III. Christmas 2005: Something Strange...

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Something Old | Something New | Something Strange | Something Smooth

It is 75 degrees (F) the day before Thanksgiving at my home outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. If one does not believe in global warming, please join me duck hunting while I swat mosquitos and shoot cottonmouths. Unseasonable hot weather and sweat dripping on my keyboard does not enable my anticipating the holidays. All of this strangeness reminds me of the immortal words of the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, "When the going gets weird the weird turn pro. 2005 offers a polyglot collection of such holiday celebrants.

Brian Setzer

Dig That Crazy Christmas

Surf Dog Records

2005

There is no way possible that anyone should have as much fun as Brian Setzer did making this record. The tattooed guitarist is making a cottage industry out of his big band and Christmas considering his previous Christmas release (Boogie Woogie Christmas). The Stray Cat squirts out lively renditions of the standard fare: "Angels We Have Heard on High, White Christmas, and "Let it Snow. The former of these is performed as an instrumental and is arranged way over the top with a stinging Setzer guitar solo. Setzer also supplies the less than standard. "Getting In the Mood (for Christmas) is a rave on the Glenn Miller classic, replete with a guitar solo note-for-note matching the original wax. "My Favorite Things is given a very cool instrumental workout (in a traditional Wes Montgomery sort of way), while "Dig that Crazy Santa Claus and "Santa Drives a Hot Rod shake the rock-a-billy Christmas Tree down. "'Zat You Santa Claus is a take-off of "The Stray Cat Strut with Setzer cheekily performing the exact same guitar solo as on the Stray Cat's hit. "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch is the disc highlight with Setzer hamming it up. Combine all of this with Setzer's tasty guitar and horn charts and the listener has a winning recording to consider.

The Reverend Horton Heat

We Three Kings: Christmas Favorites

Yep Roc Records

2005

While Christmas Favorites is comparable to Brian Setzer's Dig that Crazy Santa Clause. It is rawer and on a much smaller scale. Setzer refines his big band sound to accommodate his rockabilly inclinations, while the good Reverend fully indulges his. It is an odd thing that I find Diana Krall's offering and Horton Heat's view of holiday music as the best of any kind of music that each have produced. Horton Heat and his quasi-trio are most comfortable playing in the minor-key Dorian mode instrumentals, "We Three Kings and "What Child is This? the latter played in the style of "Ghost Riders in the Sky. "Jingle Bells, performed instrumentally is a freight train heading into the Oklahoma Oil fields for the holidays, while "Frosty the Snowman is celebrating Christmas in urban Fort Worth. "Silver Bells is played straighter than any other selection and is quite effective. The Reverend throws in "Pretty Paper and "Santa on the Roof just for kicks, creating one of the most satisfying holiday collections coming our way this year.

Steve Lukather and Friends

SantaMental

Favored Nations Entertainment

2005

Imagine for a moment that Mannheim Steamroller (or the bathetically equivalent, Trans-Siberian Railroad) was hijacked by the likes of Jeff Babko, John Piere, Gregg Bissonette, Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, Slash, Edgar Winter, Trevor Lukather, Simon Philips, Mike Landau, Scott Hamilton, and Lenny Castro and this merry band of carpet baggers and scalawags were lead by guitarist and impster Steve Lukather. The holiday results of this most unholy union would be nothing less than the redefinition of seasonal music. And, here it is, SantaMental. The opening "Joy to the World sports a guitar duel between Lukather and Eddie Van Halen guaranteed to singe Santa's beard to stubble. And that is merely a beginning. "Greensleeves features Edgar Winter playing John Coltrane and Jeff Babko playing Keith Jarrett. Steve Lukather plays razor sharp on this ancient English melody. On Lukather's own "Broken Heat of Christmas the guitarist spars with Slash and even sings. "The Carol of the Bells has a three guitar front with Steve Vai joining Lukather and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Babko all playing at white heat. This is a loud and virtuosic recording that would appeal to any metal head/fusion freak, even if it was not holiday music. What a find! Be sure to have your fire extinguisher on hand.

Joe Wulf & The Gentlemen of Swing

Swinging Christmas

Joe Wulf Swing and Blues

2004

Ich bin ein Berliner... This disc does not really belong here. There is nothing tongue-in-cheek about these completely professional and thoughtful big band arrangements of American seasonal classics. What makes them both fun and charming is trombonist's Joe Wulf's Anglo-Germanic singing of these familiar songs. For those of us of Anglo-Germanic extraction, the effect is a'70s flashback to Lawrence Welk and our grandparents praying the rosary in Deutsch. But I digress. The charts, particularly for "Oh Tannenbaum (Dixieland style), "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Samba style) demonstrate the depth and breadth of Wulf's talent for arranging. Wulf is not the only trombonist on the recording. Wulf has American stalwarts George Masso and Dan Barrett, both mainstays in the American Trad-Jazz scene, and Roy Williams on "I'll Be Home for Christmas. The big band is an international affair with members from Great Britian, Germany, and all parts abroad. Swinging Christmas is quaint and enjoyable holiday outing with an international flair.

Kenny Ellis

Hanukkah Swings!

Favored Nations Entertainment

2005

Lest we forget the Judeo portion of our shared Judeo-Christian Heritage, no holiday collection would be complete without a Hanukkah offering. Big band vocalist by day and Cantor on Friday nights, Kenny Ellis skillfully melds his Jewish culture with the swing of Count Basie, Les Brown, and Benny Goodman. English, Yiddish, Hebrew... no language is safe in the hands of Maestro Ellis. Should the listener desire a true cultural nuclear reaction, he or she need look no further than "Sevivon, Sov, Sov, Sov a brilliant takeoff on Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing colliding with Cab Calloway's "Hi De Ho with every one wearing a yarmulke. "Children of the Macabbees updates the Jewish story of Maoz Tzur first notated by Benedetto Marcello in 1714. Ellis sings the body over a bass/drums duo, augmented by flute. "Rock of Ages begins in cantorial style before swinging its way to its Hebrew conclusion. This recording bubbles with enthusiasm and joy that occurs at no one's expense. There is much to learn from Cantor Kenny Ellis.

Track and Personnel Listings

Dig that Crazy Christmas

Tracks: Dig That Crazy Santa Claus; Angels We Have Heard On High; Gettin' In The Mood (For Christmas); White Christmas; Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!; 'Zat You Santa Claus?; Hey Santa!; My Favorite Things; You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch; Cool Yule; Jingle Bell Rock; Santa Drives A Hot Rod; What Are You Doing New Year's Eve.

Personnel: Brian Setzer: vocals, guitar; unidentified big band.

We Three Kings: Christmas Favorites

Tracks: Frosty The Snowman; Santa Bring My Baby Back; Jingle Bells; Santa Claus Is Coming To Town; Silver Bells; We Three Kings; Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy; Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer; Santa On The Roof; What A Child Is This; Pretty Paper; Winter Wonderland; Run Rudolph Run.

Personnel: Reverend Horton Heat: vocals, guitar, upright bass; Scott Churilla: vocals, drums; Jimbo Wallace: guitar, upright bass, background vocals.

SantaMental

Tracks: Joy To The World; Greensleeves; Jingle Bells; Carol Of The Bells; Broken Heart For Christmas; Angels We Have Heard On High; Winter Wonderland; Look Out For Angels; Silent Night; Goodbye; Christmas Song.

Personnel: Steve Lukather: guitar; and a cast of thousands.

Swinging Christmas

Tracks: Santa Claus is Coming to Town; The Christmas Song; Oh Tannenbaum; The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot; Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer; I'll Be Home For Christmas; Sleigh Ride; Winter Wonderland; Kling Glöckchen; Suzy Snowflake; Hark! The Herald Angels Sings; Jingle Bells; Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow; White Christmas.

Personnel: Joe Wulf: trombone, vocals; Terrence Ngassa: trumpet, vocals; Francois De Ribaupierre: clarinet, bass-clarinet, flute, alto sax, tenor sax; Chris Nemet, H, piano; Bert Thompson: bass; Will Lindfors: drums, percussion; featuring: Sean Moyses: banjo, guitar; Achim Schröter, clarinet, flute, alto-flute, altosax; Roy Williams, trombone; Dan Barrett: trombone; George Masso: trombone.

Hanukkah Swings

Tracks: Swingin' Dreidel; Medley: Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah/Who Can Retell; Hanukkah Candles; Sevivon, Sov, Sov, Sov; Ocho Kandelikas; Children Of The Macabbees; Medley: Hanukkah Swingin' Holiday/Pour the Oil; Hanu-calypso; Rock Of Ages; 'Twas the Night Before Hanukkah.

Personnel: Kenny Ellis: vocals; Mitch Holder: guitar; Wayne Bergeron: trumpet; Stu Goldberg: piano, keyboards, percussion. Recorded at Stu Goldberg Studios, Thousand Oaks, California.

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