If you're like me, you hear anything with sleigh bells prior to Christmas Eve and cringe. And jumping the gun before the pumpkins are done rotting isn't my only peeve. It's the same goddamn music over and over and over.
Not so long ago I used to dig Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song," Bobby Helms' "Jingle Bell Rock" and so on. But just like commercial rock radio ruined "Stairway To Heaven," everything commercial has wrecked Christmas music --- including the musicians. If I hear "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" one more time I'm gonna go on a spree. Ho ho ho.
But just in time this year comes a few new select Christmas records to perhaps pump some life into the true meaning of the holiday: Santa's birthday.
If you've only got the bread for one disc this season it's gotta be Blues, Blues Christmas (Document Records) a brilliant compilation of rare Christmas-tinged blues rarities from 1925 to 1955 like Bessie Smith's "At the Christmas Ball," Leroy Carr's "Christmas In Jail," and Big Joe Turner's "Christmas Date Boogie." This two-disc import was compiled by Rochester blues historian Jeff Harris (who wrote the extensive liner notes as well), co-host of "Bad Dog Blues" on WITR. This is a must-have for those who prefer their Christmas's blue instead of white.
And in keeping with the vintage compilation feel, trash auteur John Waters has put together (with a big smirk on his mug) A John Waters Christmas(New Line Records)full of no-hit wonders and slop 'n' sleaze weirdness like Rudolph & Gang's "Here Comes Fatty Clause," Tiny Tim's "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer," and Akim's "Santa Clause Is a Black Man." Put this one on when you have the folks over.
The Reverend Horton Heat puts his psychobilly cattle brand on We Three Kings, (Yep Roc Records)a revved-up collection of holiday classics and one Horton original. Perfect for big guitar fans and those who wanna hear the classics with a little octane in 'em.
And the hipster king of retro bang 'n' twang Brian Setzer, along with his orchestra, pulls Christmas album numero dos outta the sack with Dig That Crazy Christmas(Surfdog Records). The brassy muscle of the orchestra is rivaled only by Setzer's big, big guitar. Setzer croons and snarls his way through some smokin' originals, various standards ("Jingle Bell Rock," "Angels We Have Heard on High" complete with Latin chorale), off beat tunes ("You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch"), and way-cool hybrids ("Gettin' In The Mood for Christmas" where he chops and lowers the Glenn Miller classic for the season).
Philadelphia roots-rock bar band Marah's A Christmas Kind of Town (Yep Roc Records) plays out as if on an old radio show on XMAS. Christmas standards are mixed beautifully with the band's urban honky tonk. From the time you drop the needle 'til it crashes into the label, A Christmas Kind Of Town sounds like a party.
And let's not forget the ladies. Jane Monheit and Diana Krall both have new Christmas platters to pass.
Krall's Christmas Songs(Verve)has her sounding the most animated I've ever heard her. Often I haven't been able to tell if she's just being really cool or is really bored. This time out she bops and swings and I swear you can hear her smiling as The Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra swings beneath her.
Equally stunning but a little more jazzy in her approach is Jane Monheit and her new The Season(Sony). Monheit chooses tunes less traveled like "The Man With The Bag" --- which positively jumps --- and more comfortable cuts like "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."
You know what? I think I'm gonna do just that.