Tag Archives: Christmas

Los Straitjackets: Complete Christmas Songbook

A brightly wrapped gift of guitar-driven Christmas classics

Yep Roc’s twenty-seven track anthology compiles all of the Christmas-related titles that Los Straitjackets have released across 2002’s Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets, 2009’s Yuletide Beat, 2011’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” single, and Yep Roc’s 2007 collection Oh Santa!, and adds a bonus live version of Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus & Lucy” recorded on the band’s 2015 tour with Nick Lowe. The playlist is dominated by ‘60s-styled guitar-driven instrumental versions of Christmas classics, often cleverly augmented by motifs borrowed from “La Bamba,” “Pipeline,” “Walk Don’t Run,” “Misirlou,” “I Fought the Law,” “Buckaroo,” “Sing, Sing, Sing” and other iconic tunes. There are playful Latin beats on  “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “O Tannenbaum,” Memphis soul on “Joy to the World” and power-pop on “Groovy Old Saint Nick.” The band’s three originals include two instrumentals, “Christmas in Las Vegas” and “Christmas Weekend,” and the album’s only vocal, “Holiday Twist.” This is a creative collection of Christmas tunes that will spruce up your holidays. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

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Various Artists – The Complete Christmas on the Ponderosa

A warm and inviting Christmas with the Cartwright clan

Originally released in 1963 just as television’s Bonanza was climbing to #1 in the Nielsen’s, Christmas on the Ponderosa was one of several commercial tie-ins that accompanied the show’s success. Released by RCA, the thirteen tracks feature the golden throats of Bonanza’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 clan’s caroling neighbors invited into the Ponderosa’s ranch house for a Christmas party. The music includes both traditional and new Christmas songs, and they’re held together by continuity that includes toasts, elegies, dramatic conversations and humorous dialog.

Pernell Roberts proved himself the family’s standout singer on his lone track,“The Newborn King.” 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 “Oh Fir Tree Dear” and the novelty “Santa Got Lost in Texas,” and though Dan Blocker gives it a go on “Deck the Halls,” his gifts are better applied to the recitation of “The First Christmas Tree.” 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, “Ringo.” In addition to the Christmas album’s thirteen tracks, this reissue adds the first-ever CD release of Lorne Greene’s 1965 seasonal album, Have a Happy Holiday, and both sides of his 1966 single “Must Be Santa” b/w “One Solitary Life.”

The Bonanza characters provided a surprisingly sturdy platform for acting, singing and merchandising. The Christmas album followed the cast’s initial 1962 foray into recording, Ponderosa Party Time, and was in turn followed by Lorne Greene’s 1964 album Welcome to the Ponderosa (both of which are included in Bear Family’s Bonanza box set). This Christmas collection includes remastered audio by Mike Piacentini at Sony’s Battery Studios, liner notes by The Second Disc’s Joe Marchese, and rare cast photos. Christmas on the Ponderosa’s sing-along party theme will add a celebratory spark to your own holiday gathering, and the addition of Lorne Greene’s follow-up album and single adds another gift under the tree. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

The Charlie Watts Riots: The Christmas Fit

CharlieWattsRiots_TheChristmasFitPower pop Christmas

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. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

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George Jones: The Complete United Artists Solo Singles


By the time that George Jones left Mercury and signed with United Artists in 1962 for his chart-topping “She Thinks I Still Care,” he’d been steadily minting hits since his 1955 debut, “Why Baby Why.” 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 – sixteen A’s and their flips – 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 “You Comb Her Hair” and “The Race is On,” but with so many singles over so many years, it’s easy to have lost track of superb A-sides like the rockabilly-tinged “Beacon in the Night,” the murder-suicide “Open Pit Mine,” the up-tempo “Your Heart Turned Left (And I Was on the Right)” and the fiddle-and-twang shuffle “What’s Money.”

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 “Big Fool of the Year,” “I Saw Me” and “My Tears are Overdue,” each one filled with Jones’ inimitable vocal style. A handful of the flipsides charted, and in the case of the folk-styled “Where Does a Little Tear Come From,” 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 Family’s complete United Artists box set, but these singles get to the catalog’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. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

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Various Artists: ‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah

Jews sing of both Hanukkah and Christmas

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, there’s the catchy “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,” but it’s more of a nursery rhyme than a hit single, and Adam Sandler’s “The Hanukkah Song” (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 don’t expect to be humming along to a Muzak™ version of Tom Lehrer’s “I’m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica” any time soon.

Even with the LeeVees’ 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 Society’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 set’s liner notes point out, American Jews celebrated Christmas “not because it was Christian, but because it was American.”

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, “Happy Hanukkah,” includes historical odes, folk songs (including Woody Guthrie’s “Hanukkah Dance”), traditional melodies, klezmer, cantorial standards, children’s songs, chorals and humor. The disc’s one hit is Don McLean’s “Dreidel,” 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 Berlin’s classic “White Christmas,” which author Phillip Roth characterized as subversively turning “Christmas into a holiday about snow.”

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 holiday’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. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

Vince Guaraldi Trio: A Charlie Brown Christmas

2012 remaster of a Christmas classic with two Thanksgiving bonuses

Vince Guaraldi’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, Guaraldi’s music provided an emotional soundtrack to which they moved and danced, fleshing out a whole new dimension of the characters’ 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 “Linus and Lucy,” “Skating” and “Christmas is Coming” were indelibly wed to their animated sequences. Like the television special, the soundtrack is a perennial. It’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 “O Tannenbaum” on the 2006 reissue is once again removed, the end of the instrumental “Christmas Time is Here” is once again faded, and the end of “Skating” once again fades before the bass solo. The bonus “Greensleeves,” which had been added to the original CD reissue is retained and augmented by two more bonuses: “Great Pumpkin Waltz” and “Thanksgiving Theme.” 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 Brown’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 it’s pushed forward to the point of harshness in spots), but what can’t be disputed is the beauty and lasting emotional resonance of Guaraldi’s music. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

Belles & Whistles

Mother-daughter vocal duo harmonize on country-tinged modern pop

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 “Harmless.” Jones’ 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 “River/White Christmas” to the bubblegum pop-rock “All I Need.” What ties them together are the elder Jones’ 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 mother’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 Petty’s AOR rock to Taylor Swift’s ‘tween anthems to Sarah Jarosz’s recent pop inflections. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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Arthur Lyman: Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas)

Vibraphone master gives holiday classics an exotica twist

Together with Martin Denny, vibraphonist Arthur Lyman defined the Hawaii-based instrumental style known as “exotica.” After recording the seminal Exotica album with Denny’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 Lyman’s exquisite mallet work on a dozen titles. In Lyman’s hands, these classic Christmas songs take on an island languor you’re unlikely to hear in others’ versions, but it’s not all drifting and dreaming, as Lyman’s combo turns up the tempo on a few stagey romps. If you’ve tired of the crooners and rockers, Lyman’s brand of Polynesian pop-jazz will provide you a sheltered cove for the holidays. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Buck Owens and Susan Raye: Merry Christmas from Buck Owens and Susan Raye

Bakersfield country legend sings original holiday fare

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 album’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 Raye’s solo cover of Gene Autry’s “Here Comes Santa Claus.” 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 you’ve played it to death, this is a good addition to the carousel. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]