MU­SIC

The Georgia Straight - - Contents -

The most won­der­ful time of the year must be here, be­cause the Christ­mas al­bums have ar­rived. By Mike Usinger and John Lu­cas

We’ve got a pretty good idea what you’re think­ing: Novem­ber hasn’t even rolled up its rain-soaked car­pet yet, which means it’s too early for Christ­mas.

Wrong. As Cana­dian Tire shop­pers know, the fake Scots pine and Dou­glas fir trees are typ­i­cally rolled out be­fore the Hal­loween dec­o­ra­tions have been re­moved from the shelves. And ex­plain­ing why half the Straight’s staff cur­rently looks like the Stay Puft Marsh­mal­low Man with bad beer bloat, Avalon Dairy eggnog has been on the shelves of finer lo­cal gro­cery stores since early Oc­to­ber.

So, sorry—as sure as The Grinch is now play­ing at the lo­cal mul­ti­plex— it’s now the most won­der­ful time of year. To get you through the glo­ri­ous weeks ahead, we’ve rounded up a se­lec­tion of this year’s Christ­mas al­bums and then as­signed each of them one of three handy-dandy rat­ings. The crap gets a sad Char­lie Brown tree, the mid­dling of­fer­ings get func­tional but not ter­ri­bly ex­cit­ing tighty-whitey un­der­wear, and the gold-stan­dard tri­umphs are granted a shiny present.

Happy hol­i­days. And our deep­est con­do­lences for the fact that you’ve had to lis­ten to Tay­lor Swift’s “Last Christ­mas” in drug­stores and su­per­mar­kets since the mid­dle of Au­gust. DIANA ROSS Won­der­ful Christ­mas Time

(Uni­ver­sal)

Full of lush or­ches­tral ar­range­ments and cho­ral back­ing vo­cals, this is as thor­oughly old-fash­ioned a Christ­mas al­bum as you’re likely to hear this year. And that’s hardly sur­pris­ing; the record is al­most a quar­ter­century old. So how come you’ve never heard of it? Maybe be­cause it was ini­tially re­leased, with a dif­fer­ent track se­quence and un­der an­other ti­tle, to the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. This isn’t an old-school Mo­town record—if you want girl-group vibes, go to the Supremes’ 1965 LP Merry Christ­mas—but an oddly ethe­real one. An ex­cep­tion is Ross’s cover of John Len­non and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, which gains a mea­sure of melo­dra­matic solem­nity from a mar­tial beat and chil­dren’s choir. John Lu­cas INGRID MICHAEL­SON Ingrid Michael­son’s Songs for the Sea­son (In­de­pen­dent)

Clearly some­one who thinks ahead, Ingrid Michael­son is care­ful to avoid dis­ap­point­ing folks here by stat­ing that her 12-song en­try into the Christ­mas-al­bum sweep­stakes con­sists of her songs for the sea­son. If you’re look­ing for new ren­di­tions of per­sonal faves like “Here Comes Fatty Claus” or “Fuck Christ­mas”, go else­where. Those who ap­pre­ci­ate im­mac­u­lately retro ren­di­tions of chest­nuts like “Looks Like a Cold, Cold Win­ter” and “I’ll Be Home For Christ­mas”, mean­while, will find lots to love on this in­stant clas­sic. Michael­son has a thing for Cine­mas­cope strings and brash clas­sic-jazz horns, and she sings like an emis­sary from a time when three-mar­tini lunches were a thing and ev­ery home had an art deco ash­tray. In­vest in a Usb–mod­i­fied vin­tage ra­dio, whip up a pitcher of old fash­ioneds, and you’ve got the mak­ings of a throw­back Christ­mas that would im­press Frank Capra. Mike Usinger

ERIC CLAPTON

Happy Xmas (EPC En­ter­prises)

If the thought of an Eric Clapton Christ­mas al­bum jin­gles your bells, with all the slick blues-rock gui­tar and easy-lis­ten­ing ar­range­ments it

in­evitably en­tails, you’re prob­a­bly some­body’s grandpa. And that’s okay, be­cause so is Clapton. Old white guys rep­re­sent a se­ri­ously un­der­served seg­ment of the hol­i­day­mu­sic mar­ket, so thank the suck­ling in­fant Christ we have Happy Xmas to set things right. It sounds ex­actly how you would ex­pect it to. Does it fea­ture Clapton pals like Jim Kelt­ner and Doyle Bramhall II? Yes. Yes, it does. Does it in­clude pen­ta­ton­ic­scale so­los that will make your dad climb up on the Christ­mas din­ner ta­ble and shred away at an in­vis­i­ble Stra­to­caster? Uh-huh. Does it fea­ture Clapton’s take on “Merry Christ­mas Baby”? Oh, you bet your sweet Dock­ers-wear­ing ass it does. JL JD MCPHER­SON

Socks (New West)

Rather than take a bunch of al­ready over­roasted chest­nuts and slather them in six coats of circa-now pro­duc­tion, JD Mcpher­son has done the op­po­site. On the end­lessly de­light­ful Socks, the Ok­la­homa-based singer-guitarist and band­leader has crafted 10 brand-new songs that sound like lost B-sides from an­other era—specif­i­cally, the late 1940s to mid-1950s. “What’s That Sound?” is toe-tap­ping rock­a­billy, “Hey Skinny Santa!” is a jump-blues joint that swings hard enough to wake up the Ghost of Christ­mas Past (or pos­si­bly Louis Jor­dan), and “Santa’s Got a Mean Ma­chine” is what folks used to call rock ’n’ roll when the likes of Fats Domino still walked the earth. Slip a few of these songs onto your retro-xmas playlist along­side cuts by the Moon­glows and Ma­bel Scott and you might even be able to sneak them past that cousin who is con­vinced that mu­sic died the day Buddy Holly stepped aboard an ill-fated Beechcraft Bo­nanza. JL THE MAV­ER­ICKS Hey! Merry Christ­mas!

(Mono Mundo)

For a band that started out in the Florida punk scene—some­times play­ing bills with a young Mar­i­lyn Man­son—the Mav­er­icks as main­stream Amer­ica knows them don’t have a lot of bite. Blame a move to Nashville, a city where you ei­ther play by the slick and safe rules of modern coun­try or end up squat­ting in a coal-heated shack three trailers down from Hank Wil­liams III. The first half of Hey! Merry Christ­mas! weirdly sounds like the Mav­er­icks are tak­ing their mu­si­cal cues from leg­endary bar­ber­shopquar­tet re­vi­sion­ists 5 Neat Guys—the down­side be­ing there’s noth­ing as fun as “Patsy Has the Largest Breasts in Town”. Things at least pick up on the back end, with the bluesy ti­tle track rol­lick­ing enough to crack open that jug of moon­shine you’ve squir­relled away since 2001, and “Christ­mas (Baby Please Come Home)” the kind of love let­ter Phil Spec­tor might have con­cocted if he was spend­ing his days in ’60s Mo­town in­stead of a circa-now Cal­i­for­nia state prison. MU THOR Christ­mas in Val­halla (Dead­line Mu­sic) Not­with­stand­ing its ti­tle—to say noth­ing of the heroic cover art by Welsh comic-book artist Si­mon Wil­liams—christ­mas in Val­halla has next to noth­ing to do with Norse mythol­ogy. Well, okay, it does make a sort of sense for the lo­cal rocker who named him­self af­ter the god of thun­der and light­ning to sing an ode to “Don­ner and Bl­itzen”. Oh, and “Our Last Christ­mas” and “If To­mor­row Never Comes” may or may not be about Rag­narök (a.k.a. the Vik­ing apoc­a­lypse). Prob­a­bly not. In any case, it’s kind of fun to imag­ine Santa Claus as an Odi­nesque fig­ure, white beard flow­ing in the night sky as he flies his mighty eight-legged steed Sleip­nir (who needs rein­deer?) to the rooftops of chil­dren ev­ery­where, leav­ing salted fish and dried lin­gonber­ries in the stock­ings of all the good kids while Christ­mas in Val­halla blasts away in the back­ground. JL

VAR­I­OUS ARTISTS

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Sound­track (Columbia) Tra­di­tion­al­ists will be pre­dis­posed to hate The Grinch, pri­mar­ily be­cause there’s only one ver­sion of the Dr. Seuss clas­sic that mat­ters. (Cor­rect, if you guessed the 2000 one star­ring Jim Car­rey, who mas­ter­fully showed why the Onion once crowned him Amer­ica’s favourite rub­ber-faced fart­smith.) In the trailer and on the movie posters, the most fa­mous fuzzy green mis­an­thrope this side of Os­car the Grouch looks just a lit­tle too cute. As for the sound­track, you’ve al­ready heard half of it, from RUN-DMC’S es­sen­tial “Christ­mas in Hol­lis” to Jackie Wil­son’s time­less “Deck the Halls”. The smat­ter­ing of new ma­te­rial in­cludes Tyler, the Creator’s reimag­in­ing of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” as some­thing dreamed down between bong hits, and a Danny Elf­man phone-in—“a Won­der­ful Aw­ful Idea”—that sums up this whole en­deav­our more con­cisely than mere words could ever hope to. MU MIKE LOVE

Rea­son for the Sea­son

(Meleco)

It’s easy to throw shade on Mike Love. Too easy, prob­a­bly. Af­ter all, he’s the Beach Boys singer-song­writer who isn’t Brian Wil­son. Wil­son, of course, is gen­er­ally viewed as a pop­mu­sic sa­vant, while Love is the guy who shook hands with Ron­ald Rea­gan, played with John Sta­mos, and sang “Kokomo”. Maybe the man is un­justly ma­ligned, but the medi­ocre Rea­son for the Sea­son isn’t go­ing to change that. The only good song on the al­bum is “Lit­tle St. Nick” (which Love cowrote with Wil­son, it should be noted), and the Beach Boys al­ready re­leased the de­fin­i­tive ver­sion of that one in 1963. JL MARK VIN­CENT

The Most Won­der­ful Time of the Year (In­de­pen­dent) As hinted at by its ti­tle, The Most Won­der­ful Time of the Year won’t win any awards for the most ground­break­ing Christ­mas record of 2018— or any other year, for that mat­ter. De­spite the white tux he wears on the al­bum’s cover, Aus­tralian tenor Mark Vin­cent looks like some­one who grew up crack­ing spines on the rugby pitch. In the stu­dio, though, he’s com­pletely old-school—like some­one fired up a Par­lia­ment, poured a dou­ble Scotch on the rocks, and then set about cre­at­ing a per­fect dis­til­la­tion of Frank Si­na­tra, Dean Mar­tin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Which is all fine, ex­cept the last time Santa Claus, Burl Ives, and Buddy the Elf checked, all three of those leg­endary croon­ers had dozens of per­fectly ser­vice­able Christ­mas col­lec­tions. Still, if you need a 200th ren­di­tion of “O Holy Night”, “Silent Night”, or “White Christ­mas”, you’ve come to the right place, mate. MU RU­PAUL

Christ­mas Party (Ruco)

I’m guess­ing this one only re­ally works if you’re a fan of Ru­paul’s Drag Race, be­cause I’ve never watched the show and I don’t quite get it. It’s a fun enough lis­ten, though. “Christ­mas Queen” is a pretty good Missy El­liott pas­tiche, and the sassy “Hey Sis, It’s Christ­mas” wrings max­i­mum mileage out of sea­sonal dou­ble-en­ten­dres like “gay ap­parel” and “hot roasted nuts”, along with an ex­hor­ta­tion to “Ride that candy cane good and long.” In other words, this ain’t the one to put on when the kids are un­wrap­ping their Scruff-a-luvs or Poop­sie Slime Sur­prise Uni­corn or what­ever other mass-pro­duced plas­tic crap will end up join­ing the Great Pa­cific Garbage Patch in a decade’s time. JL THE MONKEES

A Christ­mas Party (Rhino) The Monkees were once de­scribed by drum­mer Mickey Dolenz as an imag­i­nary band “that wanted to be the Bea­tles that was never suc­cess­ful”. Rounded out by orig­i­nal mem­bers Pe­ter Tork and Michael Ne­smith (Davy Jones died in 2012), the one­time TV sen­sa­tions are still plug­ging away in 2018, un­leash­ing their first-ever Christ­mas record. Some of alt-rock’s heav­i­est hit­ters adore the group, with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo gift­ing the re­fresh­ingly snotty “What Would Santa Do” and XTC’S Andy Partridge con­tribut­ing an ap­pro­pri­ately pais­ley-pat­terned “Un­wrap You at Christ­mas”. Add Jones re­turn­ing from the grave for a hard-to-mess-up “Mele Ka­liki­maka” and Ne­smith giv­ing lop­ing coun­try the Irv­ing Ber­lin treat­ment on “Snow­fall”, and you’ve got a record that—con­sid­er­ing the ori­gins and age of the Monkees—is more en­joy­able than it has any right to be. MU

SERENA RY­DER Christ­mas Kisses

(Uni­ver­sal)

If you’re be­ing hon­est with your­self, you’ll ad­mit that Christ­mas isn’t re­ally about what you need. It’s about what you want. Oh, sure, it’s also about love of fam­ily and the joy of giv­ing and all that Hall­mark stuff. But it’s also about cel­e­brat­ing things that are truly, deeply un­nec­es­sary. Do you re­ally need to eat that en­tire plate of rum balls when you’ve al­ready washed a box of short­bread cook­ies down with a litre of eggnog? Of course not, but you want to and it’s the hol­i­days, so what the hell, right? Serena Ry­der gets it. She’s cer­tainly well aware that the world doesn’t ac­tu­ally need an­other al­bum’s worth of lounge­tas­tic, jazz-in­flected ren­di­tions of “White Christ­mas” and “Santa Claus Is Com­ing to Town” and “I’ll Be Home for Christ­mas”. Diana Krall al­ready made that al­bum in 2005, af­ter all. But Ry­der steps out of her indie-folk com­fort zone and proves her­self more than ca­pa­ble of hold­ing her own in the over­crowded hol­i­day-crooner field. Much like snow­man-shaped su­gar cook­ies, an­other one won’t hurt. JL WALK OFF THE EARTH

Sub­scribe to the Hol­i­days (In­de­pen­dent)

As al­bum ti­tles go, Sub­scribe to the Hol­i­days is about as fes­tive as Only 23 More Busi­ness Days Un­til De­cem­ber 25. That’s en­tirely for­giv­able, though, con­sid­er­ing that this six-song EP is bright-eyed enough to put a smile on the faces of Ebenezer Scrooge, Scut Farkus, and that mis­er­able ass­hole in the apart­ment below you who’s al­ways bang­ing on the ceil­ing with a broom. A reg­gae­fied “Happy Hanukkah” finds the fa­mously pos­i­tive Burling­ton, On­tario, five-piece light­ing up the meno­rah on the beaches of Ja­maica, and a crazy an­gelic “Have Your­self a Merry Lit­tle Christ­mas” turns the spot­light on young guest vo­cal­ist Gior­gio Michael, the child of band founders Sarah Black­wood and Gianni “Lu­mi­nati” Ni­cas­sio. Walk Off the Earth fin­ishes things up with a Ca­lypso-tinted “Li­nus and Lucy”, by which time you’ll be ready not only to sub­scribe to the hol­i­days, but also to think maybe you’ll one day make your own Christ­mas record, if only be­cause you’ve al­ready thought of a ti­tle: Your Ama­zon Or­der Has Been Pro­cessed. MU WIL­LIAM SHAT­NER

Shat­ner Claus (Cleopa­tra) There are only two pos­si­ble con­cep­tual prob­lems with a Wil­liam Shat­ner Christ­mas al­bum. First of all, the man known to mil­lions as James Tiberius Kirk is Jew­ish. That never stopped Neil Di­a­mond, Bette Mi­dler, Bob Dy­lan, Bar­bra Streisand, Di­nah Shore, or Barry Manilow from putting out Christ­mas songs (or Irv­ing Ber­lin or Johnny Marks from writ­ing them), so why should it stop the Shat? A slightly big­ger prob­lem is that the Cana­dian-born per­former couldn’t carry a tune if the fate of all the Whos down in Whoville de­pended on it. He doesn’t even bother to try on Shat­ner Claus, which is prob­a­bly for the best, leav­ing the ac­tual melodic work to singers like Brad Pais­ley and, uh, Iggy Pop, along with gui­tarists in­clud­ing El­liot Eas­ton (the Cars) and Billy Gib­bons (ZZ Top). Mostly, though, lis­ten­ing to this record is akin to hang­ing out on Christ­mas Eve with a drunk un­cle who, af­ter a few too many Very Merry Or­na­men­ti­nis, re­fuses to shut up and leave the croon­ing to Bing. JL

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MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR

A Merry Lit­tle Christ­mas (In­tel­lec­tual Re­serve)

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has put out a lot of Christ­mas al­bums over the decades—over 30 of them, but who’s count­ing? The lat­est, A Merry Lit­tle Christ­mas, sug­gests that the op­er­a­tion is run­ning out of both good gim­micks and, well, Christ­mas songs. There are no Mup­pets or Amer­i­can Idol also-rans on this one, just Down­ton Abbey star Hugh Bon­neville and Sut­ton Fos­ter, who is a Broad­way star (thanks, Wikipedia!) with an un­bear­ably hammy way of sell­ing a melody. Fos­ter gamely grins her way through John Den­ver’s “Sun­shine on My Shoul­ders” and “Pure Imag­i­na­tion”, which may trig­ger nos­tal­gia for any­one with mem­o­ries of Gene Wilder singing it as Willy Wonka. In that case, it was merely set­ting the stage for a se­ries of scenes of glut­tonous chil­dren get­ting their just desserts. And while there’s prob­a­bly a metaphor in there some­where for the con­sumer frenzy that takes place ev­ery year about this time, it’s still a weird choice for a Christ­mas al­bum. JL

THE HOUND + THE FOX Songs of Win­ter (In­de­pen­dent)

Some band names are so in­ter­est­ing that they get you think­ing. Con­sider, for ex­am­ple, the Hound + the Fox, which sounds like the name of a pub you’d find some­where on West Broad­way in Kits. Take the is­sue of who is the “hound” and who is the “fox” in the Ore­gon hus­band-and-wife team of Reilly and Mcken­zie Zam­ber, one pos­si­ble an­swer be­ing that some­one has come up with the most dis­re­spect­ful name this side of Anus Pres­ley. Then there’s the ques­tion of whether or not the band’s name is meant as a sly trib­ute to the 1981 Dis­ney film The Fox and the Hound, once fa­mous as the most ex­pen­sive an­i­mated film ever made. Un­for­tu­nately, Songs of Win­ter is nowhere near as in­ter­est­ing as such big ques­tions. The stan­dards on the duo’s ethe­real, 12-song baroque-pop re­lease are well-mean­ing and ex­pertly recorded, but ul­ti­mately for­get­table. Yes, it’s lovely stuff—es­pe­cially if you love Sarah Mclach­lan and Michael Bublé—but the prob­lem is that it’s been done be­fore just as well, if not bet­ter. MU

OLD 97’S

Love the Hol­i­days (ATO)

In some ways, it was a savvy move for Old 97’s to record an al­bum made up (al­most) en­tirely of orig­i­nal songs. Af­ter all, no one re­ally needs an­other record­ing of “Sil­ver Bells” or “Santa Claus Is Com­ing to Town”. In that re­gard, Love the Hol­i­days is ba­si­cally just a new Old 97’s record, one that just hap­pens to fea­ture a bunch of songs about Christ­mas. The only pos­si­ble down­side is that there are plenty of folks who don’t give a fid­dler’s fart about Old 97’s and would rather hear “Sil­ver Bells” or “Santa Claus Is Com­ing to Town” than shit­kick­ing new tunes like “Ru­dolph Was Blue” and “Hobo Christ­mas Song”. (For them, the band has can­nily in­cluded a bunch of bonus tracks, in­clud­ing fa­mil­iar num­bers such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gen­tle­men” and “Blue Christ­mas”.) JL

JOHN LEG­END

A Leg­endary Christ­mas (Columbia)

Like it or not, we’ve all ex­pe­ri­enced a leg­endary Christ­mas. The kind where it snows harder than the open­ing of Ru­dolph the Red-nosed Rein­deer, lead­ing to a six-car pileup on the Alex Fraser Bridge. Or where Sailor Jerry ru­ins yet an­other De­cem­ber 25 by turn­ing Un­cle Frank into the sec­ond com­ing of Barfly’s Henry Chi­naski—right down to the car­pet-cleaner com­ment at the din­ner ta­ble. Even if it’s meant as a clever play on his name, John Leg­end has a big pair of sug­arplums for nam­ing his first foray into hol­i­day-sea­son mu­sic A Leg­endary Christ­mas. At least he’s not far off the mark. The new-school R&B singer is smart enough to pack stan­dards like “Sil­ver Bells” with bold Stax-style horns and cin­e­matic strings, and then round things out with classy ob­scu­ri­ties (Marvin Gaye’s “Pur­ple Snowflakes”) and silky orig­i­nals (“Wrap Me Up in Your Love”). MU

PENTATONIX Christ­mas Is Here! (Sony) There’s a damn good rea­son for that ex­cla­ma­tion point in the ti­tle. If you were a mem­ber of Pentatonix, you’d be pretty stoked at the thought of the hol­i­day sea­son com­ing around. At the risk of sound­ing cyn­i­cal, let’s just say the a cap­pella group knows full well which side its bread is but­tered on—in its four-year record­ing ca­reer, Pentatonix has al­ready put out three Christ­mas al­bums. The lat­est one in­cludes some du­bi­ous choices (the Neigh­bour­hood’s “Sweater Weather” isn’t even re­motely a Christ­mas song, and Danny Elf­man’s “Mak­ing Christ­mas” sounds bet­ter with mon­sters singing it), but it’s hard to find fault with great singing, on am­ple dis­play here. Bonus points for rop­ing in Kelly Clark­son to belt the shit out of “Grown Up Christ­mas List”. JL

PREDA­TOR DUB ASSASSINS

A Very Dubby Christ­mas (Dublife Muzik)

Yah, mon. It’s gonna be a green Christ­mas, if you know what I mean. Irie! Big up your­self. Et cetera. The cover of A Very Dubby Christ­mas will prob­a­bly tell you all you need to know about the al­bum be­fore you even hear a note: it pays homage to Bing Crosby’s Merry Christ­mas LP, but where Der Bin­gle had a bow tie made of holly, the dread-headed Pdub sports one crafted from cannabis leaves. If spliffed-out reg­gae ver­sions of “Last Christ­mas” and “Jin­gle Bell Rock” sound like your bowl of sen­similla, fire up a fat one, pour your­self a rum-and-eggnog heavy on the Smith & Cross, and drift away to Ocho Rios. In your mind, I mean. If you’re pay­ing Van­cou­ver rent, there’s no way you’re get­ting out of this rain-soaked hell for the hol­i­days. JL

Ru­paul’s Christ­mas Party and Serena Ry­der’s Christ­mas Kisses are among this year’s crop of hol­i­day-themed re­leases.

John Leg­end’s A Leg­endary Christ­mas is a smart and classy sea­sonal col­lec­tion.

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