Yep Rocâ€™s twenty-seven track anthology compiles all of the Christmas-related titles that Los Straitjackets have released across 2002â€™s Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets, 2009â€™s Yuletide Beat, 2011â€™s â€œHark the Herald Angels Singâ€ single, and Yep Rocâ€™s 2007 collection Oh Santa!, and adds a bonus live version of Vince Guaraldiâ€™s â€œLinus & Lucyâ€ recorded on the bandâ€™s 2015 tour with Nick Lowe. The playlist is dominated by â€˜60s-styled guitar-driven instrumental versions of Christmas classics, often cleverly augmented by motifs borrowed from â€œLa Bamba,â€ â€œPipeline,â€ â€œWalk Donâ€™t Run,â€ â€œMisirlou,â€ â€œI Fought the Law,â€ â€œBuckaroo,â€ â€œSing, Sing, Singâ€ and other iconic tunes. There are playful Latin beats onÂ â€œRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeerâ€ and â€œO Tannenbaum,â€ Memphis soul on â€œJoy to the Worldâ€ and power-pop on â€œGroovy Old Saint Nick.â€ The bandâ€™s three originals include two instrumentals, â€œChristmas in Las Vegasâ€ and â€œChristmas Weekend,â€ and the albumâ€™s only vocal, â€œHoliday Twist.â€ This is a creative collection of Christmas tunes that will spruce up your holidays. [Â©2019 Hyperbolium]
Originally released in 1963 just as televisionâ€™s Bonanza was climbing to #1 in the Nielsenâ€™s, Christmas on the Ponderosa was one of several commercial tie-ins that accompanied the showâ€™s success. Released by RCA, the thirteen tracks feature the golden throats of Bonanzaâ€™s four stars – Dan Blocker, Lorne Greene, Michael Landon and Pernell Roberts – performing in character, along with the backing vocals of the Ken Darby Singers. The album is structured as a story, with the Cartwright clanâ€™s caroling neighbors invited into the Ponderosaâ€™s ranch house for a Christmas party. The music includes both traditional and new Christmas songs, and theyâ€™re held together by continuity that includes toasts, elegies, dramatic conversations and humorous dialog.
Pernell Roberts proved himself the familyâ€™s standout singer on his lone track,â€œThe Newborn King.â€ His solo album, Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies, was also released by RCA the same year, and here he sings in a similar folk style. Michael Landon is appealing on â€œOh Fir Tree Dearâ€ and the novelty â€œSanta Got Lost in Texas,â€ and though Dan Blocker gives it a go on â€œDeck the Halls,â€ his gifts are better applied to the recitation of â€œThe First Christmas Tree.â€ Lorne Greene uses his sonorous voice to conjure both gravitas and humor in his performances, as he would later employ on the chart-topping single, â€œRingo.â€ In addition to the Christmas albumâ€™s thirteen tracks, this reissue adds the first-ever CD release of Lorne Greeneâ€™s 1965 seasonal album, Have a Happy Holiday, and both sides of his 1966 single â€œMust Be Santaâ€ b/w â€œOne Solitary Life.â€
The Bonanza characters provided a surprisingly sturdy platform for acting, singing and merchandising. The Christmas album followed the castâ€™s initial 1962 foray into recording, Ponderosa Party Time, and was in turn followed by Lorne Greeneâ€™s 1964 album Welcome to the Ponderosa (both of which are included in Bear Familyâ€™s Bonanza box set). This Christmas collection includes remastered audio by Mike Piacentini at Sonyâ€™s Battery Studios, liner notes by The Second Discâ€™s Joe Marchese, and rare cast photos. Christmas on the Ponderosaâ€™s sing-along party theme will add a celebratory spark to your own holiday gathering, and the addition of Lorne Greeneâ€™s follow-up album and single adds another gift under the tree. [Â©2018 Hyperbolium]
With so many great Christmas songs covered and recovered ad infinitum, this Albany, New York power pop trio was compelled to write their own. Cleverly, the song expresses their inability to find a cover they can call their own. As on their recent full-length release, A Break in the Weather, the band’s guitar, bass and drums recall the power pop hey-day of the early ’90s, giving this song a rock ‘n’ roll kick that will perk up your holiday playlist. [Â©2013 Hyperbolium]
By the time that George Jones left Mercury and signed with United Artists in 1962 for his chart-topping â€œShe Thinks I Still Care,â€ heâ€™d been steadily minting hits since his 1955 debut, â€œWhy Baby Why.â€ His two-and-a-half year run on UA produced sixteen singles, which the label managed to stretch over nearly five years of releases. All thirty-two sides â€“ sixteen Aâ€™s and their flips â€“ are included here in their original mono. Jones continued to be a steady hit maker (sometimes charting both sides of a single), but he also had his share of misses and obscure B-sides. This set includes favorites like â€œYou Comb Her Hairâ€ and â€œThe Race is On,â€ but with so many singles over so many years, itâ€™s easy to have lost track of superb A-sides like the rockabilly-tinged â€œBeacon in the Night,â€ the murder-suicide â€œOpen Pit Mine,â€ the up-tempo â€œYour Heart Turned Left (And I Was on the Right)â€ and the fiddle-and-twang shuffle â€œWhatâ€™s Money.â€
During these years, Jones and his producers tried a lot of things to see what would stick, recording honky-tonk, weepers, Westerns, gospel, Christmas songs and novelties, and they gave each one their all. The set features many fine B-sides, including the too-late realizations and broken hearts of â€œBig Fool of the Year,â€ â€œI Saw Meâ€ and â€œMy Tears are Overdue,â€ each one filled with Jonesâ€™ inimitable vocal style. A handful of the flipsides charted, and in the case of the folk-styled â€œWhere Does a Little Tear Come From,â€ outperformed its plug-side. In addition to the solo work collected here, Jones also recorded memorable duets with Melba Montgomery. A full accounting of this work can be found on Bear Familyâ€™s complete United Artists box set, but these singles get to the catalogâ€™s heart, and the inclusion of lesser-known B-sides is a rare treat. The sixteen-page booklet includes photos, ephemera, chart and studio data, and liner note by Holly George-Warren. [Â©2013 Hyperbolium]
A musical battle between Hanukkah and Christmas is really no battle at all. As the popularity of recorded music grew through the twentieth century, so did the Christian-to-Jew population advantage. A 50:1 advantage in 1900 grew to a 150:1 advantage by 2000, and magnified by Western commercialization of Christmas, its celebrants produced an unparalleled abundance of popular holiday music. Hanukkah, in contrast, mostly made good with candles, dreidels, latkes and music that bore more resemblance to traditional Jewish melodies than the top of the pops. Sure, thereâ€™s the catchy â€œDreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,â€ but itâ€™s more of a nursery rhyme than a hit single, and Adam Sandlerâ€™s â€œThe Hanukkah Songâ€ (covered by both Neil Diamond and the hardcore rockers Yidcore) was a heartfelt, but ultimately self-conscious response to the dearth of Hanukkah songs. Beck, They Might Be Giants and Ben Kweller, to name a few, have given it a shot, but donâ€™t expect to be humming along to a Muzakâ„¢ version of Tom Lehrerâ€™s â€œIâ€™m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monicaâ€ any time soon.
Even with the LeeVeesâ€™ Hanukkah Rocks on the shelves, Hanukkah fights the musical battle with both arms tied behind its back. If Christmas is the Beatles, Hanukkah is at best a lounge band covering the Four Seasons (cf: The International Battle of the Century). The relentless repetition of Top 40 hits, on the radio and in stores, has made dozens of Christmas songs icons of the season. And in keeping with the secularization of Christmas as aU.S. celebration, many of the best-loved Christmas songs were written or sung by Jews. The Idelsohn Societyâ€™s two-disc set traces the transformation of Christmas from a religious holiday to a popular bonanza, and further emphasizes the second-banana position into which the relatively minor holiday of Hanukkah was pressed. The songs on disc two demonstrate how Christmas cut across cultural lines to become as much a secular seasonal feeling as a religious celebration. As the setâ€™s liner notes point out, American Jews celebrated Christmas â€œnot because it was Christian, but because it was American.â€
At the same time, the designation of Christmas as a national holiday in 1870 set off a desire among some Jews for Hanukkah parity. And though Hanukkah songs were written and revived, none ever reached true popular acclaim. Disc one, â€œHappy Hanukkah,â€ includes historical odes, folk songs (including Woody Guthrieâ€™s â€œHanukkah Danceâ€), traditional melodies, klezmer, cantorial standards, childrenâ€™s songs, chorals and humor. The discâ€™s one hit is Don McLeanâ€™s â€œDreidel,â€ which just missed the Top 20 in 1972, and is really only Hanukkah-themed in its title. Disc two is filled with popularly familiar artists (The Ramones, Bob Dylan, Benny Goodman, Sammy Davis Jr., Herb Alpert, Mel Torme), all of whom are Jewish. The song list features many perennials, including Irving Berlinâ€™s classic â€œWhite Christmas,â€ which author Phillip Roth characterized as subversively turning â€œChristmas into a holiday about snow.â€
The two discs and accompanying 36-page booklet are entertaining and thought-provoking. The story of Jewish assimilation into American society is perhaps nowhere more evident than the secularized national celebration of Christmas, and the failed (and perhaps misguided) attempt to bring Hanukkah to parity. Christmas iconography – Santa, reindeer, snow, trees, candy canes, decorations, lights and brightly wrapped presents – are generally more visible than Christian religious symbols, and the holidayâ€™s musical hits, even when referencing historical places and people, have more often taken a general celebratory tone than one of liturgy or dogma. Jews may sing a Hanukkah song or two by the menorah, but the soundtrack to most holiday gatherings, office parties and shopping – for Jews and Gentiles alike – is filled with Christmas music. [Â©2012 Hyperbolium]
Vince Guaraldiâ€™s soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas did as much to define the Peanuts gang as it did to capture what Charles Schulz wrote in his strip. In the same way that the television special literally animated the characters, Guaraldiâ€™s music provided an emotional soundtrack to which they moved and danced, fleshing out a whole new dimension of the charactersâ€™ personalities. Every song on the soundtrack, even the traditional tunes adapted by Guaraldi, quickly become sense memories of the special, and a few, such as â€œLinus and Lucy,â€ â€œSkatingâ€ and â€œChristmas is Comingâ€ were indelibly wed to their animated sequences. Like the television special, the soundtrack is a perennial. Itâ€™s been reissued on CD twice before, initially in 1988, and as recently as 2006, the latter being the subject of mastering mistakes, changes from the original album and much heated discussion.
The 2012 edition features a new re-master by Joe Tarantino that returns to original stereo album master, including its mix and edits. The piano arpeggio that opened â€œO Tannenbaumâ€ on the 2006 reissue is once again removed, the end of the instrumental â€œChristmas Time is Hereâ€ is once again faded, and the end of â€œSkatingâ€ once again fades before the bass solo. The bonus â€œGreensleeves,â€ which had been added to the original CD reissue is retained and augmented by two more bonuses: â€œGreat Pumpkin Waltzâ€ and â€œThanksgiving Theme.â€ These latter two seem to have been drawn from the mono television soundtrack, rather than master tapes, sounding the same as they do on Charlie Brownâ€™s Holiday Hits. Unfortunately, the 2012 release drops the alternate takes that appeared on the 2006 edition, despite there being room left at the end of this forty-five minute CD. Audiophiles can argue the merits of each remaster (the piano here feels as if itâ€™s pushed forward to the point of harshness in spots), but what canâ€™t be disputed is the beauty and lasting emotional resonance of Guaraldiâ€™s music. [Â©2012 Hyperbolium]
Singer-songwriter Jaymie Jones is known as part of the sister harmony pop act Mulberry Lane. Signed to Refuge/MCA, they released a trio of albums and charted with the original song â€œHarmless.â€ Jonesâ€™ latest project is another family affair, but this time as a duo with her 14-year-old daughter Kelli. Produced by Don Gehman, and backed by top Los Angeles session players (including the rock solid drumming of Kenny Aronoff), the songs range from the twangy â€œRiver/White Christmasâ€ to the bubblegum pop-rock â€œAll I Need.â€ What ties them together are the elder Jonesâ€™ way with an ear-catching melody and the tight family harmony. Instead of sounding preternaturally mature, the younger Jones retains the tone of a teenager delighted to be singing, and her spiritedness blends perfectly with her motherâ€™s voice and songs. The production is likely too mainstream-modern for the roots crowd, but this is worth a spin for anyone who favors sharply crafted radio pop that range from the Everly Brothers’ tight harmonies to Tom Pettyâ€™s AOR rock to Taylor Swiftâ€™s â€˜tween anthems to Sarah Jarosz’s recent pop inflections. [Â©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
An excellent cover of Brenda Lee’s “Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day” by Wye Oak, live in The Onion’s A.V. Club studio.
Sorry for the short commercial in front of the music; that’s how The Onion helps pay the bills.
Together with Martin Denny, vibraphonist Arthur Lyman defined the Hawaii-based instrumental style known as â€œexotica.â€ After recording the seminal Exotica album with Dennyâ€™s combo, Lyman struck out on his own, recording numerous jazz-flavored exotica albums for the Hi-Fi and Life labels, including the classic Taboo in 1958. This holiday entry was originally released in 1964, and features Lymanâ€™s exquisite mallet work on a dozen titles. In Lymanâ€™s hands, these classic Christmas songs take on an island languor youâ€™re unlikely to hear in othersâ€™ versions, but itâ€™s not all drifting and dreaming, as Lymanâ€™s combo turns up the tempo on a few stagey romps. If youâ€™ve tired of the crooners and rockers, Lymanâ€™s brand of Polynesian pop-jazz will provide you a sheltered cove for the holidays. [Â©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
Buck Owens was no stranger to holiday recordings, having released Christmas with Buck Owens and his Buckaroos in 1965 and Christmas Shopping in 1968. By the time of this albumâ€™s release in 1971, Owens was recording duets with Susan Raye, and riding the tail of their first three hits, this holiday album was released. Ten of the eleven tracks are originals, capped by Rayeâ€™s solo cover of Gene Autryâ€™s â€œHere Comes Santa Claus.â€ The songs favor idealistic Norman Rockwell-styled holiday scenes, but there are a few mournful lyrics of missing fathers, absent lovers and tough economic times. Raye sings lower harmonies than Owens or Don Rich, making these duets satisfyingly distinct from earlier recordings of these titles with the Buckaroos. Fans should start their Buck Owens holiday collection with Christmas with Buck Owens, but when youâ€™ve played it to death, this is a good addition to the carousel. [Â©2011 hyperbolium dot com]