Can I be real with you guys? I miss Jacqueline Lovell. She was the only softcore chick I ever had a crush on. Whatever happened to her…?
Can I be more real with you? The bylime this week says “Jeb Delia” for a reason. What he did this week (and every week) is truly amazing. Hope this holiday treats you kindly, my liege.
Anyway…I can tell you that these are the dark times – and I have no idea why. One would think that, on the eve of the most ridiculous retail day on the calendar, studios would stack the deck? But this town is coming up a ghost town.
Amazon is doing Black Friday deals…Best Buy has got some shit going on – but there’s no real big ticket stuff to sing about this week. I might go OCCUPY someplace.
12 ANGRY MEN (Criterion)
The Klugger’s in the house! Criterion upgrayedds the drama to Blu, boasting a new transfer and the same extras – which, of course, are impressive.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN
I think I’m alone in my enjoyment of this pulpy mass of stabbins and boobies, but there it is. I think the film is better constructed than the Schwarzenegger flicks, I think Momoa is a better barbarian, and I think the production looks pretty good. I don’t get the criticism that the action is hard to follow or filled with needless flipping and jumping – it seems that every time a set piece started to mutate into some moronic Pirates of the Caribbean-style gravity defying shlock, the filmmakers wisely subverted expectations and kept things organic and grounded. During the climactic fight, which took place on a giant, falling wheel, I feared that the two clashing fighters would flip, jump, and run around the structure, with no regard for physics. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they react much the way humans would.
Meaning…they fall. Very far. And it looks like it hurts. Everything in this movie looks like it hurts – brutal beatings, cruel torture, and bloody death blood abound. And the 3D is lovely in the home.
Criterion’s new Blu is gorgeous – and there’s more picture information than the previous master. Now they need to make The Life Aquatic happen.
Steven Spielberg’s latest sees the Goonies reunited to help Clover the Cloverfield Monster find his metric fuckton of lost cosmic cubes.
Wait – you say JJ Abrams directed this…? Wow.
I’m a fan of Jabrams. He and I have the same taste in women, definitely – but with the Spielberg worship here…he goes where I cannot follow.
IT MEANS EVERYTHING: THE BLU RAY OF THE WEEK!
John Landis’ love letter to silent cinema, B-westerns, and the buddy picture killed me in the theater as a kid, and it still holds power over me now. I could just start typing the script for this film right now. I know every music cue, every groaner gag, every throwaway line.
A wise man – CHUD Legend ‘Dre Dellamorte – tweeted that the disc looks not great. I’m honestly happy the thing is finally ANAMORPHIC. They couldn’t pull that off with two DVDs.
ALL IN – THIS WEEK’S BLU:
12 Angry Men
Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas
Britney Spears: Femme Fatale Tour Live
Conan the Barbarian
The Devil’s Double
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series
Dracula 4 Film Series
Europe: Live at Shepherd’s Bush, London
Fairy Tail: Part 1
The Family Tree
Farscape: The Complete Season One
Farscape: The Complete Season Two
Farscape: The Complete Season Three
Farscape: The Complete Season Four
Farscape: The Complete Series
Godzilla Vs. Megalon – Big G fights the God of Draperies
A Madea Christmas: The Play – Waitaminnit – shouldn’t this be some sort of shitty pun?
Nature: Jungle Eagle
Nova: Fabric of Cosmos
The Rolling Stones: Some Girls Live in Texas ’78
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World
These Amazing Shadows: Movies That Make America
NOW THAT’S WHAT CHUD CALLS HOLIDAY CHEER – WITH JEB DELIA!
A turkey week for turkey day… basically, except for some 11/15 releases that got pushed to 11/21, and which we mostly covered last week, there’s fuck-all worth discussing in this week’s new music releases.
So I thought I’d take this opportunity to cut through the clutter of warbling divas and yuk-it-up punks to suggest some holiday music that won’t shit in your punch bowl.
I’ve actually got an embarrassingly large collection of this stuff (though I’ll admit I tend to pretty much just listen to my own playlists most of the time). Much of it is in the form of anthologies that come and go out of print all the time, and while, say, virtually any Rhino collection of vintage R&B Christmas songs will be worth your time and money, I don’t see any point in sending you off chasing particular configurations that no longer exist. So I’m going to focus on integral albums, by specific artists, that tend to stay in print, year in and year out. I don’t pretend that it’s a comprehensive list by any means (just for starters, I seem not to have included any straight country artists, for whom Christmas releases are pretty much mandatory), and most of the best rock and roll Christmas stuff is singles that come and go out of print in anthologies, but hopefully these will provide you some holiday cheer.
VINCE GUARALDI TRIO – SOUNDTRACK: A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
When someone rattles off the most influential jazz albums of the 1960’s—Time Out!, Getz/Gilberto, Bitches Brew, etc.—they tend to overlook perhaps the most significant one of all. The initial 1965 broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas came at the time when television was exploding to become the primary form of mass communication, and the program reached an audience of more than 15 million homes (over 50% of all TV viewers); up to that point, it was probably more listeners than had ever heard Miles Davis and John Coltrane combined. For an entire generation of young people, this was an introduction to jazz; and with its holiday associations (and the heartfelt wit and warmth of the brilliant adaptation of Schulz’ work), it left the kind of imprint that Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts had for an earlier generation of new music listeners.
Significance aside, it’s a beautifully constructed album. “O Tannenbaum” begins with a simple solo piano statement of the familiar theme, with the rest of the band joining in as Guaraldi begins to swing. The rhythm section of Colin Bailey and Monty Buddwing is too often overlooked when considering the easy perfection of Guaraldi’s genius. They’re particularly good on “What Child Is This?”, which Guaraldi treats as a lush piano fantasia; it’s only near the end that you realize just how subtly, but firmly, the bass and drums have held the piece together. The other obvious high point, of course, is Guaraldi’s brilliant original, “Linus and Lucy”: it vies with “Take Five” as the best-known jazz composition of the 60’s, and packs an amazing amount of music into 3:06, from its insistent left-hand rhythm to the wonderfully loose and funny bridges, to the out-of-nowhere ascending triplets that move the piece to a close. I will grant you that you’ll probably want to skip the kids’ vocals after a few plays, but the simple warmth of “A Christmas Song” that concludes the album never fails to leave me wanting to hit repeat.
There have been a couple of reissues of the album over the years, some with the odd bonus track, but you can still get the original for well under ten bucks.
MADDY PRIOR AND THE CARNIVAL BAND – A TAPESTRY OF CAROLS
A great alternative to the endless recycling of the same 18-20 secular holiday chestnuts like “Silver Bells” or “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is to immerse yourself in the traditional “Olde English” carols (the ones that you may have heard in places like adaptations of A Christmas Carol). They’re usually (though not always) unabashedly religious, but not in the preachy sense we associate today: they stress the importance that spiritual belief played in the days before mass communication and world travel, and skillfully deploy metaphor and fable to aid an understanding of a time when faith served as the underpinning of daily life.
Maddy Prior was the lead singer of Steeleye Span, and the musicians performing here as The Carnival Band use traditional instruments of the sort that would have been familiar to the original audiences for this music. But there’s nothing hidebound: no endless “fa-la-la’s”, no cooing choirs. The songs are arranged not for historical authenticity, but to provide a striking, variable listening experience, from the rollicking “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” to the stark, unsentimental lullaby of “The Coventry Carol.” Prior’s clear, bell-like tone is strong, and never sacrifices character for purity. Quite apart from any holiday associations, tunes like “Personent Hodie” and “On Christmas Night (The Sans Day Carol)” are marvels of melodic invention.
JOHN FAHEY – THE NEW POSSIBILITY
1968 was not a time when popular musicians were expected to have much to say on the subject of Christianity or the traditional season of consumerism (at least not much positive). But, then, Fahey wasn’t really “popular.” He was singular, though, having crafted an uncompromising steel-string guitar sound that mixed the dark secrets of the Appalachian mountains with the subtler mysteries of the Hawaiian slack-key guitar tradition. Having established his own record label (thus allowing him to record without having to live off record company advances) a year before Frank Sinatra tried the same thing, Fahey’s music was a celebration of the freedom and joy (and pain and fear) of a simpler life that was slipping away, and in the great Christian mystery, he found an ideal catalog of music to express that.
“Joy To The World” is an unmistakable opening statement: stripped of its typical grandiosity, the familiar tune becomes a pensive questioning of the very notion of redemption. “What Child Is This” follows, in a more conventional arrangement, but as Fahey runs through his repertoire, he continually reinvents songs like “We Three Kings,” “The First Noel” and “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear;” there’s country picking on the medley of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” while “The First Noel” becomes a gentle waltz. The album reaches a climax with the gospel medley of “Jesus Won’t You Come By Here / Go Tell It On The Mountain” which speaks to a lost America with the kind of eloquence you find in Ken Burns documentaries; followed by his bluesy, almost atonal slide work on “Silent Night.”
Fahey’s done several other Christmas albums over the years, often re-cutting some of the same songs, but the reverberant recording and stark musical landscape of this first outing were never quite recaptured.
JAMES BROWN – THE COMPLETE JAMES BROWN CHRISTMAS
Brown recorded three Christmas LP’s: 1966’s Christmas Songs, 1968’s A Soulful Christmas, and 1970’s Hey America, each of which mixed traditional holiday fare (“The Christmas Song,” Merry Christmas Baby”) with soul music that reflected the urgency of the times (the classic “Say It Loud-I’m Black and I’m Proud!” made its first LP appearance on A Soulful Christmas). And, in his own inimitable way, the Godfather managed to mingle the two forms on classics like “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” and “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year.” Brown always had a strong sentimental streak (and a love of strings), and there’s no denying that it shows through on stuff like “Let’s Unite The Whole World At Christmas” or “Christmas In Heaven” but even there, there is never any slacking in the performance: the rhythm section is invariably whip-cracking, and Brown’s voice is at its peak; the idiosyncratic ferocity of something like “A Lonely Little Boy Around One Little Christmas Toy” could have come from no one else.
While there have been previous CD releases that focus on cherrypicking the obvious high points from the LP releases, this set marks the first time that the contents of all three albums, plus bonus tracks, have been available on CD. And while it’s arguable that there’s maybe a few too many “Part 2″s here, the fact that this is currently the only Brown Christmas release to include the impossibly funky “You Know It” and “Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer)”, or the pensive “My Rapp,” makes the comprehensiveness welcome. “Santa Claus Is Definitely Here To Stay”? Speak it, brother James.
Some other notable holiday albums:
Frank Sinatra, A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra. On his Christmas releases, when Sinatra takes on “devotional” material like “Adeste Fideles” or “Silent Night,” it’s hard to tell whether he finds the material too spiritual for his black, benighted soul, or if he’s just bored. But when he digs into the pop cheese like “The Christmas Song” or “White Christmas,” he’s in total command. His various Christmas albums and singles get repackaged and recycled constantly; my preferred recommendation is Jolly Christmas, but as long as you get one that includes “The Christmas Waltz,” you won’t go far wrong.
Elvis Presley, Elvis’ Christmas Album and Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas. Like Brown and Sinatra, Presley’s limited Christmas output gets repackaged and recycled a lot. It’s still possible, though, to pick up these albums in their original configurations. Elvis’ Christmas Album, from 1958, is somewhat marred by three indifferent non-holiday spirituals, but that’s more than redeemed by the awesome “Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me” and the dark, dirty blues of “Santa Claus is Back in Town.” Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas is from a decade later, when lassitude has truly set in, but who else could follow the back-to-back yearning of “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” and “If I Get Home On Christmas Day” with the filthiest version of “Merry Christmas Baby” ever recorded?
Bob Dylan, Christmas In The Heart. With that magnificently worn croak of a voice, Mr. Zimmerman can make “Hang your stockings / And say your prayers” sound pretty sinister. And it took a Minneapolis Jew transplanted to Malibu to realize that “Must Be Santa” is a polka; the reindeer rollcall (“Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen / Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon…”) is worth the price alone. I love the album, but I also concede that it’s most useful as a way to chase away guests overstaying their welcome.
Blind Boys of Alabama, Go Tell it On the Mountain. This would be self-recommending even if the guest list didn’t include Mavis Staples, Les McCann, Richard Thompson, George Clinton and Tom Waits. Every track is a joy, but the sly “Away In A Manger,” featuring Clinton and Robert Randolph, is unexpected JB-worthy funk.
Brian Setzer Orchestra: The Ultimate Christmas Collection. Well-meaning enthusiasm can be overbearing, as Setzer reminds us with every new release; three albums of this, taken mostly at full volume, is just a bit much. He’s clearly got a great collection of R&B Christmas 45’s (or else a lot of Rhino comps), and you’ll almost certainly find a few great songs you didn’t know before, but you’d be better seeking out the original versions: when you go up against Louis Armstrong or Vaughn Monroe, it helps to have more than guitar chops on your side. Dig That Crazy Christmas and Boogie Woogie Christmas each have their moments, but the album cited here does a decent job of selecting high points from the previous releases, and adds a live DVD which manages to juxtapose the “Nutcracker Suite” with “Fishnet Stockings” and “Rumble in Brighton.”
Chris Isaak, Christmas. Isaak’s unique blend of perfect sincerity and poker-faced irony means that he’s equally comfortable with the hominess of “The Christmas Song,” the gutbucket gospel of “Last Month Of the Year,” or rocking “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The originals range from the straightforwardly sentimental “Washington Square” to the wry “Christmas on TV” (“Now I’m all alone / But there you are / In our old house / With his new car“). If you can, find the Target exclusive and/or Australian version that has his bongo-fied version of “Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me.”
Leon Redbone: Christmas Island. Not everyone takes to Redbone’s subtle-to-the-point-of-soporific vocal approach, but he’s got a canny sense for his strengths, and even if he doesn’t top the source material on lesser-known stuff like “That Old Christmas Moon” and the title song, you’re glad he saved you the trouble of digging them up.
The Ventures, The Ventures’ Christmas Album. The gimmick here is that every one of these surf-instrumental versions of popular Christmas tunes is mashed up with riffs from Top 40 hits of the early 60’s. Even at this remove, hearing “Frosty the Snowman” hammered over the beat of “Tequila” or “I Feel Fine” as the intro to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is strangely affecting; and “Blue Christmas” has never sounded better than when underlaid with the Searchers’ “When You Walk In The Room.” If you can find it, plump for the mono mix, as the guitar blend is superior. In the same vein, though less willfully cheesy, is Los Straitjackets’ It’s The Time of Year for Los Straitjackets.
Squirrel Nut Zippers, Christmas Caravan. Though they were often dismissed as swing revivalists, gone almost before the fad caught hold, this band was an amazingly flexible ensemble, and this album is a model of structure, opening with Katharine Whalen’s kittenish “Winter Weather” leading into the sax-driven goof of “Indian Giver, and ranging through a brilliantly varied set of original tunes, including” “A Johnny Ace Christmas,” the nostalgic “I’m Coming Home For Christmas,” the appropriately wild “Hot Christmas,” and the starkly lovely setting of “Gift of the Magi.” Plus, the funkiest “Sleigh Ride” you’re likely to hear.
The Blue Hawaiians, Christmas on Big Island. Though I have a few “authentic” albums of Hawaiian slack-key Christmas music, I prefer this collection with its moody surf treatment of “White Christmas,” the 50’s monster-movie / tiki sounds of “Have Yourself A Quiet Little Christmas” and the percussive cha-cha of the title cut.
The Boxmasters, Christmas Cheer. On the one hand, “Bud” Thornton’s (aka Billy Bob, in case you missed it) sour Christmas sneer can tend toward the cheap and obvious, even when the country-rock arrangements are tight and sprightly. On the other hand, he does hit the occasional bleak truth about holidays for strapped consumers (“On the first day of December / Momma’s eyes were black and blue / It seems to happen every time / The rent is overdue“) as well as often being pretty fucking funny on the subject of holiday guests (“A hundred ignorant cousins / With their pointy headed hats / Have driven me as crazy / As a hundred shithouse rats“). I particularly like the weary cynicism he brings to “Merry Xmas (War is Over)”; you can practically hear him mutter “Yeah, right.” If Bad Santa is your favorite Christmas movie, it’s a don’t-miss.
The Fab Four, A Fab Four Christmas and Have yourself a FAB-ulous Little Christmas (or both albums on one CD: Hark!). The guy doing Lennon is creepily good, but the one voicing Paulie is kind of inconsistent. The mashup arrangments are not only scrupulously re-created, but sometimes surprisingly effective: “Feliz Navidad” as “And I Love Her” and “Good King Wenceslas” as “Tell Me What You See” work well, while “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” naturally had to become “Help!” Having said that, this shit quickly becomes an irritant, and the idea of doing it twice is misbegotten.
The Players, Christmas. If I tell you that The Players are fronted by Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay… well, you won’t have the faintest notion what this thing actually sounds like. An instrumental album featuring a weird assortment of acoustic instruments (including the odd hurdy-gurdy, crumhorn and jew’s harp), with arrangements that range from Appalachia to Stonehenge. I can’t honestly say it’s good—in fact, I don’t know I could even say that I like it much—but it’s fascinating, and I find myself listening to it at least a couple times every holiday season.
Kenny Burrell, Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas. Once past the unfortunate opener, “Little Drummer Boy,” this thing just never lets up, with Burrell’s fluid playing and unobtrusive backing from the small orchestra; “Children Go Where I Send Thee” flat-out rocks. If your taste for Christmas music on jazz guitar runs to the unaccompanied, don’t miss Charlie Byrd’s Charlie Byrd Christmas Album.
Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks, Crazy For Christmas. Not even Christmas can get Hicks to over-reach, and those familiar sly vocals over his beatnik-boogie Texas swing are a quiet pleasure on standouts like “Santa Gotta Choo Choo,” “Old Fashioned Christmas” and “Somebody Stole My Santa Claus Suit.” For those who find Hicks too reserved for such a cheerful time of year, turn to Asleep at the Wheel’s two Yule releases: Merry Texas Christmas, Y’All and Santa Loves to Boogie for a slightly rowdier sensibility.
Oscar Peterson, An Oscar Peterson Christmas. Originally released in 1995, this is an amazingly warm all-digital recording, with Peterson playing it straight on a collection of standards. He never goes anywhere you wouldn’t expect, but his penetrating intelligence always keeps this from being background music.
Ramsey Lewis, Sound of Christmas. Half of the album is wonderfully bluesy trio arrangements; that “Merry Christmas Baby” or “Christmas Blues” would fit well you’d expect, but wait till you hear what they do with “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” The addition of a string orchestra for the second half of the album doesn’t mar things as much as you might fear, but there’s definitely a 50’s-TV-Christmas-special feel to the result.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: SKYWARD SWORD (Wii)
The last reason to bring out your dusty Wii (or buy one again), I’ve had a few friends who have put Skyrim time into this thing – which is a little scary. Apparently you could easily drop fifty hours into Skyward Sword. I don’t have fifty hours. I really wish I had fifty hours. I’ve been waiting for Zelda to shed a few of it’s dated concepts and take a baby step toward modern game design. It looks like that’s finally happened. I’m not expecting (and don’t want) a full overhaul of the Zelda formula, but the smart changes to inventory and puzzle variety is something the series has needed for a while. And the customization is just so slight enough that it won’t drastically change the game, but it’ll still make your experience a bit unique. I’m going to have to avoid this game for a while – I might enjoy it a little too much.
No. Well, WWE ’12. Which must have run over the other games with a truck in the parking lot, cause that is it. Nothing else. It’s the first week of the month with out at least two major releases. It kind of feels good, doesn’t it?