Let me be honest from the outset; I despise Christmas songs of the sort that seem to populate the charts around this time. I even admit to never wanting to hear that Slade tune ever again and the nausea that overtakes me at the mention of Mistletoe and Wine or Fairy Tale… and someone please, please stop the cavalry! That is not to say I dislike Christmas (I love family get togethers) and the two Merry Axemas CDs on repeat are my only concession during this festive period but I’m afraid I still make Scrooge sound magnanimous when the crass commercialism and exploitation begin.
Ok, rant over…I now have to eat a little ‘umble pie (maintaining the Dickens theme): I have long espoused the excellence of Mike Zito’s Gulf Coast Records and now they have been gone and done a Christmas album that is actually different enough to be a damn good blues album that just happens to have Christmas related lyrics; some happy, some sad but all blues.
Being Zito’s project means lots of his label’s roster appear here which can only be a good thing, Bluesdoodles has reviewed may of them. This means we get the skills of Mike Zito, Albert Castiglia, Kat Riggins, The Proven Ones, Mark May, John ‘Blues’ Boyd, Lisa and Kid Andersen, Diana Rein, Kevin Burt, LeRoux, Jimmy Carpenter, Billy Price, Sayer and Joyce, Thomas Atlas, Odds Lane, and Tony Campanella adding their unique touches to seven originals and a few ahem, classics.
The opener, All I Got For Christmas is sad lyrically, but oh so sweet musically, with his sublime slide guitar embellishing this traditional electric blues structure. It’s well worth listening to anytime, just forget the bells at the beginning and the Christmas references. Slower and traditional blues from Albert Castiglia with Somebody Stole My Christmas…”it’s just another day to me” is the refrain over his trademark stinging guitar phrasing and solo. Another for all year and ignoring those references again…”ho, ho, ho!” A bit of funky blues next as Kevin Burt sings for Santa to bring his baby back: Please Mr Santa Claus is also a keeper and the piano and harp work, especially the solo, are classy. Billy Price adds vocal niceties to the languid Christmas Comes But Once A Year and, as with the others, is rescued by the horn and guitars bringing some superb blues tropes to bear…pity the guitar solo fades so long and early. More of those damnable bells herald a supergroup of sorts as The Proven Ones enliven and rock up Elvis’s Blue Christmas: a great reading but, despite a quite brilliant piano solo, it is a bit too Christmassy for the rest of the year as guitar and piano play with yuleish melodies. Clarence Carter’s Back Door Santa is given a bit of a tempo shift and brilliant bass to make it even better than the tongue in cheek original…the lyrics make it a stroke of genius and allowable the year round and Jimmy Carpenter puts the emphasis on the lyricism as well as the melody. The delightful Kat Riggins applies her considerable vocal talents to It Ain’t Christmas: slow and bluesy with neat keys and guitar provide the perfect backing for that voice and the guitar then keys solo makes the Christmas theme ignorable the rest of the year. Tony Campanella takes over on Santa Claus Wants Some Loving and adds his typical, inspired guitar and vocal phrasing on this mid tempo slice of blues…yet again, ignore the Santa overtures and enjoy the blues guitar wizardry. Merry Christmas Baby was a tad ‘ick’ when Charles Brown did it but, when it’s turned into a slow blues with an ace guitar solo from Kid Anderson (I even forgive the Jingle Bells reference because he plays it atonally) while John Blues Boyd and Lisa Andersen are obviously enjoying it all! Diana Rein adds her subtle, effective tones to Ring The Bells which swings along with neat guitars…the end product is a sort of rocky country blues that works really well. Mark May and Miss Molly take The Bluest Christmas into traditional blues territory and more great guitar, horns and vocals to make it memorable for the right reasons. LeRoux then turn in a scorching live acoustic country blues song with Who Da Baby Daddy? Listen to the lyrics and welcome a humerous and yet insightful take on the immaculate conception…brilliant! Thomas Atlas features on the soulful, funky blues goodness of Christmas Is Cancelled…hopefully not despite the best attempts of that cursed virus. Odds Lane turn their considerable talent to Santa Claus Is Back In Town and, in their hands, it is more than acceptable as they put their rock into the blues in a magnificent way: the guitar solo is inspired. Sayer and Joyce were responsible for one of my most favourite Gulf Coast releases and they don’t disappoint here as the blues permeate Please Come Home For Christmas and Charlotte’s superb vocals and Ron’s guitars takes the Charles Brown original, wrings its neck makes it something recognisable but new and very special. Finally, if Yule hasn’t got tired yet, its all wrapped up with Mike Zito’s take on his hero Chuck Berry’s Run Rudolph Run: as always with Mike his touch on the guitar is mesmerising and, even on this sparkling rockn’nroll record with festive lyrics shoehorned in by Chuck, he makes it worth a listen…in December at least.
So, here I am eating my ‘humble pie as I cannot deny that this is a damned good album full of great musicianship and some wonderful blues. The caveat is that, to listen out of season may be a challenge but it’s one I will embrace: the majority of the tracks are quality blues that just happen to mention Christmas a lot.
Bluesdoodles rating: A Wonderful blues album that just happens to be Christmas themed…only off-putting if you don’t listen to it first and, I guarantee, the blues excellence will take over for any out of season listening sessions.
Track listing and ‘lead’ artist:
1. All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues – Mike Zito
2. Somebody Stole My Christmas – Albert Castiglia
3. Please Mr. Santa Claus – Kevin Burt
4. Christmas Comes But Once A Year – Billy Price
5. Blue Christmas – The Proven Ones (Brian Templeton, Kid Ramos, Anthony Geraci, Willie J Campbell and Jimi Bott).
6. Back Door Santa – Jimmy Carpenter
7. It Ain’t Christmas – Kat Riggins
8. Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin – Tony Campanella
9. Merry Christmas Baby – John Blues Boyd / Lisa Andersen / Kid Andersen
10. Ring The Bells – Diana Rein
11. The Bluest Christmas – Mark May / Miss Molly
12. Who Da Baby Daddy? – LeRoux
13. Christmas Is Cancelled – Thomas Atlas
14. Santa Claus Is Back In Town – Odds Lane
15. Please Come Home For Christmas – Sayer and Joyce
16. Run Rudolph Run – Mike Zito