Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Very Boring Onion Xmas


Full-time employment at KEXP curtails my free time for holiday blogging, but the gig is not without benefits ... including swell co-workers. My pal Graham, who works in Admin and never ceases to make me chuckle, has launched his new experimental music label with this digital single showcasing radical re-workings of cuts from the Beach Boys Christmas catalog. I prefer the pitch-bending chicanery of "Santa's Beard" by the Mustard Boys but either side will throw a welcome kink into your Christmas list. Bravo, Graham!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Jon Anderson "3 Ships"



And a little Post-It shall lead them ...

I saw this note tacked to the jacket of a used LP at Wall of Sound the other day and was powerless at the very notion: Jon Anderson made a Christmas album? Sweet baby Jesus, yes! And dig this: "Musical Arrangements by Bob Esty." Yes, THAT Bob Esty, the one responsible for Cher's "Take Me Home" and Barbra Streisand's "The Main Event."


Copyright info says 1985, which places 3 Ships two years after Yes' Trevor Horn-produced comeback 90125 and a year after Band-Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas." I mention the timing because that's the only reason I can think of why a major label record exec green-lighted this disc.

We've been having a pretty prog-tastic year avec chez Toro, what with Mark's adolescent Jethro Tull fixation still going strong plus my recent compulsion to bone up on Peter Gabriel-era Genesis (I blame the inclusion of Wesley Stace in this book). Even so, it's shocking how well-received 3 Ships has been in our home. It's mixed bag of burbling synthesizers (Vangelis contributes one song, "Easier Said Than Done"), bubbly island percussion a la "Under the Sea" ("Day of Days"), some guitars by Elliot Easton (the Cars) ... oh, and a take-no-prisoners reading of "O Holy Night" featuring Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Sandra Crouch.

Tacky as all get-out and strangely intoxicating—perfect for the holidays!



Video: "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects"



One of my favorite contemporary holiday cuts, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects," has a new video. The song was originally released on a Daptone 45 back in 2009 but is getting a big push this year to coincide with the band's appearance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and the release of the previously postponed new album Give the People What They Want (in stores January 2014 and in rotation on KEXP now).

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Have A Merry Christmas with Anita O'Day


In all my years as a writer, I've issued very few retractions, but I was sorely tempted to after this Seattle Weekly piece on Anita O'Day back in 2003 proved overconfident. "At 83 years old, she can still sing circles around the competition," I concluded.

When I'd seen the iconic jazz singer a couple years earlier, she still could. But the poor woman that showed up at Jazz Alley was past her prime. There were glimmers of her legendary talent, but she was so disoriented it was upsetting. She wandered around the stage like a lost child and needed generous prompting to make it through songs she'd been singing for decades.

That's my long-ass way of saying that while I'm excited her long out-of-print holiday set Have A Merry Christmas with Anita O'Day has been reissued this year, please take my endorsement with a grain of salt. Save us both some pain and try before you buy; it's streaming on Spotify. I don't know too much about the set's origins—AllMusicGuide says the performances date from 1970, while the press release I got says the album came out in 1984—but I dig its relaxed and playful take on classics like "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "The Christmas Song."

Red Jacket Mine "Holiday Pathos"



This time last year I augmented my Yuletide to-do list by writing a new press bio for local combo Red Jacket Mine. I was so taken with Lincoln Barr's witty, tuneful originals and the whole Nick Lowe/Graham Parker vibe of Someone Else's Cake that resistance was futile. Indeed, Someone Else's Cake is one of my favorite local releases of 2013, no contest.

Fast forward to, um, now. Not only has my beloved Nick Lowe released a Christmas record, but so has Red Jacket Mine.

"I wrote both songs on spec, essentially, when a friend invited me to play a Christmas-themed show last December," says Barr. "The sentimental holiday standbys didn't accurately reflect my state of mind at the time, so I decided to try and pen a couple of my own. After their one and only public performance, a few friends asked me if any recordings existed, and I started to think that cutting them with a band might not be a bad idea."

Lincoln was right. The A-side, "Holiday Pathos," is a real corker, complete with the requisite handbells, and sits nicely on a mix tape next to Graham Parker's "Christmas Is For Mugs" or Nick's new "Christmas At The Airport." And while the lyric may be a bit cynical, this little single's heart is in the right place: all net proceeds benefit Seattle Musicians for Children's Hospital (aka SMooCH).

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Be careful what you wish for ...


On morning last year, after hitting the frankincense brazier a little too hard, I asked Santa to magically unearth a long-lost Runaways Christmas song to add to the hipster holiday canon. Apparently my message got garbled en route to the North Pole. What I got instead was "Rock This Christmas Down," an unexpected reunion of Lita Ford and Cherrie Curie.

*head scratch*

I didn't find the song as entertaining as the promo shot, but you be the judge; you can listen to "Rock This Christmas Down" and read an interview with the former Runaways over at USA Today.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

!!! "And Anyway It's Christmas"



I loves me some !!!. I was backstage after their Bumbershoot performance this year and not only did Nic Offer not scurry away like a frightened rabbit when I geeked out hardcore over his Some Girls hot pants (which I learned had begun life as a pair of board shorts but he wanted to show more leg), he didn't even bother to retreat into his tent to change out of them while we talked. That's a pro.

Anywho, the Sacramento dance-punk combo has just brightened up my holiday playlist with "And Anyway It's Christmas," a frisky little groover that's on par with the better moments of their THR!!!ER album. I mean, it's no "Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)" but on a scale of one partridge in a pear tree to 12 drummers drumming, I'd still give it seven swans a swimming.