by S. Claus
Ho ho ho it's almost time to go! I've got my sleigh loaded, my reindeer well fed, and my playlist all set! Here's a peek at some of the tunes I'll be listening to as I make my rounds.
Holidays Rule - Various Artists - (Vinyl)
For the first time ever on vinyl (translucent red, no less!) here are 17 holiday songs that are for the most part very familiar, except that they are performed to modern arrangements by an eclectic group of performers. Highlights include a sublime take on "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten, Paul McCartney's take on the Mel Torme-associated "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)," an incredibly cool interpretation of "(Everybody's Waitin' For) The Man With the Bag" by Black Prairie featuring Sallie Ford and a take on King Henry VIII of England's "Green Grows the Holly" by the always inventive Calexico. Holly Golightly puts a delightful spin on "That's What I Want for Christmas," Irma Thomas with Preservation Hall Jazz Band bring some New Orleans strut to the special season with "May Every Day Be Christmas," Fruit Bats fly in with the classic "It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas" and Y La Bamba perform "Senor Santa (Mister Santa)." The Head and the Heart and Andrew Bird look beyond Christmas to the New Year, closing out this 2-LP set with "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" and "Auld Lang Syne" respectively. Also contributing are Punch Brothers, fun., the Shins, the Civil Wars, AgesandAges, Heartless Bastards and Eleanor Friedberger.f
Joss Stone - Merry Christmas, Love
Stone wrote two of the songs on this 16-cut collection and they are good ones; "If You Believe" which she performs with a backing choir and to percussion that could be by the little drummer boy himself, and "Bring on Christmas Day," an anticipation of a love-filled holiday with a joyous chorus meant to be sung along to. Beyond that Stone covers a sleigh full of classics, beginning with the spoken word of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and including a sprightly take on "Let it Snow," a bit of Motown Christmas with "That's What Christmas Means to Me," an interpretation of Irving Berlin's "Snow" that is nothing short of magical and perhaps the best cut on the record, a version of the gentle "In the Bleak Midwinter" that really showcases Stone's voice.
The Nelsons - A Nelson Family Christmas
This truly is a family affair as Gunnar and Matthew Nelson, the twin sons of the late rock star Ricky Nelson, honor their dad by including two songs on this compilation on which he handles lead vocals; "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" and an appropriately rocking take on "Jingle Bells." There are actually two other versions of "Jingle Bells" included; a cute big band version by (the twin's grandparents) Ozzie and Harriett Nelson with the Ozzie Nelson Orchestra and a hopped-up version by the brothers. The twins co-wrote one of the tunes here too, a Christmas love song called "This Christmas" that features the duo's childhood friends Carnie and Wendy Wilson, the daughters of Beach Boys main man Brian Wilson. Among the other cuts that the twins handle without guests are "Blue Christmas," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and the Hawaiian holiday favorite "Mele Kalikimaka."
Michela Musolino - La Notti Triunfanti
If you haven't heard of her you'll wonder why after checking out this set of Sicilian Christmas songs done with a Memphis flair. Some songs retain an entirely Italian feel like the charming "Canzuna Di Natale" that begins the album but there's fiddle and a country music vibe to "Diu Vi Manna L'Ambasciata," a truckload of Memphis twang and finger pickin' on "Ninna Nanna Di Sant'Anna Del '700" and an awesome mix of spaghetti western and psychedelic Memphis soul on "Nni La Notti Triunfanti." This recording makes for a nice respite from the holiday songs that you hear over and over and really you can play it and enjoy Musolino's endearing voice any time of year. All songs are sung in Italian.