By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
Another stop on Mojo's life quest to be rock n' roll's court jester, Horny Holidays is like any other sloppy Mojo fest. It's filled with growling vocals, rowdy guitars and lots of roared one-liners like "I want to trim your tree" and "You ol' rabble-rouser from Bethlehem." Ably assisted by the Toadliquors and the W.E.V.I. Power Pledgin' Boogie Woogie Singers, Mojo horses his way through a slate of boozy bar ballads like "Mr. Grinch" and "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus." Standards like "Jingle Bells" and "Go Tell It on the Mountain" end up so disfigured, you couldn't identify them with dental records. The saving grace here is that Mojo is basically a harmless cheesehead. His entire shtick is based on walking a microfine line between being annoyingly dumb and a riot. Mindless fun is always the object. One listen and you realize that Mojo's idea of high art is a chili dog. Occasionally, he even hits the right notes. His James Brown soul stab, "It's Christmas Time," manages to work up a groove. And his rockin' cover of Chuck Berry's classic "Run Rudolf Run" breaks a sweat.
Although this disc is devoid of prime Mojo yowls like "Don Henley Must Die," he does manage to get off a few verbal salvos. In "We Three Kings," for example, he slips in "We were drunk for three days straight/Feeling like we were Tom Waits." And in the Stax/Volt-styled "Twas the Night Before Christmas," Mojo starts out with "Twas the night before Christmas and everything was all fucked up" and goes on to expound about "Horny Claus," the product of an affair between Santa's father and the Easter Bunny's mother. And that, in a nutshell, is about all you ever need to know about Mojo Nixon.
For those in need of "southwestern christmas music" to go with their Southwestern nouvelle free-range turkey and pine-nut-sun-dried-tomato-and-cilantro stuffing, there's It's Christmas, Man! by the pride of Denton, Texas, the ever-indescribable Brave Combo.
Possessing what is probably the most unconventional instrumentation ever seen in a rock-oriented band, Brave Combo's four members play accordions, saxophones, clarinet, guitar, bass and drums. Their Texas-cum-Mars world music combines border accordion with the punk-guitar abandon of "Anarchy in the U.K." and the roll-out-the-barrel oompah of "She's Too Fat for Me." Their live shows have the ambiance of an air raid--people careening every which way.
The brain child of Japanese reissue label P-Vine, this album was originally released in Japan in 1991. The band then toured behind it, carrying a fully decked Christmas tree with it as a prop. Happily, the band's label, Rounder Records, decided to take a chance on releasing it in the States.
It's Christmas, Man! de-emphasizes the band's reckless rock sides in favor of a distinct south-of-de-border flavor. For the ethnomusicologically minded, Rounder prints the style of many of the tunes next to them on the back of the CD. There is a polka, samba, cha-cha, ranchera, hora, cumbia, ska, waltz and guaguanco. These stylistic chameleons are at their best in the ska version of Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" or the fast-paced, hurdy-gurdy "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah." They also pull off a convincingly churchy "Ave Maria." What's most fun about this recording is to ponder what on Earth the Japanese thought when they heard "Santa's Polka" or the cha-cha "It's Christmas."
Knowing that it makes me an easy target for a Stetson-topped gunman, I still have to say that Garth Brooks' Beyond the Season is not my favorite country Christmas album. Although Travis Tritt's Loving Time of the Year and Riders in the Sky's Merry Christmas From Harmony Ranch are tied for second, my choice is Tish Hinojosa's Memorabilia Navide¤a on the tiny Watermelon Records label. Not a straight country recording by any means, Memorabilia is a half-Spanish, half-English celebration of Hinojosa's San Antonio childhood. An acquired taste, to be sure, this folky, quiet recording has an appealing emotional immediacy and displays one of the great undiscovered voices in American music.
Cajun and zydeco music have always had a strong connection to Christmas. The reason is simple: Louisianians are inveterate vultures for even the remotest excuse to eat, imbibe and play music.
In 1985, Louisiana's most infectious Cajun-music fan, Michael Doucet, put out his Christmas Bayou recording. One cut from that album helps lift the spirit of the latest installment in Rhino Records' Alligator Stomp Cajun-zydeco series, Cajun Christmas. Besides songs by Doucet and Beausoleil, this 17-cut CD features covers and original music by the Jambalaya Cajun Band, Harry Fontenot, Cajun Gold and Johnnie Allan. All of it is listenable, and standouts include swamp-pop star Allan's rendition of "It's Christmastime in Louisiana" and Doucet's own "Bonne Anne‚," which features guitarist Sonny Landreth.
When it comes to Christmas blues CDs, the discussion can really begin and end with the singles that vocalist-pianist Charles Brown made for King Records in the 50s. His versions of "Please Come Home for Christmas" and "Merry Christmas Baby" will never be equaled. This year, though, Chicago's Alligator Records decided to take the plunge and coax its artists into a Christmas collection. Most of Alligator's current artists are here. The only problem is that whether a blues tune is about losin' your baby, losin' your mind or waitin' for Santa, it all sounds the same. Every tune here is basic 12-bar blues with lyrics about Christmas. Most are textbook examples of electric Chicago blues. The only exceptions are Charlie Musselwhite's harmonica version of "Silent Night," Elvin Bishop's forgettable botch of "The Little Drummer Boy" and Katie Webster's stilted "Deck the Halls." This doesn't make the album bad, but it doesn't make it much of a Christmas recording, either. Worth having for the talent alone, this recording makes you wish for New Year's Eve rather than Christmas.