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    Happy New Year December 31st, 2004

    Happy New Year

    MERRY CHRISTMAS! December 25th, 2004

    Santa

    MERRY CHRISTMAS!

    Snow Holdup

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    Christmas Music (Part Sixteen) December 24th, 2004

    There may be 12 days of Christmas but I’ve done 16 days of Christmas music blog entries. It’s Christmas Eve. Let’s do this one more time.

    B.B. King

    “A Christmas Celebration of Hope” by B.B. King

    What can I say about B.B. King that hasn’t already been said? The accolades for this legendary musician are so immense that I imagine they would fill up most public libraries. The man is awesome and this Christmas CD is equally as awesome. It’s one that every blues fan should be playing during the holiday season. You can hear the pleading in his voice as he belts out “Please Come Home For Christmas” and he exhibits playfulness with the blues classic “Back Door Santa.” The musical interplay between “Lucille” and the organ (a Hammond B3 perhaps?) on the instrumental “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” really gives it a coolness and hipness that makes it a memorable rendition. This is a really, really nice Christmas album.

    Cyrus Chestnut

    “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by Cyrus Chestnut

    This album, simply put, is a nice tribute to Vince Guaraldi in both substance and style. He captures Vince Guaraldi’s spirit but adds a little bit of his own personal touch to each song to make it unique in its own way. Most of the songs on this album are from the Charlie Brown Christmas. One song however, is by Cyrus Chestnut; “Me And Charlie Brown.” Even though he wrote it, he plays it in a manner that captures the Vince Guaraldi flavor. Cyrus Chestnut’s rendition of “Linus & Lucy” is beautiful and remains my favorite cut on this album. I am biased however since “Linus & Lucy” holds a very sentimental place in my heart for many reasons I won’t go into here. I like the song so much, I have dozens of versions of it by artists ranging from jazz to rock to blues to country. It’s a tune I never get tired of. But I digress. “Christmas Time Is Here” not only has a children’s choir like the Charlie Brown Christmas special, Vanessa Williams sings lead making this not only nostalgic but romantic at the same time.”Christmas Is Coming” is another Guaraldi classic that Cyrus Chestnut takes and makes it his own by adding a funky riff to it but not losing or obscuring the Guaraldi touch. I would like to hope that Vince Guaraldi if he were alive today would approve of this album. I know I think it’s excellent.

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    The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam December 24th, 2004

    Long Tack Sam poster

    I just saw the documentary film “The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam” on the Sundance Channel. I really recommend seeing this if you can because it’s a wonderful glimpse into the little known life of Chinese acrobat, magician and vaudevillian known as “Long Tack Sam.” The film was made by his Great-great grandaughter Ann Marie Fleming who wanted to know more about her family history especially about Long Tack Sam and was amazed at how little was known about him. It’s not only an historic film, but a film about family as well. I found it absolutely fascinating. It’s an endearing film that enthralled me.

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    Christmas Music (Part Fifteen) December 23rd, 2004

    Well my Christmas vacation has officially begun this afternoon (I have Friday off from work). Let’s look at some more Christmas CD’s.

    Todd Taylor

    “Taylor’s Christmas Card” by Todd Taylor

    Todd Taylor is simply an amazing banjo player. You really have to hear him play to appreciate what he does. His Christmas CD is a good example and a holiday sampling of his talents. “Deck The ‘Dueling ‘Halls'” takes the classic Christmas carol and dips it into the “dueling banjos” motif. And Todd Taylor’s take on “Jingle Bells” is a solid bluegrass classic. If you blink, you’ll miss his lightning fast rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” I really like his version of “Good King Wenceslas.” It’s a very good bluegrass banjo Christmas album.

    Brian McKnight

    “Bethlehem” by Brian McKnight

    Brian McKnight was one of the singers in the group Take 6 and a lot of the musical stylings from that group find its way onto this album. Both standards and nonstandard Christmas music are found here all with smooth r&b overtones. He scores in a major way with his Nate King Cole tribute on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” The backing harmonies on “Christmas Time Is Here” accentuate his singing and really enhance the whole Christmas effect. You almost can feel the snow falling on your face and you listen. There’s a distinct energy to his “Home For The Holidays” which evokes all those Christmases with family and friends you haven’t seen for a while. This CD is definitely not a “traditional” Christmas album, but a very outstanding Christmas album on its own merits.

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    Christmas Music (Part Fourteen) December 21st, 2004

    Only 4 more days until Christmas. Is anticipation necessarily a bad thing? It is for kids who just can’t wait.

    The Manhattan Transfer

    “The Christmas Album” by The Manhattan Transfer

    The Manhattan Transfer have always been a deliciously smooth singing quartet with flowing harmonies and silky, mellow arrangements. Frankly, I love this album and I tend to listen to it to help me relax and unwind. It’s a great choice to play after you come home from a long, stressful day of shopping. I love the vocal interplay in their rendition of “Caroling, Caroling.” And “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is simply beautiful. But the best cut on the album, and this doesn’t not take away from their talents, is “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)” featuring Tony Bennett. It’s wonderful how well they mesh with Tony Bennett on this cut. It’s a sumptuous rendition delicately balancing the quartets harmonies with Tony Bennett’s outstanding vocals. Want romance at Christmas? Get this CD.

    Wynton Marsalis

    “Crescent City Christmas Card” by Wynton Marsalis

    Now this is one cool Christmas album. If you are looking for the usual interpretations of Christmas classics, then pass this album up. But if you yearn for a refreshing alternative to the standard holiday fare, then this is an album to seriously consider. Wynton Marsalis is one of this country’s best jazz artists in terms of all-round ability and talent. His arrangements of the songs on this album are simply fabulous. Right away I have to admit my favorite cut on this CD is “Sleight Ride” with Jon Hendricks as lead vocalist. The song is a wonderfully unique and energizing rendition that I tend to play over and over. But this album isn’t just a “one song” CD. Opera diva Kathleen Battle offers up an awesomely beautiful performance of “Silent Night.” And to top all of it off, Wynton cooly recites “Twas The Night Before Christmas” to a smooth jazz accompaniment.

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    Christmas Music (Part Thirteen) December 20th, 2004

    Thirteen. My lucky number. Anyway, here are more Christmas compilation CD’s to ponder.

    Flying Tart Presents: Christmas In Heaven

    Flying Tart Presents: Christmas In Heaven

    Now here’s an interesting, unique and varied Christmas compilation CD. It started out with a cool rendition of “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch” by Sixpence None The Richer which I particularly like (I like good covers of this particular song). Another unusual song is “There’s No Christmas On The Moon” by Thee Spivies. It’s sort of a neo-punk rockabilly if I had to describe it. There are other tracks that fall into an alternative genre and a couple that are techno. I’m not a fan of techno, so I really wouldn’t be the one to ask if the techno cuts on this CD (“Tennessee Christmas” by Aleixa and “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by The Echoing Green) are any good. Frankly, it’s too much like crappy 70’s disco for my tastes. However the other cuts on this CD make up for it.

    Must Be Santa!: The Rounder Christmas Album

    Must Be Santa!: The Rounder Christmas Album

    Now this CD of Christmas tunes is very eclectic in nature. It starts with a rather short piece by David Grisman entitled “What Child Is This” played tenderly on mandolin. Then you have a veritable buffet of musical styles from blues to western cowboy to rock to jazz to zydeco to polka to bluegrass to…I think you get the idea. I really enjoy Luther Johnson’s bluesy get-up-and-dance rendition of “Merry Christmas Baby” with its infectious groove. Barry & Holly Tashian perform a stirring bluegrass ballad entitled “Long, Long Ago” which is both tender and moving. This is an extremely good Christmas compilation CD in my opinion with a little something for everyone. However whereas most every song falls into one classification or another, there is one song that can’t easily be labeled with anything other than weird. And that song is “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” by Joseph Spence. Don’t ask me to try to explain. Just listen.

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    Christmas Music (Part Twelve) December 19th, 2004

    Christmas is getting ever closer and the music continues. Today let’s look at some interesting Christmas compilation CD’s.

    A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector

    A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector

    As you probably have heard by now Phil Spector is awaiting trial in Los Angeles on suspicion of murder. Not good. But his legacy in music is well established and this Christmas CD featuring some of his more well-known artists and Spector’s “wall of sound.” Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” a perennial favorite on Late Show with David Letterman, is on this album as is The Ronettes’ “Frosty The Snowman.” Both are radio favorites each year. There are also Christmas songs from The Crystals and Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans. The last cut is a recording of Phil Spector thanking the listener for purchasing and listening to the album. This was originally recorded in 1963 and then remastered by Spector in 1989 so the sound quality is improved. This is a nice way to listen to some of the great r&b artists from the 60’s bring the holiday cheer.

    A Christmas Gift For You From Zero Hour

    A Christmas Gift For You From Zero Hour

    This 1995 release from Zero Hour Records takes its title and album cover design from the Phil Spector album listed above. The music, however is a far different genre than the r&b “wall of sound” Spector had on his album. Instead this CD contains Christmas music of an alternative nature. Grover (with Kevin Salem) perform a cover of the Poques’ “Fairytale of New York” in a similar moroseness as the original. Dirt Merchants perform a very frenetic “Jingle Bells.” Cucumbers take “Ho Ho Ho And A Bottle of Rum” (not to be confused with the song of the same name by Jimmy Buffett) into a whole new place with an insanely maniacal energy and spirit. This ain’t your grandaddy’s Santa Claus. And to top it all off, the final cut on this album is Ray McKenzie (Zero Hour Records chief) giving thanks to a lot of people.

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    Christmas Music (Part Eleven) December 18th, 2004

    And with only 7 shopping days until Christmas, let’s look at some more Christmas music.

    Evan Johns and His H-Bombs

    “Please Mr. Santa Claus” by Evan Johns and His H-Bombs

    On the surface you’d think this was a Christmas album. But disappointingly it really only has two songs that would really qualify as Christmas music, the bluesy “Please Mr. Santa Claus” and the cajun inspired instrumental “Little Cajun Drummer Boy.” All the rest of the songs are instrumentals, none of which can really be considered Christmas except by their titles. The album itself is good and the music catchy but just naming a song with a Christmas title does not make it a Christmas song. Now you know.

    The Blue Hawaiians

    “Christmas On Big Island” by The Blue Hawaiians

    Upon close investigation the Blue Hawaiians aren’t Hawaiian nor are they blue. Instead they are a Los Angeles-base quartet who have been described as “the tribal kings of exotica noir.” The best way I can describe the music on this CD is to say it sounds like the music you’d have for a soundtrack if Quentin Tarantino directed a hip feature film about Christmas in Hawaii. Definitely sunglasses cool with an edge and styles ranging from rockabilly to Hawaiian-style steel guitar to 50’s lounge lizard music. I particularly like their rendition of “We Four Kings (Little Drummer Boy)” a la The Ventures. Also their “White Christmas” is uniquely dripping with a deep surf vibe. A great album that does not fall into the norm.

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    Christmas Music (Part Ten) December 17th, 2004

    After a day off, here’s some more Christmas CD’s…

    Jimmy Buffett

    “Christmas Island” by Jimmy Buffett

    I’m a Parrothead. I admit it. I love Jimmy Buffett music. I know how to play more Jimmy Buffett tunes on the guitar than any other artist. So it’s not at all surprising that I have his Christmas album, too. I like every single song on this CD so I won’t try picking my favorites since they all are favorites. There are a couple items of note, however. First of all, even though there are ten cuts listed on the album, there is an extra cut of Jimmy Buffett reading “Twas The Night Before Christmas.” Secondly, in addition to unique renditions of Christmas standards like “Jingle Bells” (as a reggae-esque song) and “Up On The Housetop”(Jimmy turns into “surfer dude”) as well as covers of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and the Hawaiian Christmas standard “Mele Kalikimaka,” Jimmy Buffett has two original Christmas songs; “Ho Ho Ho And A Bottle of Rhum” and “Merry Christmas, Alabama (Never Far From Home).”

    Leon Redbone

    “Christmas Island” by Leon Redbone

    Another album entitled “Christmas Island” but this time from crooner Leon Redbone whose classic style harkens back to the early twentieth century parlor singers. Each song has a charm and fancy which fits in with the holiday spirit quite well without becoming cheesy. I particularly like Leon Redbone’s duet with Dr. John on “Frosty The Snowman” (personally I would love to see Dr. John release a Christmas album – I’d buy it as soon as I could) and also his version of “There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays” which can make you a little homesick. Overall, this is a nice mellow Christmas album.

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    Christmas Music (Part Nine) December 15th, 2004

    Some more goodies from the ol’ Christmas music collection…

    Maybe This Christmas

    Maybe This Christmas

    These CD’s (released in 2002, 2003 & 2004 respectively) contain Christmas songs from some of the bright new artists in rock (like The Polyphonic Spree, Death Cab For Cutie & Ivy) as well as several current big names (like Coldplay, Barenaked Ladies & Jars of Clay) bringing a freshness to some established songs (Tom McRae’s quiet and somewhat morose rendition of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”) while bringing some new songs into the mix (Barenaked Ladies’ “Green Christmas” is an example). The styles are wide-ranging and frankly many are difficult to classify. Not everyone will appreciate every song on these CD’s but overall they are good and recommendable.

    Barenaked Ladies

    “Barenaked For The Holidays” by Barenaked Ladies

    Barenaked Ladies is one of my favorite alltime groups and when I heard they were releasing a Christmas album, I knew I had to get it as soon as I could. I knew they had some Christmas music out there (they performed “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlement/We Three Kings” with Sarah McLachlan on an Anne Murray Christmas special on Canadian TV and “Green Christmas” & “Christmastime (Oh Yeah)” have appeared on Christmas compilation CD’s {like the “Maybe This Christmas” CD’s mentioned above}) but to have more from these guys was too good to pass up. It sounds like the song with Sarah McLachlan was taken directly from the special and remixed to improve the audio. Anyway, I digress. As with most Barenaked Ladies albums, irreverence is intermingled with more serious musical offerings. This CD is no exception. “Jingle Bells” starts off the album and at first it sounds like it’s going to be an artistic expressionistic rendition. At first. It quickly turns into a rollicking rendition that at some point gets downright silly. Many songs are BL’s unique arrangement of Christmas classics both modern and ancient. For example, only BL can put a makeover on the overplayed and irritating “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” resulting in a cool song. There are some short musical interludes played on something which sounds like one of those old Baldwin “Fun Machine” home organs with the built-in rhythm section (my Mom had one that she played back in the 70’s). I like their original songs, too like “Elf’s Lament” (Christmas is a tough time for the elves) and “Snowman” (who sings about the worries of not fitting in). This is a great album for BL fans like me. One cut that had me laughing out loud was “Deck the Stills” which is not a Christmas song about bootlegged liquor but a rather short cover of “Deck the Halls” with the only words being “Crosby,” “Stills,” “Nash,” “and” & “Young.” You really need to hear it to appreciate the silliness of it.

    Christmas Music (Part Eight) December 14th, 2004

    Boy, other than my wife, who would have thought I’d continue this stuff for this many entries.

    Aaron Neville

    “Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas” by Aaron Neville

    A couple of thoughts right off the top: first of all, I have always found Aaron Neville’s singing voice to be awesomely enjoyable to which to listen. I feel he could sing the phone book and it would be outstanding. Secondly, it is my humble opinion that entire Neville family (not just the four brothers) to be the most talented family ever in the music business bar none (they surpass the best the Osmonds, the Jacksons, the deFranco’s and any other musical family has or had to offer). Now with that said, you can see why I had to get this CD when it was released. My favorite tune on the album has to be “Louisiana Christmas Day” which captures the essense of New Orleans’, cajun music and the second line all at once. I also find Aaron Neville’s rendition of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)” to be fantastic and I rank it right up there with Mel Torme. This is a great album that gets played often in my home during the holiday season.

    Benny Grunch & The Bunch

    “The 12 Yats of Christmas” by Benny Grunch & The Bunch

    I honestly can’t remember where I first found out about this album. I don’t know if it was one of my trips to the French Quarter in New Orleans or something I found online or something I heard on the radio somewhere. Nevertheless, I ended up with this Christmas classic from Benny Grunch. Now many of the Christmas songs on this CD refer heavily to New Orleans, the surrounding region and the culture and landmarks thereof, but even if you aren’t familiar with them, they still are entertaining. For example, the title track, “The 12 Yats of Christmas” describes many things well-known in that region like on day 6, a “six pack of Dixie” is received (meaning Dixie brand beer from New Orleans). Also in “If I Won Da Lottry For Christmas” there’s mention of the old Ponchatrain Beach amusement park that was torn down many, many years ago. Along with the amusing songs, there are some really sunglasses cool songs as well like “I Brought Presents” and a really outstanding rhythmic rendition of “Silent Night” that you have just got to hear. A couple of other songs I really like on the CD are “I Could See The Aluminum Tree Through The Pitcha Winda” and “Norris The Nocturnal Nutria.”

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    Christmas Music (Part Seven) December 13th, 2004

    And now for some more from my collection (this one is going to be short due to lack of time).

    Harry Connick, Jr.

    “When My Heart Finds Christmas” & “Harry For The Holidays” by Harry Connick, Jr.

    Harry Connick, Jr.’s two Christmas CD’s are some of the most romantic you will find available but they also have some whimsy about them, too. For example, the title track of his 1993 release “When My Heart Finds Christmas” is the kind of romantic Christmas song you’d like to have on the stereo while cuddling with your sweetheart by the fire. On the other hand, “(It Must Have Been Ol’) Santa Claus” is a whimsical song from a kid’s perspective after seeing ol’ Kris Kringle himself in the flesh. Some of the songs on both these CD’s reflect his New Orleans heritage with a wonderful second line rhythm while others harken back to the big band era of the 40’s. And some of them are wonderful gems of romantic music a la the crooners of the 40’s and 50’s. Overall, these two CD’s are definite must-haves for the Christmas music afficianado.

    Merry Cajun Christmas

    Merry Cajun Christmas

    One thing they sure know how to do in southeast Louisiana is celebrations and it shows brightest in cajun music. Cajun Christmas music contains not only the holiday spirit but the spirit of arcadia which is something that really cannot be explained but experienced. If you cannot physically be there for a fais deaux deaux, then a CD like this one is the next best thing. You may be familiar with traditional “The Night Before Christmas” but Tee Jules’ “Cajun Night Before Christmas” paints a mental picture of Christmas Eve on the bayou while Joe Bonsall’s “Here Come Santa Claus” elicits the sheer childlike joy of Christmas. The late Justin Wilson has a rare track that I haven’t seen anywhere else with his “Randolph, The Rouge Nosed Reindeer” which exhibits Wilson’s wonderful Louisiana charm that he was so famous for. This is a fairly rare CD but definitely worth the effort to find it.

    Bill Mumy & Sarah Taylor

    “I’ve Got Some Presents For Santa” by Bill Mumy and Sarah Taylor

    First of all, yes it’s the same Bill Mumy who played Will Robinson in “Lost In Space” and also played Lennier in “Babylon 5.” Now with that out of the way, let me inform you that he’s an excellent musician as well. I have most all of his CD’s and they are quite good. For this 2-song CD, he teams up with jazz singer Sarah Taylor for a rather steamy song about a woman, Santa Claus and, well, her interesting obsession with giving her some…er….”presents.” Yeah, rather risque but a fun little number. The other song on this CD is entitled “Holiday Affair”; a little less risque but you kind of get the idea from the title. Anyway, Taylor gives a breathy Eartha Kitt-esque performance in the title track which makes the song even more memorable. Definitely one to consider, but don’t play in front of the kiddies.

    Christmas Music (Part Six) December 12th, 2004

    Continuing the Christmas music entries….

    KROQ's Kevin & Bean

    KROQ’s Kevin & Bean Annual Christmas CD’s

    Each year since the late 90’s, KROQ radio in Los Angeles has released a compilation CD filled with hard-to-find Christmas music from current hot rock artists. They also contain comedy bits from the duo as well as members of their entourage and well-known celebrities. Overall they make for an always interesting listen. However be forwarned, some of the humor is blue. Unfortunately these CD’s are not released nationally but instead are released regionally. However they show up frequently on ebay. Some of the unique items on these CD’s include David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson playing their X-Files characters Muldar & Scully in a short humor skit called “The X-mas Files” and a Christmas poem from someone doing a reasonable impersonation of Jesse Jackson. Christmas music is provided by a whole host of artists like Korn, Blink 182, Coldplay, Outkast, etc. (many of the tunes available nowhere else except on these CD’s). Definitely worth checking out.

    The Best of Christmas In The Northwest

    The Best of Christmas In The Northwest

    This compilation released in 1994 contains the best of the first three volumes of the “Christmas In The Northwest” series and apparently proceeds for the sales go to the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Seattle. Apparently the artists on this album are from that region including Ann & Nancy Wilson (Heart/Lovemongers). Some very nice holiday songs on this CD. One of the more amusing cuts is “(Just Another) Wet Seattle Christmas” by The Double Tall Skinny Singers which is mostly sung to the tune of “Carol of the Bells” with a little grunge interlude in the middle. Ten years later, this CD is pretty hard to find and the series is up to at least volume 7 (maybe more, I’m not sure) but if you do find a copy, grab it while you can.

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    Christmas Music (Part Five) The Unique & Goofy December 11th, 2004

    Christmas has always been a time of rejoicing and praise, but it’s also been a time of fun and silliness. This is reflected in the music as well. Here’s some examples from my collection.

    Dr. Demento

    Dr. Demento Presents The Greatest Novelty CD of All Time

    Let’s start with the top authority on “mad music and crazy comedy,” Dr. Demento. This CD contains some of the all time holiday classics from Spike Jones, Allan Sherman, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Bob & Doug McKenzie, Cheech & Chong and others. This is probably the one of the best compilation CDs for Christmas silliness. Definitely a “must have” for any Christmas collection.

    Bob Rivers

    Bob Rivers

    Bob Rivers is in my humble opinion the current king of musical parody (no disrespect to “Weird Al” Yankovic) and his 5 Christmas CD’s are probably some of the funniest stuff available. I really enjoy his dead-on version of “I Am Santa Claus” which is how Ozzie Osbourne would have sounded if he did a Christmas album. “Goin’ Up To Bethlehem” is a fantastic soundalike of Creedence Clearwater Revival but it also is a great song in of itself and is very worthy of major airplay (but of course it doesn’t which is a shame). I could go on and on but I’d rather direct you to Bob Rivers’ website where you can hear these holiday songs and more.