It’s that time of the year when I get asked to write about all the holiday releases, which I typically love doing but for some reason it took a little extra to feel compelled to take up the task this time. But I am glad I said yes to the assignment because it seems like this is exactly what I needed to lift my Christmas spirits.
But first a polite plea from me. If you hear something you like, buy the record, explore the back catalog, do anything, if you can, to help out these musicians especially at this time of year.
So, with that being said, here we go! (click anywhere in bold/blue to find the music)
Johnny & The Mongrels “Christmas Angels.” I like soul. This tasty track from Johnny & The Mongrels checks that box pretty quick. Now its not an Otis Redding kinda soul, more like when Skynyrd’s Van Zandt got deep into a soulful growl kinda soul. The track is not cliched, tugs at the heartstrings a little and features great back forth vocals from primary members Jeff Bostic and Johnny Ryan. Southern rock, soul and a little bluesy feel show up at the the right moment to celebrate the season.
Kyle Culkin & The All-Star Holiday Band “Run Run Rudolph.” Besides Culkin, what grabbed me was the cast of characters involved in the this holiday classic: Ted Russel Kamp, Marty Rifkin, Jade MacRae, Jamieson Trotter & Adam Gus. Look ‘em up if you don’t know them! This band brings the A game immediately, breathing life into an already upbeat track. Most importantly, it’s fun and isn’t that one of the main selling points of a Christmas track? If not it should be. The musicianship is tight and vocals are on point. Put this one on later in the night when you may or may not still be full of Christmas cheer and crank it up.
Eric Brace & Last Train Home “By the Lights on the Tree.” A sequel of sorts to their 2000 song “Christmas in St. Paul,” “By the Lights on the Tree” brings us up to speed on the cast of characters we embraced so many years ago. This songs breaks my heart just a little every time I listen to it for some reason. I’m not sure if it’s Brace’s vocal delivery, worn and wistful, the banjo so perfect in the moment or the trumpet playing that does it to me. Maybe it’s because as I continue to get older I look back on the past with a little more fondness or as I look forward to the future knowing that so many of those I hold dear will not be there to celebrate those Christmases yet to come. I was shocked by my reaction to the song and love it for that very reason. Stellar performances all around, this may be my favorite new song for the season.
Frank Solivan “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” One of my favorite holiday songs, Solivan really does this classic justice. It is warm, inviting and Solivan’s big voice hits it right on the head. The bluegrass instrumentation plays really well and just like that, you have another holiday classic to enjoy this time of year!
Edan Archer “It Just Wasn’t Christmas.” I saw Edan play last year and I was immediately struck by the power of her voice. Luckily, nothing has changed. The more I listened to this song the more I liked it. Archer’s voice is breathy, soulful and playful and it pairs nicely with the jangly guitar. I really like the song and it shows that you can be creative and festive without always mining the past for songs to sing.
Sofia Talvik “The Mess We’re In.” In all honesty I only listened to this song because the description from Talvik characterized it as a “doomsday Christmas song”….SOLD!!!! No clue what to expect, I was immediately taken by Talvik’s voice. She has a lilting beautiful delivery and it plays nicely over the layered guitars and back beat. Given all that this year has turned into, this introspective moment hits you right in the feels. I liked the production and know that I will be exploring Talvik’s catalog sooner than later.
Joyeux Noel, Bon Chrismeusse : A Holiday EP from South Louisiana. Featuring musicians from south Louisianas music scene this is one of those releases that I look forward to in that it is unexpected and amazing. Sung in Creole and Cajun French the six song EP has offerings from members of regional favorites The Daquiri Queens, The Old Fashioned Aces and Sweet Crude. Playing heavily on Acadian tradition these six songs have been on constant repeat this season. In all fairness the entire EP is stellar but my favorite is the version of Wham’s “Last Christmas” that closes the collection. Put it on and enjoy the moment.
The Pinx Christmas Singles. I love The Kinks. I love “Father Christmas.” I really like Atlanta’s The Pinx take on the song. It is big, brashy and bold – kinda like the Kinks were at that stage in their career. This track flat out rocks and captures the essence of the original while still giving it their own stamp. The Stax class “Merry Christmas, Baby” has a nice little groove and is another case of a great reimagining of a holiday favorite while staying true to the original. Nice job boys, nice job.
Matt Eckstine “Christmas on Cable.” Perfect for all the right reasons. Subject matter – check, fiddle – check, and mandolin – check. Just listen to it, trust me, as it is absolutely what we needed this holiday season.
This is part one of my Christmas release review and there is more to come. Calexico, Los Lobos, etc will make an appearance in part two coming soon.