Friday, February 09, 2007

Al's Christmas Ale 2006

Last year, the fifth album I reviewed was for "Al's Christmas Ale 2005" (click on the link for background info).

This year, this is the fifth day of reviewing albums. So it's fitting that "Al's Christmas Ale 2006" is our featured compilation today!

Al Aitchison was one of the first FaLaLaLaLa.com members I corresponded with to set up a swap of annual Christmas CDs.

This CD you're looking at is the third CD I've received from Al. Each CD from Al has a distinct personality, a feeling, a pulse. It's quite unique.

To explain it better, I've asked Al a set of questions I will be asking everyone who submitted a comp:

1.) When did you begin creating your Christmas compilations?

My first CD was compiled in 1999. It had a 1950's and 60's rhythm and blues/soul theme and was entitled "Merry Christmas - Rhythm And Blues Treats For Your Holiday Pleasure." The oh-so-glorious 1955 Playboy centerfold featuring Bettie Page (NSFW) kneeling next to a Christmas tree was used for the cover. The track list was updated a year or two later as my music collection grew.

2.) Explain the process on creating your Christmas comp.

The Internet is an invaluable resource. eBay has become a bit too competitive but continues to provide worthy tracks year in and year out. Some of my favorite discoveries are the result of what I like to call "creative Google searches." There's so much out there in cyberland if you just dig dig dig!

Flea markets, thrift stores, mom and pop record shops are also terrific sources. The hunt for comp worthy music is a year round endeavor. A dedicated, methodical approach will, by year's end, provide enough songs.

When choosing tracks for inclusion on CDs I always ask myself the question "Would I play this song for my friends at a party?" If the answer is yes (or even maybe) I put it on a playlist that continually grows and changes throughout the year. Around mid-November I start tinkering with the track order.

The importance of how songs flow from one to another can not be underestimated. This can be especially tricky when the source material comes from multiple musical genres. Scratchy 78's must peacefully coincide with digital downloads. Tracks ripped from CDs must embrace their 45 rpm brethren.

There is no rigid criteria for what makes a song comp worthy. It simply needs to feel right.

When a rough draft of the collection is complete I kick back and give it several listens. Then I leave it alone for a few days before returning for another listen or two. During this time I may or may not adjust the track order. Once the sequencing is complete the songs need to be mastered.

No track should be too loud or too soft. It's also important to adjust the silence between tracks. Silence, or lack thereof, can greatly effect the the overall pacing and impact of the music.

3.) Who do you share these compilations with? How many do you send out?

At 135 copies, 2006 was my largest production run. About a dozen or so go to fellow collectors from across the country. The rest go to friends, family and coworkers. It's become quite the tradition.

4.) What is it about Christmas music that appeals to you?

Christmas has always been a joyful time. Over the years I've collected many wonderful memories during the holiday season. Christmas music triggers those memories of Christmas past and provides a soundtrack for good times yet to be.

5.) What kind of feedback do you get from the comp?

A recent e-mail from a friend successfully perfectly encapsulates the feedback I've received over the years:

I just wanted to let you know how very much Krista and I enjoyed listening to your CD through the holiday season. It was excellent - you did a masterful job mixing and blending so many different sounds! Everyone who was over our house loved it as well!

To which I responded: I reserve the right to use the text from your e-mail in any and all promotional items relating to Al's Christmas Ale.

"Excellent", "Masterful", "Everyone Loved It!" Al's Christmas Ale... It's the Claus that refreshes!

Sometimes the praise unearths the bravado from deep within...

The CDs have become a part of peoples holiday tradition. They play them while decorating their trees, wrapping presents or entertaining friends.

6.) What other projects/websites do you work on other than Christmas?

Most of my projects involve music. In the past I've compiled comps from my collections of Hawaiian, Cha Cha, and Lounge records. Currently in the works are a two volume collection of rare funk, a rockabilly comp (anyone remember The Polecats? The Rockats? Buzz and the Flyers?) and a CD of obscure soul.

My biggest project by far is the restoration of a 1959 Corvette. I was smart enough to have a professional do the bodywork, paint and chrome but over the last several years I've learned a great deal about what makes vintage cars tick.

I've also submitted reviews to the aptly named Tiki Bar Review Pages...

7.) Anything you would like to share with people reading this review?

I receive virtually no submissions for my comps. I think the most important aspect of producing compilations of Christmas music is that it be an enjoyable experience. Paying too much for records or buying everything in sight detracts from the spirit of the project.

Give a copy to someone who doesn't expect one... it makes their day.

Always keep extra copies with you. There's no telling who you might bump into. I've always maintained that I get more from handing out the CD's than others do in receiving them.

If someone receives a CD and insists on hugging you... let them.


TRACK REVIEWS:

(Click on image to enlarge)


1.) I have never heard this version by Freddie Martin and the gang before! What a great track!
2.) Ja mon! No, Ra Jon! A Christmas calypso song that could get clocked for speeding! Who's got the limbo stick?
3.) Nice transition into Christmas ska! Not just any Christmas ska but Christian Christmas ska! Ooo-ee!
4.) Country song about a holiday penitentiary for Christmas offenders. Read that again. A good tune as well.
5.) Nothing fancy with this one. It's done very well. Check out their website (various Christmas comps for sale)!
6.) This was a pleasant surprise! I thought this was Sheryl Crow at first! Gonna have to check out her website too!
7.) Wow! Has all the feel and soul of anything out of the 1970s! No website but a MySpace page!
8.) A seamless transition right into this 1951 classic Christmas song! Fantastic stuff!
9.) Is this a love song to a reindeer? Sounds exactly like Connie Francis! Al, where do you get this stuff at?
10.) I'm going to listen to this one again. A rescued Mitch Miller wannabe gem from the 1950s
11.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! I recorded this one off the radio many years ago and lost it in the apartment fire! I am in your debt Al!
12.) The volume dropped quite a bit with this one... it's not bad but I wish I could hear it better.
13.) Yeowww! A funk Christmas song! Get up! Uhhh! One of my favorites on the CD!
14.) Rockin' tune that poses the musical question: what happens if Santa's sleigh is involved in an incident?
15.) Change of pace! Sarah McLachlan by the way of the Doors! Their MySpace page has a plug for a Raleigh Christmas CD that I mentioned in Dan Bryk's review!
16.) A mellow Hawaiian Christmas rock song with just a hint of the palms... This is smooth!
17.) Forget the milk and cookies; leave Santa some gumbo and jambalaya! Cool zydeco tune.
18.) Pure Christmas rockabilly from Sweden? Go kätt go! Check them out at their website or MySpace!
19.) This the type of Christmas song that will rattle around in your head and get stuck in there! Nice!
20.) Where have I heard this before? It's a great song - very Conniff-ish!
21.) WARNING: Cheesy song ahead! The cartoon & Three Stooges sound f/x push this over the top!
22.) A glitter pop homage to charging up Christmas! Very novel and catchy! This one might get some consideration for my annual Christmas CD!
23.) Talk about power pop! Dynamic stuff! Listen to this one at their MySpace page!
24.) Recorded live, a great sound that drives this one home! Check 'em out at their website!
25.) A 1960s Christmas rock instrumental! Time to break out the dancing shoes! Madison, anyone?
26.) A soft Christmas song to wrap things up. What a beaut! Adding this to the list of potentials!


Click on the links above to hear some of the great songs presented here and you'll get a taste of what the whole CD is like.

At the end of my review of Al's Christmas CD last year, I placed Al on the same level as Andy Cirzan and Eddie Gorodetsky last year in my review. Nothing in this year's CD has diminished that opinion. You did it again Al... and you made it sound so easy doing it too! Thanks for keeping me on your list and sending me the CD!


UP NEXT: One week down, the second coming up!


Capt

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