Christmas Reviews

XmaxArborwayHouse-textTHREE DAY THRESHOLD & FRIENDS

The Santa Versus Godzilla Project: 12 Songs of Christmas

19 tracks

My name may appear on track six but I won’t let that get in the way of an honest review for a project designed to raise money for the Greater Boston Food Bank.

If Johnny Cash and Ray Davies (The Kinks) had ever been locked up in Santa’s workshop I’m sure they would have ended up with something similar to this collection of Christmas songs. Mandy Byrnes opens the proceedings with her friendly, star-quality voice cuddling up next to hubby Kier Byrnes (the juggernaut of Three Day Threshold) on the classic duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It’s a great way to set the bar for 3DT’s many “Friends”–more commonly known as Boston music notables.  You’ve got Max Heinegg going Frank Sinatra on “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas,” Lyle Brewer chicken pickin’ on “To Mrs. Clause From Santa,” Evan Garvy visiting Mardi Gras on “Santa’s at the Second Line,” and Anita Suhanin and Kevin Rose rocking the nobility in “We Three Kings.” The title track has an arrangement that sounds like it could have been included in The Kink’s Preservation rock opera. “New Elf in the Family” drives like a Bruce Springsteen rocker and is a personal message from Kier and Mandy who now have two young fun kids. You get this and more on the first 12 tracks. The next seven tracks are pure bonus with guest appearances by members of Comanchero, The Whiskey Boys, Joe Pleiman of Summer Villians, and Devin Byrnes wrapping this present up with an artistic reading of “The Night Before Christmas” backed by a hypnotic bass and drums with spacy sound effects and clips from It’s a Wonderful Life.

I saved my favorite for last – track 8 “Dominic the Donkey” – it features Jay DiBiasso (guitar/vocals) and has a playful sick polka feel with a big crowd of wild voices having a wonderful time with “hee-haws” and a catchy chorus of many “la la las.” It leaves me with a big smile after every listen. What more can you ask for? Go on Three Day Threshold’s Bandcamp site to make a deposit in the Greater Boston Food Bank and be rewarded with a collection of songs that will trim your Christmases for many years to come.  (T Max)

NRBQ   

Clang!
Christmas Wish—Deluxe Edition

19 tracks
As proud owner of the band’s self-titled 1969 Columbia debut, I’m well aware of how much irreverent fun NRBQ can summon up, and as a big fan of such, I was all over this release like white on rice. It’s essentially a CD version of their 1986 Mini-LP on Rounder, and the tracks from the original album are the strongest: picture Brian Wilson producing and arranging Randy Newman and you get a bit of their flavor. This update has ten new live and studio sides attached. Some are snippets, and other full-blown, um, versions—like, dig the instrumental take of “Christmas Wish” and the twisted cover of that good ole Charlie Brown Xmas fave, and the anomic scorching of poor old Mel Torme’s “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Who will this record bug? Superannuated grandfolk who expect croony goop to continually exude from their creaky hi-fis come Yuletide. Headbangers, goths, and sick babies who instinctively fear anything with whimsical texture and/or jazzy chops. Gloomy fundamentalists who are convinced that anything mostly secular is a Mephistophelean passport to hellfire. Who will it delight? Nearly everybody else in the world, I would hope. (Francis DiMenno)

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Sonic Trout

Another Christmas Gift For You

21 tracks

As someone who hates Christmas, and REALLY hates Christmas music, this is a perversely enjoyable surprise. Sonic Trout are label-hosts mainly to Chandler Travis Philharmonic and The Incredible Casuals, but many a furry friend and oddball offshoot are featured here to stellar effect. The main reasons it works so well are, A) the songs which DO mention Christmas are great enough on their own that the context is completely negligible, whereas B) the unavoidably thematic ones are so charmingly fucked that you could never, say, play them at the office holiday party without getting fired (Rikki & Johnny’s cordially alien “Sleigh Ride,” among others). In these instances alone, you’re getting significantly toasted entertainment which never condescends, yet which works beautifully if you ever got the actual seasonal itch for some reason, and yet AGAIN, would sound great any time o’ year regardless. How many NON-Christmas records can you say all that about? And yet, aside from some masterful power-pop, there are drippingly surreal jazz warps, perfectly lovely little choral treatments, waltzes with accordions, and a number of things no one’s ever tried before. My only beef is the three minutes of silence two-thirds in for no good reason. Otherwise, a swell thing that’ll sound just as good in July, which I guess makes it a pretty good Christmas present after all.   (Joe Coughlin)

THE WEISSTRONAUTS 


StereOrrific

I’m Dreaming of The Weisstronauts’ Christmas

5 tracks

Pete Weiss rounds up the cowboys (and gals), takes ’em surfin’ in December, and ends up with this rightly styled circle o’ plastic, just the right size for a Christmas present.  Light a fire and kick back to the surf-country feel of  “Jingle Bells.”  If you want to get up for some swing dancin’, try “Nuthin’ Comin’ Good This Christmas.” But if that tuckers you out, kick off yer spurs and lie back down in front of the fire for “Silent Night, ” and make note of what those children want for Christmas. Remind them what the holiday is really  about—“Sweet Baby Jesus”—a tune with a nice ’60s pop progression (like the Beatles’ “Eight Days A Week”) that breaks down into a rambling vocal jam and ends with sweet harmonies.  We go live into a club for the final holiday party, where Mel Weiss remembers to put the Santa back in Christmas (“Santa Baby”).  So who is the real baby of Christmas—Jesus or Santa?  And can you really hang 10 if you’ve got cowboy boots on? This disc won’t help you decide—but when you hear someone yell  “surf’s up” in December, remove yer spurs…  and sing along.   (T Max)

BOSTON POPS ORCHESTRA

A Boston Pops Christmas, Live from Symphony Hall

14 tracks

Compiled from their holiday shows over the last two years, the Pops’ newest holiday CD is a bonanza of Yuletide spirit. The Boston Pops, led by Keith Lockhart, are world class musicians and their virtuosity make these holiday songs shine as bright as Rudolph’s nose. The Pops kick it off with a bang, rifling through holiday classics like “Carol of the Bell” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Also included is the Pops’ signature holiday tune, “Sleigh Ride”; a song that they helped make famous in 1948 with Leroy Anderson. My favorite tracks include the Pops version of 12 Days of Christmas, where they cleverly mix in melodies from other songs, like “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth” for the second day of Christmas and “We Three Kings for the third day of Christmas.  The Pops rendition of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” narrated by Will LeBow, will warm the hearts of children ages one to ninety-two. They end the cd like they end their shows; with a sing along of holiday staples like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Jingle Bells.” I know what I’m asking for this Christmas. (Kier Byrnes)

TOTARO


Spank Dawg

Christmas Carols

12 tracks

This is a Christmas CD. Can it get any worse? Why am I listening to this? OUCH!!!! MY EARS ARE BLEEDING!! They fucken’ hurt now!  I am starting to feel sick—I feel as if I am slipping away. I was once normal but now I fade in and out of normalcy and recently things have gotten worse. I don’t sleep anymore. I have given up on sleeping because it’s a waste of time and because I just lie there thinking about the end of the world and how we on a downward spiral. Not taken over by Zombies but by the very wealthy whose ideals are completely demented and distorted sort of like these Christmas songs. It was the Christians who have caused ninety percent of the earth’s catastrophes and mass murders so I don’t want to sing or listen to any of their songs. Soon they will take over the planet and make everyone dress like Ronald Reagan, believe in a false idol and follow a restrictive set of laws. Good luck to us all. (Leonid)

THE BLACKSTONE VALLEY SINNERS


Valley Records

The Cold Hard Truth About Christmas

12 tracks

Most Christmas albums are take-it-or-leave it affairs, strictly for seasonal listening, but this one is an exception. At its best, this Rich Gilbert-fronted and Pete Weiss produced collection is a shit-kicking, yodel-happy, steel-guitar slathered romp, with at least one brand-new certified bonafide Yule-or-anytime classic, “Katie Dang,” evocative of a cross between the Notorious Byrd Brothers LP and Pure Prairie League’s “Amie.” And “Song of the Desert” is at least the spiritual step-son of Hank Williams’ “Kaw-Liga.”  Not all of this CD works as well, but tell me this: is it possible that the western swing stylings of “Jingle Bell Rock” aren’t to your taste? Could it be that the well-nigh irresistible 1950s Doris Day ska rendition of “Mary’s Boy Child” doesn’t tickle your innards? And does the mind roasting rockin’ 48-second intro to “Feliz Navidad” leave you cold?  Then all I can say to you, my friend, is this: bah, humbug.             (Francis DiMenno)

VARIOUS ARTISTS


Greetings From Music Lane

4 tracks

This Christmas CD features a variety of artists collaborating on reinterpretations of Christmas songs.  SuperPower covers “White Christmas” decently as a lo-fi punk number.  Jose Ramos with Howard Teasley presents a bluesy “Merry Xmas, Baby.”  Apart from a quick and random insertion of “hey baby come over here” in Spanish and a cheerful send-off at the end as well, the song isn’t of much interest.  Daisycutter, which appears twice with several guests, gives a funny technopop take of “Santa Claus” (the one where he “comes to town”).  Their techno/goth/metal version of “Silent Night” steals the show hands down.  It almost makes me want to go to church.  Almost.  Now I have to go listen to Cradle of Filth.  Merry Walpurgisnacht!  (Z)

BLEU (with lots of guest stars)   

Maid

Bing Bang Holidang

10 tracks

Bleu has put together an entire 10-song Christmas album featuring reinvented standards along with a handful of original seasonal tunes. Packed with an impressive cast of Boston-bred celebrity cameos (Dicky Barrett, Bill Janovitz, Kay Hanley, Jason Kendall, Mary Lou Lord, Jed Parish, and Ramona Silver, to name a few) and a worthy charity’s cause, Bleu has managed to produce a record as musically diverse as it is timely.
Bleu combines a stylistic range reminiscent of Beck with the kitsch of sugar-voiced crooner Bing Crosby. His studio skill evident in the record’s varied and individually strong instrument and vocal sounds, Bleu also proves himself adept in modern dance beats and production. This is particularly noteworthy in his version of “Jingle Bells” which features an old Andrews Sisters vocal sample over a house beat.
Also worth mentioning is “The Twelve Days Of Christmas,” which features the majority of the record’s cameo appearances. Bleu has each singer interpret their “day” over music representing the band’s style and frequently uses the band name. The song is played as a bluesy rocker and stretches on too long, but such is its nature. There are a few lackluster cameos, but simply put, the song separated the singers from the vocalists. Holistically, it gets an A for effort. Personally, my choice for the hit on this record is the original “Snow Day.” An up-tempo pop song in the style of earlier Elvis Costello, it has a big hook and the added push of a chorus reinforced by a mob of kids screaming.
Bing Bang Holidang begins and ends with Bleu’s tribute to Bing Crosby, adding his own cleverly effected vocals over sampled big band music and electronic beats. Crossing genres throughout the record, Bleu proves himself an intelligent and well-rounded musician. All proceeds go to the Boston Institute for Arts Therapy, a local charity that provides therapy to mentally handicapped kids, abandoned children, teenage mothers, and others.                           (Danimal)

PAULA KELLEY & THE MISFIT TOYS


Why Christmas? (the longest day of the year)

3 tracks

Paula Kelley writes some of the slickest pop songs you’ll ever hear. On this adorable slice of holiday heaven, the honey voiced chanteuse offers up “Why Christmas (the longest day of the year),” an original Christmas song as sweet and addictive as candy kisses. This tribute to holiday insanity is worthy of any Phil Spector jewel as delivered by any ’60s girl group, and the message is as wonderfully Scrooge-ish as The Waitresses’ staple, “Christmas Wrapping.” On the chorus, Paula is joined by The Misfit Toys, a talented mob that includes Aaron Tap, Lisa McColgan, Corin Ashley, Linda Bean, and Ad Frank. Also check out the faithful rendition of “Blue Christmas,” and an unlisted bonus track: the Misfit Toys’ all-humming version of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” speckled with boozy-sounding flubs and giggles. It ends with Paula saying “Should we try to get it right or not?” and somebody yelling, “Shut up, what do you mean!?”  Pure fun!  (Lexi)

VARIOUS ARTISTS


Gulcher Records

Xmas Snertz – Have a Very Gulcher Christmas

16 tracks

This eclectic Christmas Sampler from Gulcher Records contains four songs of local interest.  Mach Bell (of Thundertrain and Joe Perry Project fame, and more recently of Mach V) contributes the very entertaining “C’mon Santa.”  Bell earns his surname by beating his cowbell throughout this track, and also adds some harmonica.  But it’s his voice that really puts this one over the top – a voice that conjures an image somewhere between the little boy on Santa’s lap and the lecherous old man trying to get little girls to sit in his lap.  Musically, the song is a one riff rip-off of Van Morrison’s “Gloria,” and Bell’s lyrical list of Christmas wishes is as much a tribute to ’50s and ’60s pop culture as it is to Christmas.  Kenne Highland & His Vatican Sex Kittens contribute the raunchy “Can I Please Crawl Down Your Chimney?”, in which we find Mr. Highland doing his finest Iggy Pop imitation.  Stanton Park Records mogul Aram Heller contributes a spine melting guitar solo, while Carl Biancucc and the rest of the Sex Kittens provide a gritty but solid foundation.  Highland also lends his vocal chords to The Korps, led by Ken Kaiser, who sings “The Blizzard of ’78” in a style that makes me think of Jonathan Richman hooking up with ShaNaNa.  Kaiser’s band, X-Ray Tango close out the collection with a surf-guitar instrumental version of “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”  Not necessarily guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit, this collection is a lot of fun in any event. (Brian Mosher)

VARIOUS ARTISTS


Q Division Records

Viva Noel—A Q Division Christmas

15 tracks

Q Division has built itself up as one of Boston’s best record labels and recording studios. A Q Division Christmas, a holiday collection assembled in 1999, was their first foray into the world of compilations. On the first track Jen Trynin gracefully tackles the old chestnut, “The Christmas Song” making it her own with a unique voice that adds a new edge to the song. With “2000 Miles,” Merrie Amsterburg accompanies her amazing vocals with mandolins that help create a dreamy soundscape to a song that was also done by The Pretenders. You can hear the longing in her voice when she sings, “The snow is falling down/ It’s colder day by day/ I miss you/ I can hear people singing/ It must be Christmas time.” By covering the Elvis staple, “Blue Christmas,” The Gentlemen have big balls but get credit for not attempting to copy the King’s version. Lead singer, Mike Gent does a sarcastic deadpan vocal take and even though he’s a bit plodding, he creates his own unique take on the song. Singer Brian Stevens (Cavedogs) brings good feelings on “The Christmas Waltz/ Tinsel (Medley),” with a waltzing melody that recalls a night of spiked eggnog and embarrassing dance moves. The Sheila Divine offer up a smooth version of “O Holy Night” that at times is boringly true to the standard with only a few instances of actually picking up a bit of steam. Local legend Aimee Mann performs the second version of “The Christmas Song” on the CD and manages not to create overkill. Ms. Mann’s version has a nice jazz feel to it. Creating a kooky edge to the CD, The Gravel Pit playfully cover “Marshmallow World,” a Phil Spector-era nugget with a great big kick and spin.  You’ll want to run down the street proclaiming the joys of Christmas, oh it is indeed a wonderful life!  The CD closes with The Gravy contributing easily the strangest addition with “Mele Kalikimaka.” Lead singer Todd Spahr goes into his alter ego Fatty Pineapple for an eccentric version of “The Hawaiian Christmas Song.” This would not be out of place on Dr. Demento’s radio show. On an honorable note, all proceeds from the sale of the CD are going to the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund. For more information on the fund go to www.morphine3.com. With great music and a good cause, it’s another quality release from Q Division Records and an important holiday addition to your CD collection.   (Simon Cantlon)

THE SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN


TaRio Records

“Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh” b/w “Merry Christmas, I Fucked Your Snowman”

2 tracks on red 7” vinyl

Since I recorded the songs  (“Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh” and “Merry Christmas, I Fucked Your Snowman”) at Straighjacket Sound Studios in Allston, I probably can’t do an unbiased “real review” of the record without going on and on about how great the engineer is (ME) and how FUN the band was to record. It was cut raw, live, and fast. Vocal crooner Ping Pong overdubbed sleigh bells (that lock-groove loop at the end of the record) after the guitar, bass, drums were laid down by band members: Cloherty, Victoria, and Chez Nips. Although most of the bands I recorded back then were way heavier and weirder, there was just something about the kooky pop punk of The Showcase Showdown that was lovable. The record was released in time for Christmas 1995 on 7-inch 45 rpm red vinyl record (TaRio Records). I am mostly a Scrooge, but whenever I see a snowman, I just grin and hum the chorus… “Merry Christmas, I fucked your snowman”—but since the actual verse lyrics are pretty tame, I suggest you add your own x-rated ones.  (Bill T Miller)

VARIOUS ARTISTS


Volunteer Records

Ho Ho Ho Spice

40 tracks on two CDs

Christmas compilations, especially those whose proceeds go to charity, tend to be spotty, at best: Lots of songs, only a few worth a first listen.  The Del Fuegos track “That Punchbowl Full of Joy,” is fun, but with the list of bands on this CD consisting of such worth while notables as the dB’s, Klark Kent, and NRBQ, I’m surprised Volunteer Records couldn’t find anyone aroud Boston more currently buzzworthy. But, then again, it is a Christmas compilation for a charitable cause. Some songs are cool, but most of them are forgettable throwaways. So if you like hospice care and dig the Del Fuegos, go for it.  (Joel Simches)

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