It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas
Every year, there’s always one new Christmas release that stands apart. This season it’s from pub rocker turned crooner Nick Lowe, whose first attempt at something seasonal lands an instant classic. With many moods and tunes veering drastically from the ordinary, even its surf rock “Silent Night” runs counter to standard fare.
Nick Lowe, Quality Street
Covers songs by Ron Sexsmith, Roger Miller, and Roy Wood’s Wizzard, along with a few obscure traditional tunes and a couple of original compositions, including a co-write with Ry Cooder. From sizzling rockabilly to solemn spirituals and his now standard late-night smoking section, Lowe’s produced the best kind of Christmas LP: one that’s listenable year round.
Bright Eyes, A Christmas Album
Will delight Conor Oberst’s fans as well as those with a taste for more traditional fare done with a decidedly non-traditional flair. Originally released in 2002 as an online exclusive benefiting the Nebraska AIDS Project, it’s now available digitally, as well as on CD and vinyl. Oberst and Azure Ray’s Maria Taylor wrote the arrangements and vocalize on 11 songs, all standards including “White Christmas” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” and each performed with a mysterious air filled with creaks, groans, and whistling winds. Christmas music rarely sounds so desolate yet charming.
Holiday HAAM Jam, Vol 3 A Very Blue Rock Christmas
Benefiting the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, the first of two new local comps features a mix of long timers Joe Ely, Dale Watson, and Kimmie Rhodes alongside relative newcomers Sons of Fathers and Kendall Beard. Meanwhile, rightly heralded Blue Rock Studios in Wimberley gathers performances for its annual Hill Country Christmas series, A Very Blue Rock Christmas. Austin’s Sara Hickman, Ruthie Foster, and Terri Hendrix are among the live recordings, which also include performances by Kerrville Folk Fest faves David Wilcox and Pierce Pettis. Exquisitely recorded, this one’s recommended for those with a taste for contemporary folk.
Mad Men Christmas
Inevitable that cable TV’s Mad Men would take advantage of the wealth of Christmas music that came out of the Sixties. Its dozen tracks include iconic versions of “The Christmas Song” by its writer Mel Torme and Dean Martin’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” as well as the show’s theme performed by RJD2 and a remix of “Zou Bisou Bisou” by Jessica Pare, who famously performed the song last season as Megan Draper. A good cross section of music, but probably only for Mad Men fanatics.
Johnny Cash, George Jones & Tammy Wynette, Alabama, Andy Williams, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond
Legacy Recordings began a notable series this year, albums from these country stars and famed vocalists. These collections gather songs from multiple LP, most of them centuries out of print, into something new and at 16 tracks each you get your money’s worth. Some will quibble over song selection and there’s quite a bit of standard fare, but for the most part they’re career-spanning collections worth getting a fan of that particular artist. The Cash mix, sincerely good cheer, sounds like an album the Man in Black would’ve put together himself.
Songs for Slim
Finally, it’s not a Christmas album, but it supports a good cause: Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap, who’s been incapacitated by a stroke. A 2-CD set, it contains all the music originally released on fundraiser 45s from earlier this year, including tracks from the ‘Mats, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Jeff Tweedy, Patterson Hood, and 14 more, plus unreleased music from Soul Asylum, Peter Holsapple of the dB’s, and the Young Fresh Fellows. If this doesn’t get you in the holiday swing, nothing will.