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Thursday, 03 December 2015 23:34

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree: Holiday Album Reviews

Written by  Mark Deming
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One of the best and worst things about the holiday season is Christmas music. While there are plenty of great Yuletide tunes that make you tap your toes and pull at the heartstrings, there are a lot of folks who have no desire to waste another minute listening to holiday dreck from Kenny G, Mannheim Steamroller or Mariah Carey. So if you want to add some new flavors to your Christmas mix, consider these albums and put a fresher twist on the songs of the season.

For the funky …
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
It’s a Holiday Soul Party (Daptone)

The best and toughest of the current crop of soul revival acts, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings put their own spin on the Christmas season with this new set of holiday jams. It’s a Holiday Soul Party mixes up holiday favorites like “Silver Bells” and “White Christmas” with hard-grooving re-workings of seasonal classics, such as “Funky Little Drummer Boy” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gents.” But the originals take the prize here, as the band ponders a lingering mystery with “Ain’t No Christmas in the Projects” and gives props to the Festival of Lights with “8 Days (Of Hanukkah).” Jones puts plenty of soul swagger on these tunes and the Dap-Tones give the music a stellar, sinewy groove. If this doesn’t make the Egg Nog go down easier, nothing will.

For the dour hipster …
Low
Christmas (Chair Kickers Union)

The brilliant Minnesota slowcore band Low cut this EP in 1999 and it’s still one of the most original and haunting holiday releases ever. While “Just Like Christmas” and “Little Drummer Boy” are (relatively) sweet and accessible, “If You Were Born Today (Song for Little Baby Jesus)” is a quiet but devastating meditation on the purpose of Christmas. “Blue Christmas” may be the most beautifully melancholy recording to date of that old chestnut.

For the cynical …
Various Artists
Bummed Out Christmas! (Rhino)

For those who are depressed, grumpy, or just not feeling it in the month of December, this is just what you need, a collection of tunes that says “Bah Humbug!” in a dozen different ways. High points include the Everly Brothers’ “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” (the perils of hitch-hiking on Dec. 24), the Sonics’ “Don’t Believe in Christmas” (‘Cause I didn’t get nothin’ last year!), Johnny & John’s “Christmas in Vietnam” (the celebration is interrupted by a rifle attack) and the Youngsters’ “Christmas in Jail” (which would make a great “don’t drink and drive” PSA).

For the power-pop addict …
The dB’s & Friends
Christmas Time Again! (Omnivore)

In 1986, Chris Stamey and the dB’s released a hip holiday EP for fans of hooky new wave and power pop, Christmas Time. This year, the dB’s have gifted us with an expanded, full-length version of the collection that boasts a stellar roster of cult favorites, including Yo La Tengo & Jeff Tweedy, Marshall Crenshaw, Alex Chilton, Robyn Hitchcock, Don Dixon, Thad Cockrell, R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Whiskeytown (featuring Taylor Swift’s new BFF, Ryan Adams). Even if you have the 2006 reissue of Christmas Time Again!, this version adds six new tracks, making it a great gift for your friend who’s always spinning Radio City and Repercussions.

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