Well folks, ‘tis the season for the annual Compact Capsules roundup of Christmas releases. We keep it short and sweet with the 2005 edition limiting the capsule treatment to a mere four new longplayers each well equipped to tide y’all over for tinsel time and make that eggnog wash down just a little easier.
Reverend Horton Heat
We Three Kings
Yep Roc YEP-2096
What do psychobilly and Christmas have in common? Well, when it comes to the new “seasonal” release from the Reverend Horton Heat called We Three Kings, the answer is plenty. And who better to rev up revered classics than the Rev and his boys – Jimbo Wallace on upright bass and Scott Churilla whacking the drums. With the 13-track We Three Kings, the Reverend Horton Heat, a.k.a. Jim Heath, sticks pretty much to covers of tried and true tunes of the holiday season – “Frosty the Snowman”, “Jingle Bells”, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, the title track, “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy” from the Buck Owens archives, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, etc. He does manage to throw a curveball or three thanks to selections like “Santa Bring My Baby Back” which comes from the Elvis archives, “What Child Is This” which gets the instrumental treatment, and his own Christmas composition called “Santa on the Roof”. The twist over the course of most all of it is the moonshine fever the trio give these songs in many instances taking a number of them to places which musically speaking, they’ve rarely, if ever, been before. The Rev and his boys begin the proceedings rather coyly with an unhurried saloon style piano intro to “Frosty the Snowman” before putting the pedal to the metal and flooring it right through to the final note. Heath gives both the title track and “Jingle Bells” the instrumental treatment transforming each from placid seasonal fare into high octane romp and stomp rave-ups. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” also gets a juiced-up makeover with spacey organ and all while Heath turns Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper” inside out with hot licks to spare. When it comes to holiday themed-tunage, there is nothing close to ho-hum where the guitar-powered We Three Kings is concerned. On the contrary, the Reverend Horton Heat and his band acquit themselves just fine on this enjoyable, non-traditional Christmas recording. Recommended. (Yep Roc Records, P.O. Box 4821, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27515, or www.yeproc.com)
A Christmas Kind of Town
Yep Roc YEP-2104
What with a new full-length recording (If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry) as well as a Christmas recording being released within weeks of each other in October, it has been a busy Fall for the band Marah. A capsule look at If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry occupied these pages just a few weeks ago. Now it’s time for a little Xmas action, Marah-style. Looking at the track list for A Christmas Kind of Town from the former Philly-based roots rockers, one gets the feeling these fellows have been saving some time for this one. How else does one explain a 20-track recording? Then again, there is nothing rehearsed about A Christmas Kind of Town. As loose and anything-goes a Christmas record as you’re likely to encounter, it is plenty more than just music. Now calling New York City home, these guys come across as if they’re having the time of their lives making a yuletide album. On the music side, the song mix is traditional selections done in the rockin’ style of Marah along with a few loose and liquored-up original songs from the band equally in keeping with the holiday shenanigans. The real fun comes in the form of several skits interspersed throughout the recording, all of which seem to revolve around spirit, of better yet spirits, of the liquid variety on which the holiday cheer amongst the Marah boys is overflowing. In other words, Marah does not hold back one bit in pushing the envelope of holiday political correctness. And why should they? When you get right down to it, A Christmas Kind of Town is more a pageant than a straight-up music recording. The fact these roots rockers go out with a high-charged seven-minute polka is signal enough that A Christmas Kind of Town is not your ordinary Christmas affair and that is its chief appeal. In a nutshell, for those who tire of the same old, same old when it comes to seasonal recordings, A Christmas Kind of Town is the perfect holiday elixir.
A Skaggs Family Christmas
Skaggs Family Records 20152
For those who’ve followed the career of Ricky Skaggs, you probably know that in addition to his own band, he also performs quite often with family group and Grand Ol’ Opry favorites The Whites. Consisting of Buck White along with daughters Sharon and Cheryl, the connection is that Skaggs is married to Sharon White. A Skaggs Family Christmas finds Skaggs joining forces once again with The Whites on a new holiday recording while at the same time, taking the family thing one step further by also including his daughter Molly, son Luke, and niece Rachel in the mix. Given the expanded family configuration, calling this new album A Skaggs Family Christmas is highly appropriate. The all-acoustic album brings together both classics (“White Christmas,” ”Little Drummer Boy”, “Let It Snow”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, “Deck The Halls”, “Christmas Time Is Here”) and new Christmas songs (“Go Thee Down”, “Love Came Gently”, and “Hangin’ ‘Round the Mistletoe”) with the end result a record that should find favor with any and all looking to add some holiday music to their festivities. Featuring a 16-piece string section to go with the Skaggs-White entourage, the arrangements find that happy medium between songs mired deep in the traditional style and those leaning more in a contemporary direction. We’re talking bluegrass, of course. As one might expect, the musicianship is top notch and the close harmony of the various Skaggs-White configurations oft-times approaches shivers-up-the-spine territory. Simply put, A Skaggs Family Christmas is a well done holiday recording that has something for everyone. (Skaggs Family Records, P.O. Box 2478, Hendersonville, TN 37077, or www.skaggsfamilyrecords.com)
A Christmas Heritage
Compass Records 4412
New Grange is comprised of Philip Aaberg, Darol Anger, Alison Brown, Mike Marshall, Tim O’Brien, and Todd Phillips. Acoustic music veterans all, on A Christmas Heritage the sextet takes the listener beyond renditions of standard American holiday songs into traditional holiday music from points far and wide including Ireland, France, and Eastern Europe. If variety is your cup of tea, this collection of songs as performed by some of the aces of the acoustic scene is bond to please. (Compass Records, 916 19th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212, or www.compassrecords.com)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)<...