December 2017

Liner Notes by Brian Chozick

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Trans-Siberian Orchestra back to our home for holidays

“The show must go on” is part of the entertainment creed, and that’s true more than ever for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, whose founder, producer, composer and lyricist Paul O’Neill passed away in April. Keep in mind that there are several companies traveling the globe simultaneously as Trans-Siberian Orchestra, so his involvement wasn’t as hands-on as it was in the beginning. The spectacle will once again make its way to El Paso and back to the same venue as last year, the Don Haskins Center. They will be performing two shows Dec. 6, as demand for this holiday tradition continues to swell. It’s not just the city and venue that are the same — they also will resurrect the “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” theme conceived for television. For the live production they have integrated segments of the TV show, with a live narrator and full rock band. The concert is billed with the subtitle “The Best of TSO and More,” so there will a plethora of visual and auditory delights, along with some new tricks up their sleeve. Trans-Siberian Orchestra, an orchestra like no other, performing Christmas music like no other.

Cheap Trick, “Christmas Christmas,” Big Machine

If you want to rock around the Christmas tree this year, and I mean really rock, look no further than some guys who’ve been getting it done for nearly a half-century. It might seem like strange bedfellows for Cheap Trick to team up with Taylor Swift’s label, but Big Machine Records have redefined themselves in the last year or so, and brought themselves back to their glorious ’70s sound. “Christmas Christmas” celebrates the season with the amps turned to eleven, and Rick Nielson guitar work front and center. The disc features cover versions of some rock luminaries’ greatest hits like the Kinks’ “Father Christmas,” Harry Nilsson’s “Remember Christmas” and Joey Ramone’s “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight).” They also pay homage to Saturday Night Live with a revved up version of “I Wish it was Christmas Today” penned by Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz. Cheap Trick also pulls off three originals of its own, with the title track, “Christmas Christmas,” being an immediate must-entry for any holiday. So spike the eggnog and crank it up.

Minus 5, “Dear December,”
Yep Roc Records

They aren’t quite challenging The Who for the next great rock opera, but they aren’t shy to take on a theme (last year it was The Monkees). When they are under their alias Baseball Project (plus or minus a few members), they cover the very sport they are named after. This year the Minus 5, who for this album are chaired by mainstays Scott McCaughey, originally of Young Fresh Fellows, and Peter Buck of R.E.M, take on the holidays — and most impressively, with all originals. They even resurrect “Your Christmas Whiskey,” a household holiday favorite for the last decade. Gathered by the fireplace are The Posies, who reflect on the not-so-cheery side of things, M. Ward and Chuck Prophet do less reflecting and a whole lot more rocking, and Peter’s old R.E.M. bandmate Mike Mills handles vocals for a soon-to-be Hanukkah classic, “Festival of Lights.” There are plenty more buddies on board with Colin Meloy of the Decemeberists, Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Kelly Hogan rounding out the posse. After hearing “Dear December” it will make you wish they penned a letter to all the other months of the year.
Tav Falco, “A Tav Falco Christmas,” ORG Music/
FRENZI Films & Music

This year we have a new bizarre Christmas record to spin — probably not as strange as the legendary Bing Crosby and David Bowie duet, but this group of vagabonds cooked up an entire album, not just a single cut. The newly concocted band is led by Tav Falco, an American musician who began his music career in 1979 and has now added performance artist, actor, filmmaker, and photographer to his resume. He somehow creates a fusion of rockabilly, blues, jazz, lounge and soul, and the very traditional as well. The band includes Francesco D’Agnolo, former session pianist for soundtrack master Ennio Morricone, and legendary bassist Mike Watt from the Minutemen, Firehose and most recently the Stooges. “A Tav Falco Christmas” is at times played straight, but also with a twist. It could certainly be played at the family tree trimming, but don’t get too comfortable. “Christmas Blues” feels as if it can’t fully be enjoyed unless you are in a smoky lounge with cocktail in hand. The collection rounds out with “Soulful Christmas” — if you signed up for Mike Watt, then the payoff is here. With its serious bass slapping this is certain to get your groove going. If you are looking to have the best holiday fest, be sure to invite Tav Falco.

A Beatle holiday classic update

Beatles fans around the world can rejoice this season because Santa will have a couple of presents to put under their tree. This is more Beatles adjacent than actual Beatles, but it is Paul McCartney after all. Naturally the song getting the shiny tinsel and bright lights treatment is his 1979 holiday hit “Wonderful Christmastime.” It was reissued before in 1994 on red vinyl, but this year it isn’t just about changing its color, it’s more about updating the tune itself. They weren’t content with just one wax variation this year — there are actually two separate versions of this 7-inch 45 rpm vinyl. Both versions will contain the 2017 take that has him joined by the Roots. The B-side on both the red and green platters have no Fab Four connection but they do follow the theme. The first has a live version of Norah Jones’s “Peace,” and the other comes with the Decemberists’ “Jesus Christ.” If this all sounds great but you want your McCartney on both front and back, then start searching for the 2012 release of “Christmas Kisses” coupled with the original version of the previously mentioned hit. Be warned: Only 2000 were ever pressed.

Look for these 2017 holiday discs as well:

Bloodshot Records —13 Days of Christmas
Hanson — Finally It’s Christmas
Elvis Presley — Christmas with Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Gwen Stefani — You Make it Feel Like Christmas

Brian Chozick is owner of Tumblin’
Dice Music. Drop him a line at
tumblindicemusic@netscape.net.

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