Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Very Rosie Christmas by Rosie Thomas (holiday music)

Though one is not supposed to judge a product by its cover, I have to admit that the photo on the front of A Very Rosie Christmas led me to believe that I was in for amateur night by the yule log. But the quirky appearance belies the heartfelt (and polished!) interpretations inside.

The eponymous Rosie Thomas offers a surprisingly faithful rendition of "Christmastime Is Here" (from A Charlie Brown Christmas), which is followed hard upon by the joyous pop confection — complete with horn and string sections — "Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year?" (at this writing, currently available as a free download on Amazon). This is one of those songs that so captures the mood and tone of the season that it will become a favorite of all who hear it.

Like most Christmas albums, other covers follow, both of traditional favorites ("Winter Wonderland," "Let It Snow," "O Come O Come Emmanuel") and nontraditional selections and original offerings. She knocks the dust off the old chestnuts (her "Silent Night" is a creative reimagining), but it is through the other covers and new songs that the personality of A Very Rosie Christmas flows.

Thomas showcases her smooth vocals (reminiscent of Dar Williams) on Joni Mitchell's "River." "Snow Day" is an original instrumental that calls to mind the feeling of flying — or the closest thing to it on land: sledding — as well as snowball fights and other school's-out fun.

Also here is a straitlaced rendition of "Christmas Don't Be Late" (more famously known as "The Chipmunk Song"), which fares unevenly. Some powerful new verses have been added to the lyrics, but the nearly seven-minute length spotlights the original's musical weaknesses.

Another spotlight is the skit "Sheila's Christmas Miracle," where Thomas's alter ego Sheila Saputo meets a convenience-store manager who offers her a Christmas wish. Saputo is an engagingly quirky character, and Brian Shoop is kind and genuine as "Mr. Krinkle," as Sheila calls him. Lastly, Rosie sends us off with a Christmas wish, a perfect closer to A Very Rosie Christmas, an album that contains a great mix of holiday music and a great deal of Christmas spirit.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets! by Los Straitjackets (Christmas surf rock)

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission.

I know you. You may think I don't, but I can prove it.

You've been looking all over for it. You may not have known it, but you were. What is it, you ask? You know, but I'll put it into words for you: An instrumental Christmas album with a surf-rock feel.

And now your secret prayers have been answered by Los Straitjackets. 'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets! is exactly what you've been seeking. Ten traditional Christmas tunes (and three originals, but you'll think you recognize them, anyway) performed in the style of the Ventures, Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, and the Centurions by four men in Mexican wrestling masks. Classic surf rock entwined with holiday festivities. Christmas music to play at the beach.

I mean, where else but on 'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets! can you get a version of Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad" introduced by the opening to Ritchie Valens's "La Bamba," or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" sounding like "Tequila" by the Champs, or "Frosty the Snowman" opened with the drum line from Glenn Miller's "Sing! Sing! Sing!," or "The Little Drummer Boy" where the bass shares the melody with a jangly guitar, or any of the other innovative additions Los Straitjackets have given their interpretations of these beloved songs?

From the beginning riffs of "Here Comes Santa Claus" to the final cymbal clash of a surprisingly mellow rendition of "The Christmas Song," 'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets! is the ideal Christmas album. Oh, it's a novelty, to be sure, but one that will fit in wonderfully with the more traditional holiday albums in your collection.

You see, I do know you. I know you can't wait to get your hands on this masterpiece of mixed genres called 'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets!. This festive bit of fun from four Nashvilleans with a faux Spanish moniker.

In fact, you're already tapping your mistletoes in expectation....
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