Seasonal tunes for Christians, Jews, and everybody else who deserves a gift.
by Gregg Shapiro (plus Stocking Stuffer previews by Nancy Ford)
The B-52s never put out a holiday record, and that’s a shame. But fear not, out B-52s front man Fred Schneider has teamed up with Noah Brodie and Dan Marshall to form The Superions and release Destination . . . Christmas! (Fanatic). Even without Kate (Pierson) or Cindy (Wilson), Destination . . . Christmas! sounds like it could be a lost B-52s record, in (Christmas) spirit, at least. The 11 new songs, with titles such as “Christmas Conga (Jungle Bells),” “Crummy Christmas Tree,” “Jingle Those Bells,” “Laughter at Christmas,” and “Christmas Tears” have the kind of kooky lyrics we’ve come to expect from Schneider. There are also plenty of opportunities for dancing on “Santa’s Disco” (as you might have guessed), “Fruitcake,” “Santa Je T’aime,” and the Cerrone-like “Teddy and Betty Yeti.”
Schneider isn’t the only out musician making the most of the holiday season. Amy Ray and Emily Sailers of Indigo Girls wrap up a dozen songs on their first holiday disc Holly Happy Days (IG Recordings/ Vanguard). Originals such as the bouncy banjo number “The Wonder Song” and the inclusive “Your Holiday Song” are welcome additions to the Christmas music songbook. Their distinctive interpretations of standards such as “O Holy Night,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High,” as well as out singer/songwriter Chely Wright’s “It Really Is a Wonderful Night” and Beth Nielsen Chapman’s “There’s Still My Joy,” are glorious, while the inclusion of Woody Guthrie’s “Happy Joyous Hanukkah” is a delight.
One listen to Annie Lennox’s beautiful and abundant A Christmas Cornucopia (Decca) and you will wonder why she hasn’t recorded an album such as this before. After all, she was born on December 25. The dozen songs range from the well-known selections, including “The First Noel,” “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and “Silent Night,” to less familiar fare, such as “As Joseph Was a-Walking,” “See Amid the Winter’s Snow,” and “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” Lennox closes the disc with the original composition “Universal Child,” a powerful number with a message that extends beyond the holiday season.
Shelby Lynne tosses her Santa hat into the ring with Merry Christmas! (Everso/Fontana). Like the Indigo Girls, Lynne combines her renditions of classics of the season—including a “Sleigh Ride/Winter Wonderland” medley, “Christmas Time Is Here,” “O Holy Night,” “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”—with her own compositions. “Ain’t Nothing Like Christmas” is a celebratory song of the season, while “Xmas” reminds us of Lynne’s way with heartbreak, even during the holidays.
The Puppini Sisters sound like they were born to sing holiday songs. They put Elton John’s “Step into Christmas” into their personal time machine on Christmas with the Puppini Sisters (Verve), giving the song a timeless quality. The same goes for George Michael’s “Last Christmas” and even Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas.” As for familiar favorites such as “Santa Baby,” “Let It Snow,” and the ukulele-driven “Mele Kalikimaka,” they are given the respectful treatment one would expect from the Puppinis.
A new cause for celebration, Best Christmas Ever (Bad Girls Sounds) marks Ronnie Spector’s return to holiday music. From the inclusive “It’s the Time (Happy Holidays)” to the buoyant “My Christmas Wish” to the radiant “Light One Candle” and the retro “Best Christmas Ever,” this is one Christmas gift you won’t want to return.
The Canadian Tenors give The Perfect Gift (Decca) an especially Canadian flavor. The vocal quartet teams up with fellow country-person Sarah McLachlan on her “Wintersong,” for example, and also performs “Huron Carol,” written by Canadian Jesuit Jean de Brébeuf, as well as two songs co-written by Stephan Moccio (the title tune and “Instrument of Peace”). In an unusual twist, ? the Tenors extend the Canadian connection to include Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (complete with bagpipes!).
Celtic Thunder keeps the thunder to a minimum on their holiday disc Christmas (Decca). They do, however, perform new or lesser-known songs such as “Christmas 1915,” “Going Home for Christmas,” “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day,” and “Our First Christmas Together,” which serve to enhance the familiarity factor on the rest of the disc.
While it was awfully Christian, if you will, of the Indigo Girls to include a Hanukkah song on their holiday CD, it just serves to illustrate the dearth of music for the Jewish holiday. The various artists comp Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations (Idelsohn Society) doesn’t have any Hanukkah songs on it, but it does feature Johnny Mathis performing “Kol Nidre” (for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement). Additionally, “Fiddler on the Roof” is highlighted (“Sabbath Prayer” performed by Cannonball Adderley and a medley from the musical done by The Temptations), as well as Yiddish favorites including “Utt Da Zay” (Cab Calloway) and “Ich Hob Dich Tzufil Lieb” (Alberta Hunter), and much more.
As mystical as modern Jewish music gets (just listen to the sitar on “Bones Become Rainbows”), The Low Hanging Fruit (JDub) by The Wailing Wall (a.k.a. Jesse Rifkin) makes it safe for Brooklyn vegan hipsters and their contemporaries everywhere.
One thing you can say for the Jewish people: they have maintained their sense of humor. The late Allan Sherman, a purveyor of great musical comedy, released a series of albums during the 1960s that still produce well-deserved laughs today. Sherman’s gift for parody lyrics have rarely been equaled (although the queer, half-Jewish Kinsey Sicks comes close on occasion) and are best exemplified on his first three albums My Son, the Folk Singer, My Son, the Celebrity, and My Son, the Nut, all three reissued on Collectors’ Choice Music. Just try not to crack a smile when Sherman transforms “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” into “The Ballad of Harry Lewis” (a tribute to a mensch of the cloth—read: rag trade), revises the Harry Belafonte hit “Matilda” into “My Zelda,” French kisses “Frère Jacques” into the phone duet “Sarah Jackman” (with Christine Nelson) on My Son, the Folk Singer, or sings his biggest hit, the letter-from-camp song “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” based on “Dance of the Hours” by Ponchielli from La Gioconda on My Son, The Nut. If this isn’t Hanukkah party music, what is?
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.
3 More Stocking Stuffers
Recording history’s number-one top-selling female artist did what few before her have done: introduced a contemporary standard to the all-time classic holiday playlist with “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Here Mimi remakes her own holiday standard and adds a new hopeful to her stable of Yuletide chart-toppers with “Oh Santa.” Island Def Jam Music Group (islanddefjam.com).—Nancy Ford
To paraphrase lead singer Carnie Wilson’s words, if you don’t like Christmas music, you are an angry person. Here the Beach Boy-spawned, super-selling ’90s pop trio reunites to harmonize on standards like “Little Drummer Boy,” “Silver Bells,” “Sleigh Ride,” as well as a handful of new originals. Sony Masterworks (sonymasterworks.com).—Nancy Ford
Tony winners and wannabes alike work for charity on this snappy collection of show tune-inspired holiday hits. Now with a dozen volumes under its belt since its founding in 1999, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS has raised more than $3 million supporting people with AIDS, as well as women’s health issues. Cast members representing Million Dollar Quartet, American Idiot, Wicked, and other top-rated shows contribute to the double-CD collection. Rock-It Science Records (broadwaycares.org).—Nancy Ford