Brothers Steve, Dolour, Greg Pope, Holiday songs, Lisa Mychols, Lisa Mychols & Super 8, Los Straightjackets, Nick Lowe, Nick Piunti and the Complicated Men, Peggy Sue, Ralphie's Red Ryders, Ruen Brothers, The Jac, Trolley, Velcro Mary, Vista Blue
Under normal circumstances we’d be reeling from the nearly toxic levels of holiday music saturation going on. Every shop, office or mall would be wall-to-wall Santa tunes, with a few mentions of that Jesus guy for good measure. And here I’d come along making the case for even more eggnog-splattered tune-age but with a significantly higher quotient of hooks. But not this year. Lockdown has put the holiday music hostage-taking on hold, at least somewhat. So I expect even greater tidings of joy to accompany my annual holiday hit parade offerings! Forget tinsel, let’s get a little reverb on that tree.
Kicking off our seasonal singles is fab contribution from Lisa Mychols. Last year Williamsport Grade 8 math teacher and aspiring songwriter Brian Fagnano wrote me late in the season to alert me to this great tune he’d written and convinced Mychols to record (sometimes cold-calling actually works!) and the result, “Ringing Bells on Christmas Day,” is fantastic, an instant classic! His note came too late to include the song in last year’s holiday post but I’ve kept it aside to feature this year. The track has a great Spector-ish quality to it, particularly in the song structure, with an updated, chiming indie-charm production-wise. This one’s going into an eggnog-with-rum level of rotation.
Another last-year Christmas song contribution came from the uber talented Brothers Steve. In addition to releasing a highly celebrated debut album (#1, reviewed here) the boys managed to get out a double-A-sided seasonal single. Last year’s post had one of the songs and this year I’m featuring the other, “I Love the Christmastime.” It’s got an early period Squeeze-like appeal, so 1980, in the best sort of way. The song also appears on the Big Stir Singles: The Yultide Wave with a load of other great tunes and artists (check out the whole package here). Another reliable band of hooky holiday music providers is Vista Blue with a whole album of festive tunes and one-off singles. But this year they blew the doors off on the doing-the-holiday-music thing with their Ralphie’s Red Ryders project and its accompanying album You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out. What a wonderful tribute to everyone’s fave anxiety-fueled holiday movie classic, A Christmas Story. And the songs are great too! I included “I’m Gonna Get an A+ on My Theme” because it’s my fave at this particular moment – that could (will) change. Growing up Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Paper” was a holiday 45 must play. Roy’s gone but a bit of him lives on in a raft of current releases from the Ruen Brothers, like their brand new holiday song, “This Wholesome Christmas Eve.” The boys nail the guitar ambience and songwriting style of 1962 while the vocals really are heavenly.
The holidays offer performers an immense catalogue of now-classic material to cover in their bid to get a piece of that seasonal download/streaming action. But not all remakes are made equally. Nick Lowe is ‘old reliable’ in his ability to cover a tune and practically reinvent it. His collection of seasonal songs, Quality Street, as aptly named, and not in the cheap chocolates sort of way. This year he dropped two more holiday songs on us, one a cover of “Let It Snow.” With the able backing of his regulars Los Straightjackets, Nick largely lets the song’s hooky melody do all the work and the result are candy cane good. Indie darlings Peggy Sue strike a similar guitar pose with their cover of the venerable “White Christmas,” with just a shiver of their distinctive other-worldly Blue Velvet-style on the vocals. Power pop master Greg Pope gets right to work cranking the guitar all over “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” shifting from reverby lead to power chords with solid melodic effect. A less obvious pairing sees melodic noise-ster Velco Mary add some swing to the otherwise rather more typically morose “Silent Night.” But, hey, it works, giving the song some as-yet undiscovered pep.
Ok, back to new holiday songs. Dolour has definitely been good this year, releasing copious amounts of great material, both albums and singles. No coal for these guys. But they have more to give! Like “All Winter Long,” a contribution to the season with a nice McCartney “Wonderful Christmastime” ambience. Nick Piunti and the Complicated Men’s “Christmas Morning” is a more upbeat take on festive music, with both their signature jangle and Bryan Adams-meets-Elvis Costello vocals in attendance. Now here’s a timely seasonal tune, in more ways than one: The Jac (featuring the Christmas crew)’s “I Won’t Be Leaving Home for Christmas.” I mean, no metaphor here. We’re locked down or should be, for everyone’s sakes. Still, Jangle band and The Jac main man Joe Algeri manages to make it sound light and uplifting, with a sing-along feel and great harmonies. Now slipping back a few years, here’s a winning Christmas selection from Trolley’s Star of Wonder album, “Christmas in the Marketplace.” The guitar riffing alone here makes this song sparkle.
We wrap up this installment of our holiday hit parade by coming full circle, back to Lisa Mychols, this time working with Super 8. The duo wowed listeners with the obvious musical chemistry all over their self-titled debut effort this past summer, one that managed to effectively vibe sun, sand and a bit of surf. Now they take aim at winter with “Red Bird,” and the track is more proof that what they’ve got going is no fluke. The song is easy-going and breezy like an afternoon skate on an outdoor rink.
Merry happy to you this season dear readers, wherever you are and whatever you believe. I hope your holidays are filled with hooks that get cranked to 11.
Photo credit: Larry Gordon.