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Crazy for Christ­mas (Surf­dog)

Old smoothie Dan Hicks has been mak­ing Christ­mas mu­sic for decades. He’s part of the San Fran­cisco-based Christ­mas Jug Band, whose song “Some­body Stole My Santa Claus Suit” ap­peared on Rhino Records’ won­der­ful Bummed Out

Christ­mas! com­pi­la­tion CD in 1989. He re-recorded that one, a reimag­in­ing of “Some­body Stole My Gal,” for this al­bum, though Jug fans will prob­a­bly pre­fer the orig­i­nal. Long­time Hicks fans will have a flash of fa­mil­iar­ity when they hear the first song, “Christ­mas Mornin’.” It doesn’t be­come ob­vi­ous un­til he starts singing, but it’s a funny re­write of an al­ready funny Hicks stan­dard, “Where’s the Money?” Old songs are re­fash­ioned for the hol­i­days: Louis Jor­dan’s hit “Choo Choo Ch’ Boo­gie” be­comes “Santa Gotta Choo Choo,” while the jug band chest­nut “Bee­dle Um Bum” — a song Hicks per­forms in con­cert — mag­i­cally trans­forms into “Santa’s Work­shop,” a story of an elf named McGerkin. And there are cov­ers of Christ­mas clas­sics — “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “I Saw Mommy Kissin’ Santa Claus,” Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Ru­dolph” — done in the acous­tic swing­ing Hot Licks style. My fa­vorites of th­ese are “Carol of the Bells” sung scat style by Hicks and his Lick­ettes (the ka­zoos sound pretty snazzy) and “Cool Yule,” a song writ­ten by Steve Allen and made fa­mous by Louis Arm­strong. Hicks makes Yule sound cooler than ever. — Steve Ter­rell

VAr­I­OuS ArTISTS The Christ­mas

Gig (Tar­get Corp.)

Al­ways ea­ger to safe­guard its cul­tural niche as the Wal-Mart for hip­sters, the Tar­get Cor­po­ra­tion re­leased this free al­bum down­load of hol­i­day mu­sic by a ros­ter of buzz-heavy in­die rock bands and throw­back retro Amer­i­cana re­vival­ists. The stand­out here is “Got Some­thing for You,” a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Best Coast and Wavves, two bands that have pi­o­neered the Cop­per­tone-slathered, beach-vibe, chill­wave genre that’s in heavy ro­ta­tion on col­lege ra­dio. “Elec­tronic Santa” is a tongue-in-cheek elec­tro dance num­ber from Blazer Force, a stage name used by Bret McKen­zie from HBO’s mu­sic-in­dus­try spoof Flight of the Con­chords. Tar­get even has its “alt-Latino” base cov­ered with “Un Regálo Para Mí,” a de­light­ful elec­tro-pop con­coc­tion by Ti­juana artist Ceci Bastida. In­die hip-hop is rep­re­sented by Black­a­li­cious and “Toy Jack­pot,” a rap ode to tear­ing up the wrap­ping on Christ­mas-day presents, which fea­tures the rous­ing cho­rus, “I’m gonna get it/I know I’m gonna get it.” Lit­tle Jackie does her best Amy Wine­house im­per­son­ation on “Mrs. Claus Ain’t Got Nothin’ on Me,” a great lit­tle ditty of old-school R&B and doo-wop. The clos­est to any­thing with a tra­di­tional sound here is “Party Hard” a stomp­ing blues num­ber by Lit­tle Isi­dore about Christ­mas drink­ing blowouts. It’s not “Silent Night,” but its gui­tar licks and sax­o­phone wails call to mind Brenda Lee’s rock­a­billy clas­sic “Rockin’ Around the Christ­mas Tree.” — Casey Sanchez

THE PrIESTS Noel (rCA Vic­tor/Sony)

When Bill­board mag­a­zine re­leased its 2009 sales statis­tics, mu­sic lovers were doubt­less sur­prised to see that the cat­e­gory of “Tra­di­tional Clas­si­cal Al­bums” was headed by The Priests, whose self-ti­tled de­but CD bested al­bums by Lu­ciano Pavarotti, Plá­cido Domingo, Lang Lang, and other com­mer­cially tri­umphant en­trepreneurs. The Priests con­sists of three priests from North­ern Ire­land — Rev. Eu­gene and Rev. Martin O’Ha­gan, who are broth­ers, and Rev. David De­largy — and they sing church mu­sic of a light and pleas­ant sort, oc­ca­sional bits of which are in­deed ar­ranged from clas­si­cal com­po­si­tions. Now they’re on their third al­bum, Noel, which, like their ear­lier re­leases, projects a whole­some re­spectabil­ity that some lis­ten­ers may find com­fort­ing in its very or­di­nar­i­ness. All three have per­fectly nice voices, although one might not have imag­ined that they would qual­ify for pro­fes­sional ca­reers in what Bill­board has de­fined as a clas­si­cal do­main. If you’re look­ing for a se­lec­tion of fa­mil­iar Christ­mas songs sung ami­ably if with no par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter, with adept choral and in­stru­men­tal backup, this should do the trick. It won’t dis­tract you much from what you’re do­ing as the mu­sic me­an­ders in the back­ground. The rock (folk-punk-Celtic) star Shane MacGowan of The Pogues vis­its to snarl his way through a clos­ing “Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy/Peace on Earth,” which at least pro­vides some brac­ing con­trast to the mel­liflu­ous cler­ics. — James M. Keller

IN­DIgO gIrLS Holly Happy Days (Van­guard)

Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, known as the In­digo Girls since 1985, of­fer their 15th full-length al­bum of new ma­te­rial in Holly Happy Days. The chanteuses are aided by Luke Bulla on fid­dle and man­dolin; Jim Brock, per­cus­sion; Vik­tor Krauss, bass; and Carol Isaacs on ac­cor­dion, glock­en­spiel, har­mo­nium, and piano. The opener, “I Feel the Christ­mas Spirit,” has a solid blue­grass feel­ing, with banjo by guest Ali­son Brown and guest vo­cals by Brandi Carlile. “It Re­ally Is (A Won­der­ful Life)” is warm and bright, with those great Saliers-Ray har­monies, which also ring sweetly on “O Holy Night” and “Peace Child.” The Saliers orig­i­nal “Your Hol­i­day Song” is the first real high­light, an open-feel beauty also fea­tur­ing the tal­ents of Brown on wood banjo; Lloyd Maines on pedal steel and do­bro; and Brock on per­cus­sion and fin­ger cym­bals. On the 1940s song “I’ll Be Home for Christ­mas,” Julie Wolf joins the lead­ers for some gor­geous three-part har­mony. Ray’s com­po­si­tion “Mistle­toe” is spare, melan­cholic, and lovely. Her se­cond con­tri­bu­tion is a blue­grass-grooved foot tap­per called “The Won­der Song.” The en­thu­si­asm’s also high for Woody Guthrie’s “Happy Joy­ous Hanukkah,” with guest backup singers Ja­nis Ian and Mary Gau­thier. The Indi­gos chime out with the hymn “An­gels We Have Heard on High” and Beth Nielsen Chap­man’s sim­ple paean “There’s Still My Joy.” Al­to­gether a good trip. — Paul Wei­de­man

Stile An­tico Puer Na­tus Est: Tu­dor Mu­sic for Advent & Christ­mas

(Har­mo­nia Mundi)

Choral master­works by Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, the tow­er­ing mu­si­cal fig­ures of Tu­dor Eng­land, in­ter­lace in this el­e­gantly sung of­fer­ing from the Bri­tish vo­cal cham­ber en­sem­ble Stile An­tico. Tallis was the ear­lier of the two, en­rich­ing sa­cred mu­sic from the reign of Henry VIII through that of El­iz­a­beth I. As a now-dis­ap­peared me­mo­rial plaque put it: “He serv’d long time in chap­pel with grete prayse/Fower sovereygnes reygnes (a thing not of­ten seen); /I meane kyng Hen­rie and Prince Ed­warde’s dayes,/Quene Marie, and El­iz­a­beth oure Quene.” The three ex­tant move­ments of his in­tri­cate, seven-voiced Puer Na­tus Est Mass, per­haps un­veiled jointly in 1554 by the court mu­si­cians of Eng­land and Spain, stand as mon­u­men­tal pil­lars in this recital, which also in­cludes sea­sonal motets by sev­eral of his con­tem­po­raries. Chief among them is William Byrd, prob­a­bly Tallis’ pupil and later his friend and busi­ness part­ner; here Byrd’s works main­tain the con­tem­pla­tive stance set up by Tallis’ Mass while con­vey­ing a sen­sual ap­peal that con­trasts nicely with his teacher’s some­times stony grandeur. The con­duc­tor­less en­sem­ble per­forms with pre­cise pu­rity, also achiev­ing im­pres­sive breadth in the long lines of first-tier works by the se­cond-tier Tu­dors Robert White and John Shep­pard, works that achieve the hov­er­ing, cos­mic qual­ity that is a hall­mark of Tu­dor sa­cred mu­sic. — James M. Keller

tHe SUPeRionS Des­ti­na­tion …

Christ­mas! (Fa­natic Records)

If you miss The B-52s singer Fred Sch­nei­der’s inim­itable half-spo­ken vo­cals and quirky lyrics, and if you’re tired of tra­di­tional hol­i­day mu­sic, The Superions aim to please. Sch­nei­der formed this side project with Or­lando, Florida, mu­si­cians Noah Brodie and Dan Mar­shall in 2006 un­der the name The Del Mo­rons, and the trio changed its name to The Superions in 2008.

Des­ti­na­tion … Christ­mas! opens with “Santa’s Disco,” an overly repet­i­tive boo­gie track lead­ing off with eerie synths that sound too much like the open­ing of The B-52s’ track “Quiche Lor­raine” to be a co­in­ci­dence. Things im­prove with the bouncy, Dev­olean­ing “Fruit­cake,” to which Sch­nei­der ap­plies mul­ti­ple mean­ings: “If it hit’cha in the head … It could kill ya dead … Hey fruit­cake! … Don’t call me fruit­cake!” Dig­i­tal Afro-Cuban per­cus­sion trans­forms “Christ­mas Conga (Jun­gle Bells)” into the al­bum’s most car­toon­ish Sch­nei­der-ism (think “Ge­orge of the Jun­gle” per­formed on hal­lu­cino­gens), but the mu­sic again sounds too fa­mil­iar. It’s ei­ther a strong homage to, or to­tal rip-off of, iconic drag per­former Di­vine’s 1982 song “Jun­gle Jezebel.” The al­bum closes with “Santa Je T’aime,” a com­i­cal trib­ute to Serge Gains­bourg’s 1967 song “Je T’aime … Moi Non Plus,” which was banned in some coun­tries for its bla­tant eroti­cism. Des­ti­na­tion

… Christ­mas! is hardly a col­lec­tion of orig­i­nal mu­sic, but Sch­nei­der’s twisted take on the hol­i­days cer­tainly is. If you see some­one dump­ing ex­tra brandy into the eggnog, it’s proof that this al­bum has found a happy home. — Rob DeWalt

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