Face it. The season of Merry and Jolly is upon us. I can’t decide which is worse, crawling the mall to get that certain little something for the progeny, or the non-stop holiday syrup dripping into my ears from every speaker that is hooked up to a radio, muzak system, and broadcast system 24/7.
Elvis warbling 'Blue Christmas,' not exactly the way I’d like to remember him.
Johnny Mathis, singing ‘White Christmas’, to continue with the color theme. The Barking Dogs. Can there be no surcease, oh Christmas, or is this the vision of what will be?
Thanks to the good folks at Razor and Tie, there are alternatives. I mean alternatives.
They’ve released three really fun Compact Discs just in time to cure your Christmas blues, or whites, or help you roast those chestnuts. Or drive those stodgy relatives back into the kitchen and away from the stereo system.
I’ve never been much of a metal-head, but I do love a well-twanged guitar. There is something irrepressible about the energy of this CD. It features some very traditional pop holiday ballads, shredded gleefully and energetically by the likes of Skid Row, Winger, Nelson, Faster Pussycat, Twisted Sister and Lita Ford, Queensryche.
They say that the measure of a good song, or melody, is that it transfers across a continuum of musical styles. Irving Berlin may be rolling in his grave at the Queensryche version of ‘White Christmas’, but I think it is a rip. (That’s the same Irving Berlin who asked Kenny Rankin, who had just serenaded him with an a capella, skat version of ‘Always’, “Who told you you could sing?”) It has all the angst missing from the more traditional versions; you can just imagine the lead singer sitting on the beach in Miami, writing Christmas cards to friends and family.
Winger does an outstanding job on the Lennon/Ono ode to civic responsibility, ‘Happy Christmas/War is Over’; ringing acoustic guitars, meshed with massive electric chords remind us that this song, perhaps above all others, will stand as the single most poignant and bittersweet call for change in the latter part of the 20th century.
A straight shot of Chuck Berry rockin’, rollin’ is delivered by L.A. Guns, as they rip through ‘Run, Run Rudolph’. It absolutely seethes; if I was Rudolph I’d’ve cleared town the second that machine gun splatter of electric guitars tore through the air.
There isn’t a track on this CD that won’t bring a smile to your face. I know, riffing on Christmas Ballads is a pretty easy target; but doing it and having fun, doing it and somehow, through the wall of sound, retaining that holiday feel; now that is the trick. Listening to the first 30 seconds of ‘Blue Christmas’, contributed by Tom Kieffer of Cinderella, seals the deal. The last minute-and-a-half of alternating wailing guitar, soaring saxophone, and tremulous organ playing will leave you heavily dosed with the holiday spirit.
Even if you bring it out once a year, this one belongs in your holiday collection. Put it right next to Johnny Mathis CD on the rack, between Burl Ives and Helen Reddy; I’ll bet the damn CD pops right out and forces it’s way back into the CD player.
Don’t be surprised if you come home sometime in July, and Stryper’s ‘Winter Wonderland’ is erupting out of your stereo system. This one has legs and attitude.
The Yo Yo Kids
This CD is about as close as you will get to blending rap styling with middle class holiday materialism. Produced, recorded and mixed by Frederick Sargolini, the material is a mix of traditional tunes with rewritten lyrics that push a more suburban view of the holiday season. You won’t find much ghetto rage, the language is exceptionally mild, the cheer is good, and the overall package is clean without being slick, safe for kids and even pokes a little bit of self deprecating fun at itself.
And the new version of ‘Deck the Halls’ offered on the CD may be the only song ever rewritten (or written for that matter) that manages to mention Rudolph and Jesus in successive lines. That, folks, is nothing to sneeze at.
Alright, I’ll admit it. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. And hey, I've spent the many the month of December listening to music with far less redeeming value. The kids will enjoy it; mine certainly have. And not to boast, they have developed something of a discriminating palate.
Alvin, Theodore and Simon, and Friends
Yup. I should be a little abashed here, but I am not. This CD, released prior to the movie (coming to an old stone wall near you by mid-December) is a pleasant, no, a delightful surprise. Everything old is new again, they say, but a lot of things lose their luster coming down the years. Not the Chipmunks, who were a staple of my childhood. They were the rodents of my pre-teen years. I was, and have secretly remained, Munk'd.
I knew that David Seville had some kind of relationship with Alvin and his posse. Manager, producer, musical director, keeper, I never knew what the nature of his relationship was. But as a kid who was yelled at a lot, Alvin and I were twin souls, forever bedeviling the David Seville’s of the world. Me and Alvin.
Later, I learned that the stern Mr. Seville was actually a gentle soul named Ross Bagdasarian, and that all three of the chipmunk voices were in fact his. At the time (the late 50’s) he was probably pushing technology to the limits- three tracks of voices, then his voice, then a track for music. Whew.
This CD is, in many ways, a good-natured homage to Bagdasarian. But it is more than that. It is a sly poke at the mutability of musical styles, at the ability of the average human, when forced to smile by forces beyond their control, to adapt to the most absurd and wonderful of noises.
I don’t know what the movie is about, I’m not sure that I want to know. But the soundtrack is a blast. Sure, the originals are there- ‘Witch Doctor’, and ‘Christmas Don’t Be Late.’ As sentimental as I am, I’m glad to have them back in my collection.
But the CD starts with the very familiar opening refrain, strumming guitar and piano, of Daniel Powter’s ‘Bad Day’. And then, Alvin, clear as a bell ringing in an upper octave, starts to sing the lead, joined shortly by his erstwhile street corner buddies Simon and Theodore. You are startled, but by the about two minutes into the song, it sounds perfectly normal. Chipmunks singing a pop anthem sounds normal.
If that ain’t magic, what is?
Add a couple of remixed versions of the two classics, trading vocals with and backing up Canadian singer/composer Jason Gleed, and you are well on your way to a terrifically enjoyable send up of the music scene. ‘Witch Doctor’, with Chris Classic, done as a partial rap, while Rebecca Jones joins the rodents on another of those lush pop heart-songs that dominate the Disney-channel radio stations.
They even leap aboard ‘Funky Town;’ and I swear to goodness it is better than the original.
I had to pry the CD out of the hands of my progeny to get it back from them so that I could review it.
Leave your preconceptions outta this decision. And since there are only a couple of Christmas songs on the CD, it qualifies for a year-round listen.
Technically, the album is utterly seamless, managing to blend the harmonious trill of the Chipmunks with the sinuous voice of Ms. Jones, in an utterly believable fashion.
Three months ago, if anyone told me that I’d be writing a review raving about the newest Alvin and the Chipmunks CD, I’d have laughed. I’ve just done that, and you know what? I’m still laughing. I haven’t had so much fun sharing music with my kids since we went to see Jake Shimabukuro play uke.
You can connect with Razor and Tie at razorandtie.com. They have a pretty eclectic roster of artists, and I can tell you that have a great sense of humor, too. Must be a really fun place to work.