Sunday, December 24, 2006


I almost forgot to post the Christmas CD reviews I did for Pasatiempo this week.

Some of these I've been playing on my radio shows the last few weeks.

And you can hear even more on my (pre-recorded) Steve Terrell Christmas Special on KSFR tonight 10 p.m. to midnight on KSRF, 90.7 FM. It'll be streaming HERE.

* Christmas in Jail by The Soul Deacons (CD single, self-released) No, this isn’t some dark-hearted Christmas wish from The Soul Deacons for their former manager, whom they are suing. Santa Fe’s favorite soul band is covering an old R & B novelty song for a good cause. Not only are they selling it as a single (backed with the sweet soul ballad “Next Time”), but they also struck a deal with New Mexico’s department of transportation to use it for an anti-DWI radio spot, which is swamping the state’s radio waves. Several people have recorded “Christmas in Jail” through the years, but unlike other Christmas novelties, it hasn’t been overdone. The oldest version I know is by an obscure R & B group called The Youngsters. (It’s on an old Rhino compilation called Bummed Out Christmas.) You also can find it by Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson on Redneck Christmas. (reviewed below) The song is a longtime holiday favorite for Brother E. Clayton and the boys. When I saw them last December, they played it twice. The crowd would have been happy with a third time. The Deacons’ version includes a comical rap between a couple of “jailbirds.” But my favorite part is bassist Jimmy Martinez’s sinister “Ho, ho, ho.”

*Redneck Christmas by Various Artists (Time Life) As you might expect with a collection like this, Redneck Christmas has its share of “hot new” country duds and hackneyed corn. Let’s just say, if I never hear Elmo and Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” again, my Christmas would not be any less merry. But what is surprising is how many good tunes — even a few great tunes — are here. There’s a wonderful, old (1957!) George Jones song, “A New Baby for Christmas,” a Yuletide trucker tune (Red Simpson’s “Truckin’ Trees for Christmas”), and some hilarity from hick hipsters Homer & Jethro (“All I Want for Christmas Is My Upper Plate”). My favorite new discovery is Texas singer Dale Watson’s “You Can Call Me Nick,” a politically edged song about meeting a mysterious stranger in a drunk tank on Christmas Eve. (“He looked like an immigrant, his skin was dark and tough/He couldn’t even name our president.”) One twisted touch: on both ends of this compilation are songs that are basically country variations of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” The disc starts with Buck Owens’ 1965 hit “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy,” which contains that classic line: “If Santa Claus ain’t Daddy, then I’m gonna tell on them.” Buck and the Buckaroos were at the peak of their power about this time, and this song made the season even jollier. But on the other end of the album is “Santa Can’t Stay” by Dwight Yoakam, a darker version of this story that Yoakam first recorded for his 1997 Christmas album. On one level, the song — featuring an almost Phil Spector-esque production — is funny: a drunken father dons a red suit and barges in on Mama and her new boyfriend, Ray, as the mystified children look on. But any divorced parent who remembers that first holiday after the split-up can’t help but feel pangs of horror.

*Lou Rawls Christmas (Time Life) This, according to the liner notes, was the last album that Rawls — who died of cancer in January — recorded. He went down swinging. Recorded with a 10-piece band, Rawls romps through familiar, time-honored Christmas tunes. He even makes “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Come All Ye Faithful” — songs typically performed with an aura of piety — sound downright hip. You almost can imagine the shepherds and the wise men snapping their fingers along with these. And, backed only by piano and guitar, he brings out a bluesy side I’d never heard in “Jingle Bells.” There are a couple of missteps, though. Rawls is a little lackluster on Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song.” And the pseudo-Latin beat doesn’t quite flow on “Joy to the World.” If he wasn’t already likable enough, the album ends with Rawls talking about Christmas memories — mainly about his grandmother’s cooking. “She could make a turkey do dances and dances. ... She knew everybody loved them sweet potato pies. That’s what Christmas was all about. Yeah, buddy!” All in all, it’s a classy effort by a singer who could belt out soul ballads with Sam Cooke and then turn around and do a convincing take on the Sinatra songbook.


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