine becomes the song. Oh, God, I wish there was some proper metaphor to describe the bliss her vocal performance creates. What do you do when you work with words and the words fail you? All I can say is that her performance of "I Wonder As I Wander" is the very definition of the very finest Jazz. And, hey, guess what, you lucky, lucky people? This is the song Jillaine chose to make a free download. Anyone who ever told this woman that she couldn't sing or wouldn't make it (and I'm sure there have been some) is an idiot!Go get it! And, not to shortchange anyone, Wiggins' keyboards and Quebbemen-Turley's percussion were absolutely spot-on perfect for the song.
As if "I Wonder As I Wander" hadn't already melted me to the floor, track 5 is the original "Santa Blues", co-written by Jillaine and Justin Jensen. Oh, you know where I live, girl. This is classic Blues, like something straight out of the thirties and Jillaine belts it out as only she, and perhaps Bessie Smith ever could. She has fun with it, too, bending notes at will, climbing the stairs to the top and then dropping down into the basement. It's a ball! A Christmas ball (somewhat obscure Bessie Smith reference)! And, again, the band shows they know how to play along.On "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", Jillaine demonstrates that she's as home with somber spiritual material as with bawdy Blues. Frankly, on my first trip through, I was so...well..."high" from the previous two tracks, this one just sort of slipped by me. But, on subsequent listenings, her performance of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is every bit as masterful. Even on a quieter number, the power of her passion for the music is well evident, as is the artistry of her voice. And, if you somehow missed it on that one, she demonstrates her mastery again on "Last Christmas". Frankly, I doubt I'll ever hear a better version of "Last Christmas" than the one from Linedance Fever, but Jillaine brings true heartbreak to the song in the same way Laurie Cameron exposed the underlying sadness of "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)". It's so beautifully done, you'll be crying before the final curtain.The band steps up the swing on "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" as Jillaine proves she has the chops to hang with the best of them--Frank, Ella, Tony, any of them. And it's here that the contrast between "Jazzy Christmas To You" and "Jazzy Christmas To You II" comes into very sharp focus. On last year's set, a number like this would have been done straight forward and stripped down. It would be fun, but a bit more Alt Pop or Pop Vocal than on the second album, where Jillaine and her posse dive fully into the Jazz of the piece, taking it to a whole other level. The Jazz is hot and these cats are cookin'. And they pull it all off in just 2 and a half minutes. Steam heat, baby!Then Jillaine dips into her bag of tricks once more, pulling out a relatively obscure number from Seger Ellis, popularized by Bing Crosby, "You're All I Want For Christmas". And, while it's not really really obscure, it's something you never hear on the radio anymore. Ever. Jillaine's approach to this torch song is more Billie than Bing, and, damn, that's impressive."Dig That Crazy Santa Claus" surprises yet again. Most artists covering Oscar McLollie's R&B classic focus either on the rhythm or focus on the Blues. I was kind of expecting Jillaine to take the Blues route. Instead, she and the band do the track straight Jazz. And, as straight Jazz, it's great Jazz. Jillaine's facility on this swinging take is just amazing. The confidence and skill is fully on display. Actually, having just said "confidence and skill", the two words I thought of listening to this track were "passion and precision". That's a heady combo. And speaking of heady combos, the band shines, here, once again. In particular, I thought James Archibald's bass was especially awesome.For the last two numbers, "The Holly And The Ivy" and "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night", Jillaine slows the pace and keeps it simple. And, if you hadn't figured it out before these two, Jillaine closes out the album proving that she is a truly great Jazz singer. I would never say it's easy to do what Jillaine does on the previous 10 tracks. But it takes a real artist to do even more by doing even less. About the only way I can explain that remark is to point to Judy Garland, who also excelled at making her voice do amazing things on both the quiet and the raucous. If you don't think of Judy as a great Jazz singer, you should. I'm not even a fan of Judy's, but I do appreciate her artistry.Look, I'm no Leonard Feather or Dave Marsh or anything. I'm just a guy with a blog. But I'll tell you this as sincerely as I can. "Jazzy Christmas To You" was an excellent Christmas album. "Jazzy Christmas To You II" is a great Jazz album. I've listened to a lot of music in my day and I will tell you that there are not more than a handful of singers who can do what Jillaine can do. There may not have ever been more than, I don't know, a couple of dozen singers in history who could do what Jillaine can do. And I know that sounds hyperbolic, but, Bessie Smith, Judy Garland, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Joe Williams, Frank--well, nobody is as good as Sinatra was (and that's just a fact, Jack)--Jillaine can hold her own in that company. Power, passion, precision, confidence, vulnerability...she's got it all. She's got a voice and she knows how to use it. Her voice is an instrument that she plays as well as Miles played trumpet. Yeah, feel free to be skeptical. I would be, too. If I hadn't heard it with my own ears.I was about to give a nod to Erik Chaston, Jillaine's brother who (as I recall) produced "Jazzy Christmas To You" (although I could be wrong about that) and I see, here, that Jillaine gets the production credit for "Jazzy Christmas To You II". And, now, I'm even more amazed than I already was.Jillaine has already told my friends at Merry & Bright that there will be a "Jazzy Christmas To You III" and suddenly next Christmas is looking awfully far away. But, if you don't already own it, I can't recommend "Jazzy Christmas To You II" highly enough. I really can't. On a scale of 1 to 10, this album's an easy 14 or 15. It's that good.Well, that was a little longer than I'd planned. So be it. I know Jillaine is going to be reading this review at some point and thinking, "Holy crap, I can't use this. Nobody would believe it." Well, I know just how you feel, Jillaine. I heard "Jazzy Christmas To You II" and I couldn't believe it either. Keep singing, Jillaine. It's what you were born to do.
It's just after Midnight here in the eastern USA. No snow here in Carolina, but it is officially Christmas. So I thought I'd share one of my all-time favorite versions of one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs. For a while, I even thought about tossing it into A Stubby's House Christmas. This was from the Christmas episode of the brilliant, but short-lived TV show "Studio 60". I watch that Christmas episode every year...just to hear this song as much as anything. NBC made the song available as a free download that year, God bless em, and its still widely available on-line. This is Trombone Shorty Andrews, accompanied by other New Orleans musicians following Katrina. "O Holy Night". Merry Christmas, y'all.