Saturday, March 31, 2007

JohnsCDs 2006-0768-030 - Progressive Christmas V5

Just a mere five days ago (equalling ten Christmas comps since), we brought you "Progressive Christmas V4", a 2005 disc based on a format that Martin Johns once had to follow in his radio days.

This is the 2006 follow up CD which can, at any given moment, veer off into musical directions you wouldn't normally think of when listening to a regular comp.

To quote from Martin's insight from "Progressive V4":

"'Progressive' was a college radio station format I worked in. The 'rules' were... an equal balance of music 'categories' (Category 1 - Jazz / Category 2A - Soul, Blues, R&B / Category 2B - Country, Folk, Bluegrass / Category 3 - Rock & Pop / Category 4 - Classical, World Music, and everything else including the stuff that defied definition) and about 80% were supposed to be new releases.

"I grew to love the format, which was generally a tough sell to DJs and listeners alike. If you were really good at it, it was pretty much like free-form radio. So I adopted the "Progressive" moniker for my genre-hopping mixes."

To get some more insight on "Progressive V5", here is the section of the review that I've set aside for Martin to share with you. We call it (all together)...

STUBBY SPEAKS:

In keeping with the "Progressive" spirit, I don't usually do these until late. In this case, though, I did a demo early in 2006. (I specifically remember the original mix contained two tracks from "Santastic". The rest I forget.)

"Progressive Christmas V5" underwent more complete overhauls than I care to remember. In the end, only a couple of tracks remain from the original set. The graphics were completely changed, as well.

A number of tracks, one at a time, turned this one around for me - "Flash Gordon", Aimee Mann, Grooveworks... But one of these was "Lord Of The Dance/Simple Gifts". In addition to providing a sound not otherwise represented on the disc, it was a gift, of sorts, for Louise, one of my former radio co-workers and who will unlikely never hear it.

Two moments stand out in my mind about Louise: a discussion on The Island of Misfit Toys, and listening to her singing in church for the first time. The song she sang was "Simple Gifts". I haven't seen or heard from Louise in a very long time, but I treasure those moments.

TRACK REVIEW:

(Click on image to enlarge)


1.) Talk about harmonies! Blue Jupiter is an acappella group with a hip-hop beat - this rousting song leads off their 2003 "Scattered Flurries" Christmas CD.
2.) "Gift Wrapped Boy" by The Big Happy has the feel of a forgotten 1960s girl group single on steroids! The country rock sound of the band is excellent. Find this on "to Kate... a benefit for Kate's sake".
3.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! This is the very first Christmas song in my collection from Earth, Wind, & Fire! Hard to believe... Smooth, solid sound (as always) from EWF off the "Sounds Of The Season: NBC Holiday Collection 2005".
4.) This track by the Pussycat Dolls was a B-side on their 2005 "Stickwitu" single which was never officially released in the U.S. - you can travel to the UK, Europe, and Australia to pickup this harmless fluff piece or order it online. Madonna retains her crown for worst cover of "Santa Baby" ever.
5.) Their MySpace site states that Grooveworks are a "mix of rock, funk, and progressive metal". This cut from 1997's "A Drive-By Christmas" is loud, distorted, light, edgy, obnoxious, and kicks ass throughout. Brilliant!
6.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Found off an old cassette of a 1980 radio show, this rockin' little number is sped up to make them sound like the Chipmunks! So what? You can download this song FREE of charge at Boston Monkey (scroll down) and discover who "The Snowballs" really are! Excellent find, Martin!
7.) WOW! Opens with the bassline from Ray Charles' "Hit The Road, Jack"! Great swinging jazz / rock version of "Carol Of The Bells" by Aldo. His 2005 Christmas album is called "Merriment"
8.) Billy Coulter's voice has some Bob Dylan in it - surprising! This song is pretty well done and comes from the 2005 "Holiday Feast V8" compilation.
9.) Not bad for a song whose medley dates to 1848! "Lord Of The Dance / Simple Gifts" is a sweeping majestic song from Blackmore's Night's 2006 "Winter Carols" album.
10.) First heard Jake Speed & The Freddies yesterday on Martin's "Christmas In Tikrit" comp. This is a beaut of a bluegrass folk Christmas song from their "Losantaville" CD.
11.) Techno pop Christmas is alive and well on the Le Grand Magistery record label courtesy of Baxendale. This one came from the 2005 Internet only comp entitled "A Very Magistery Christmas" at iTunes.
12.) Late Tuesday caters to fans of Sarah MacLachlan, Indigo Girls, and Sixpence None The Richer. They have the sound nailed down - lyrics that tell a story too! From their 2004 Christmas EP "Storybook Beautiful".
13.) This song belongs on the "Ey Mon, It's Christmas" comp posted earlier today. Doctor Sparkles has this song at his website to listen to or you can pick up his full length non-Christmas album at CDBaby.
14.) Oooooooo! Very nice jazzy blues feel to this one... a bit naughty with the title too! Jane Fuller steams this up to the PG-13, R rated level... whatever she's selling, I'll take 30! Off her "The Spirit Of Giving" Christmas album!
15.) Smooth jazz version of "Good King Wenceslas" with embellishments of "O Come All Ye Faithful" and Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here". Not really a medley but still sounds good to me. From Bobby Felder & Friends' "Christmas Jazz At People's Church".
16.) Poco? Really? Sounds like them... This was available as a free download at Sessioncats.com (run by Poco's steel guitar player Rusty Young). Soft and easy going!
17.) This version of this great Christmas song far outdistances the original recording by Frank Sinatra no less! From Mann's "One More Drifter In The Snow" album.
18.) Eloquent techno pop! The Stars released this via the "Very Magistery Christmas" on iTunes. Twice I've tried to download something from Apple - their Quicktime player and more recently iTunes and both screwed up my PC deluxe! You can't even pay me to join the Apple revolution...
19.) The Goo Goo Dolls just hit my hometown two weeks ago (Wikipedia has a pix of them at the Embassy). This is a fine Goo Goo style song off the "Sounds Of The Season: NBC Collection" (see #3 above).
20.) "I want peace this Christmas... flags flying at full staff..." Paulette Mieche with Robbyn Kirmsse have a wonderful song for any season; Christmas especially!
21.) A clever punk pop Christmas song by Government Yule bring the curtain down on this one. Listen to this one at their MySpace site.


Another typical and brilliant comp from the fertile mind of Mr. Johns. It's worth saying that for the simple reason of hearing Earth, Wind, and Fire play a holiday tune - must have listened to that eight times while banging my abused but faithful keyboard.

Lots of good music, surprises, and energy keep the flow of this comp moving well. There's also another slew of titles to be added to my wish list.

Who knew Christmas was so progressive? Thanks Martin...


UP NEXT: JohnsCDs 2006-0970-009 - 'Tis The Season


Capt

JohnsCDs 2006-0667-020 - Ey, Mon, It's Christmas

If you've been reading the yuleblog for the past two weeks, you've probably seen every format under the sun created by Christmas comp master Martin Johns.

Today, we head for the tropical climes of sunny Jamaica to let down our dreadlocks and kick back on some Christmas reggae.

Of all the subgenres in my collection, reggae Christmas ranks very low. Currently, I have about four reggae Christmas CDs in my collection:

"Reggae Christmas" (1988), "Reggae Christmas From Studio One" (1992), Yellowman's "A Very Very Yellow Christmas" and "Natty & Nice: A Reggae Christmas" , both from 1998.

I was glad to see this arrive - it will point me in the right direction for some more reggae Christmas CDs in the near future.

For more, we ask Martin for a special insight about the making of this comp in a segment you longtime readers of the yuleblog already know as...

STUBBY SPEAKS:

I dreaded this one (CAPT'S NOTE: GREAT PUN!). I was very fond of the Reggae Christmas tapes I'd done in the old days, and they were among the favorites of my subscribers, as well. I really didn't think there was anything new I could bring to it.

So I put off a Reggae CD for years. But, if for no one else, Mike (author of my Santa letter) deserved it. It works. Works fine. But, no, I didn't bring anything new to it. Now that that's out of the way, I'm free to bring a fresh perspective to the next one.

Graphically, I tried about 5 different covers before settling on this one.

TRACK REVIEW:

(Click on image to enlarge)


1.) Great song that uses the title as a mantra backed by a reggae beat. Find this song on the "Natty & Nice" comp above, the 2001 "Reggae Christmas" CD from Trojan Records, or the deluxe 3-CD set entitled "Trojan Christmas" from 2003.
2.) To my knowledge, Bob Marley & The Wailers recorded only two Christmas songs - "White Christmas" which can be found on "Destiny: Rare Ska Sides from Studio One" and this jammin' tune found on the "Reggae Christmas From Studio One" (see above).
3.) Whoa. June Lodge's website link has this claim: "Reggae, R&B and Dance artiste". This song has the sound of reggae but very little soul (when the synth is drowning out everything else, you got problems). Find this song on "Reggae Pulse 4" and judge for yourself.
4.) Another contemporary reggae Christmas song that overutilizes a synth, giving it a more hip-hop reggae sound. It came on the "Natty & Nice" comp so I do own this... Next.
5.) Now we're talking! Here's a contemporary reggae song from BCI's 1999 "Reggae Christmas" without synth, has the great piano beat, real drums (nothing programmed)! Good stuff.
6.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Barrington Levy sang the title and I damn near woke up the neighborhood with my guffaws! Great reworking of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" into a reggae song that was on the OOP "Yard Style Christmas"
7.) Rueben Anderson doing his best Brook Benton impersonation - giving this a unique soul / reggae mix! This one's from "Reggae Christmas" (see #1 above).
8.) WOW! Doreen Schaffer gives this a sultry reggae feel with a Christmas theme - very nicely done! Released in 1993 on the Studio One LP "Christmas Vibes". For info on the CD release, click here - if you can find out how to order a copy, let me know!
9.) Tonca & Friends miss Santa something fierce so they decide to throw him a party! This song would easily go over well at any Christmas party! From Tonca's 2000 "Merry Christmas Everybody" CD.
10.) It wouldn't be a reggae comp without something from Toots & The Maytals! And this is a gem of a reggae / ska Christmas song is easily found on "Christmas Greetings From Studio One".
11.) How bad is this fake reggae? According to Mistletunes, "Dancehall Christmas" (from which this song came from) states "this was apparently recorded all at once rather than compiled from various sources, and the sketchy liner notes credits backup musicians and lists the recording studio (in Englewood, N.J., strangely enough)."
12.) Yellowman's Christmas CD (see above) is a fun album - if you can't crack a smile to it, you need professional help! This song wants to know why Santa never comes to the ghetto - would make a great back-to-back with James Brown's "Santa Go Straight To The Ghetto"!
13.) The Heavy Beat Crew only sounds hip-hop - this reggae Christmas song has don't drink & drive references, a Bee Gees "Stayin' Alive" refrain, and even a little Michael Jackson impersonation! Easily found on "Natty & Nice" (see above) but if you feel adventurous, try this German import comp on for size!
14.) Jacob Miller's 1975 "Natty Christmas" LP was released on CD in 1990. This song leaves no doubt what Miller wants for Ismas... what is that smell?
15.) One of Jacob Miller's trademarks was his staccato delivery that accompanies the rhythm section - in full evidence here! Miller was killed in a car accident in 1980 at the age of 27 - too soon. Bob Marley often said Miller was his favorite musician of all time.
16.) John Holt wrote "The Tide Is High" and released his Christmas album in 1986. This reggae cover of Chris DeBurgh's classic song gives it a special warmth all its own.
17.) This version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" is quite good. Judy Mowatt sang this for a 1991 Tassa comp called "Reggae Christmas" - Amazon.com has 67 results with "reggae Christmas" in the title. That makes my job harder!
18.) Lots of synth on this one but Carlene Davis does such a good job on the vocals I didn't mind. From her 1994 "Christmas Reggae Rock" album.
19.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Before Bob Marley became the face of reggae, that title was owned by Desmond Dekker. This slightly tinged reggae Christmas song is more doo-wop soul than anything else but when Dekker begins wailing, I didn't care in the slightest. Find this on Trojan's "Reggae Christmas" (see #1 above).
20.) I'm not sure if this is actual reggae or programmed on a synth. Either way, it's a great tune with Sandra and Lee playing off each other nicely. Another tune from Trojan's "Reggae Christmas" (see #1 above).
21.) The Heptones have such a great mellow sound that I found nodded my head to the rhythm! This wonderful song can be found on Tassa's "Reggae Christmas" (see #17 above) or "Reggae Christmas From Studio One" (see above).


Ja Mon! This is a heap good, jammin Christmas album! The best part about it was a good majority of the songs I haven't heard before or didn't own! I enjoyed tracking down all these reggae Christmas albums (the good and bad ones) which will no doubt add to my already monstrous wish list.

I can foresee using many of these songs on my annual Christmas CD. Especially the Jacob Miller, Desmond Dekker, Toots & The Maytals, Doreen Schaffer, and Barrington Levy songs.

I'm overwhelmed and paranoid all at once... getting a contact high from all the smoke off this one!


UP NEXT: JohnsCDs 2006-0768-030 - Progressive Christmas V5


Capt

Friday, March 30, 2007

JohnsCDs 2006-0566-027 - Christmas In Tikrit

This yuleblog entry will probably bring in hundreds, if not thousands of people who are looking for references to Tikrit, President George W. Bush, and the war in Iraq.

I welcome you all and hope you read the mission statement above about this site.

The blog community has changed the very face of American politics. More views and statements were released by politicians via the Internet in the last election than any other in recent past. Expect that trend to grow.

The voice of the people finally have an outlet to express their views, their demands, their concerns, and their differences of opinion. Their voices are reaching all the corners of the United States and all around the world.

I would like to stress that this yuleblog is NOT a part of that community. I only give my views and opinions on Christmas music, nothing else. If you're looking for an argument or something else politically, you're in for a major disappointment.

This Christmas CD was sent to us by Martin Johns, a passionate Christmas music collector who is passionate about other matters as well. For the past two weeks, I have been reviewing Christmas comps Martin sent to us. In his introductory letter to me, he added this postscript:

"P.S. 'Christmas In Tikrit' is NOT a Christmas CD. I just got really pissed when Congress passed the Torture Bill and I had to protest, pre-election, in the best way I knew how. I've sent a copy for... well, I don't know why... curiosity?"

For more on this, I've asked Martin for a special insight into the comp that's called...

STUBBY SPEAKS:

In late September 2006, my cat of 16 years (and JohnsCD "mascot") passed away. I was very sad and found myself experiencing compers block at a very crucial time.

I seem to recall it was about a week later that Congress passed the Torture Bill. Anyone who has had a Civics class knows that, without Habeas Corpus, you have NO rights. Anyone who thinks this law only applies to "bad" people is woefully naive. In fact, it amazes me that we've learned none of the lessons of history whatsoever.

I stewed for another week or so, after the Torture Bill, before this one burst out of me like something from "Alien". I thought about blogging my outrage. I thought about protests. In the end, I did what I do.

There are web sites (many of them) that host assorted Bush-isms. A few of the cuts here, though, required downloading entire speeches or interviews and then isolating the cuts myself. And every line in John McCutcheon's song is an authentic Bush-ism. Credits read "Music: John McCutcheon, Lyrics: George W. Bush."

The Viet Nam era Christmas music was handy and Roy Zimmerman would have made an appearance somewhere in my 2006 comps, regardless. The closing track has little to do with the CD, overall; I just thought it was important to leave with a laugh.

The CDs were mailed out prior to Election Day in the hopes of ensuring that those who felt as I did would vote (I have no illusions about my ability to actually change someones political mindset with a CD).

This isn't my blog and it's not a political blog, so I'll say no more.

TRACK LISTING:

(Click on images to enlarge)


This compilation is an amalgamation of protest songs from around the Internet, actual quotes from President Bush and other policymakers explaining their views, and a small sprinkling of Christmas songs.

Those select Christmas songs are the reason why I am reviewing this disc. The first song that appears is "Christmas In Washington" by Joe Uehlein & The U-Liners and it's more a protest song than Christmas. The chorus cries out for Woody Guthrie, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. to come back since there isn't an abundance of prominent non-violence singers and leaders in the spotlight.

"Buy War Toys For Christmas" by Roy Zimmerman was written and released at Christmas, 1990 - shortly before Operation Desert Storm began. Click on the link to read the sharp lyrics that were relevant then, relevant now, and sadly relevant for futures to come.

This similar theme is revisited in the next Christmas song by Timbuk 3. Back in 1986, they recorded "All I Want For Christmas" for a IRS Christmas comp entitled "Just In Time For Christmas".

Growing up as a teenager in the 1980s, this one hits closer to home because I had some of those toys. Found the lyrics posted via a blog entry (scroll down to the bottom).

I can't pretend to imagine the emotions and feelings of soldiers and their loved ones separated by service and distance, especially at Christmas. The next song by Jake Speed & The Freddies perfectly captures that feeling in song form.

"A Soldier's Christmas Lament" contains two voices (one male, one female), a guitar, heartbreaking lyrics that bring tears to your eyes, and a wistful violin with so much longing that by the end of this, you're on your knees praying for all concerned - a masterpiece.

Another Roy Zimmerman song follows from which the title of this comp was taken. I'm not sure if "I Won't Be Home For Christmas" is a protest song, a wicked parody of the Christmas songs about soldiers at war, or sort of right down the middle.

A Bob Hope MC gets some digs off before introducing the singer of the song. There's a lot of power in words and if you need proof, click on the link to read the lyrics. I believe the main problem why I can't warm up to this song is because of its placement next to the previous song - too strong too soon.

The only Christmas instrumental on this comp arrives next. Aldo's version of "I Wonder As I Wander" is smooth jazz with a rock flavor - an oasis to all that is being heard on this CD. Slow starting, it picks up smooth steam and finishes strong.

By the end of the 1960s, both the Vietnam War and Marvin Gaye were raging. The war had no clear end in sight and Gaye was tired of love duets and catchy pop songs - he wanted to record songs with meaning. Gaye got his chance in 1972 with "I Want To Come Home For Christmas", a song that gave soldiers drafted from the streets and stuck in the jungles of Vietnam a musical plea to come home.

The Reverend Oris Mays was a Baptist minister in Memphis for 36 years, his television show ("The Oris Mays Show") ran for 30 years, hosted several radio shows, and produced and recorded countless albums and songs. Mays recorded "Another Christmas Without My Son" from the perspective of a father whose son had died in the Vietnam War. Whether Mays really lost a son in that war is unknown to me - the song however hasn't lost one ounce of its power or its message against war.

Songs in the vein of Marvin Gaye request to come home for Christmas are few and far between. However, Bill Laing has taken up the cause. His 2005 song entitled "A Christmas Wish From Iraq" asks the powers at be (in a style very similar to Neil Young) to come home. This song is still available to download (free of charge) at his website.

"Christmas In Vietnam" by Johnny & Jon was one of the first anti-Vietnam War songs to hit the airwaves in 1966. Two lonely soldiers take up the cause, reminiscing about being back home at Christmas time. Their subtle touch on this one made it possible for it to get airplay and still stands up today.


In total, ten songs of of the 29 on this disc were Christmas songs. If you want to hear the other non-Christmas songs, Martin listed the websites where you can track those clips down.

I agree with Martin's assessment - this is NOT a Christmas CD. There are other songs that could have been used but Martin chose not to. I respect his right as an American citizen and a free man to create this and share to anyone he chooses to send it to.

Whether you agree on the war in Iraq or don't, I ask you to remember the soldiers who continue to serve there. They continue to do the job that's asked of them and they all deserve our total respect, admiration, and prayers for their safe return.


UP NEXT: JohnsCDs 2006-0667-020 - Ey, Mon, It's Christmas


Capt

JohnsCDs 2006-0364-020 - Hand Crafted Christmas

One of the reasons I chose to review homemade Christmas comps is because of the personal touches each compiler brings to the table.

While others dazzle with graphics, others astound us with the music. Some create comps for family and friends unlike others who create for themselves. Many are sent personally by mail while a majority post them online.

However, the one constant throughout it all is the planning, the care, the execution that goes into making a comp.

The personal side of the individual pushes the direction in which the comp will take shape, showcasing not only their creativity and ear for music but their very own personality as well.

This Christmas comp that Martin Johns sent us via the P.O. Box is a very personal one. This one has family written all over it. For more on this, I'll let him doing the talking as...

STUBBY SPEAKS:

Every year, I try to work up a Country mix for my father. As it happens, there's a much larger constituency for Christmas Country among my friends than I would have imagined. It's not my personal genre of choice, so I'm sure these Country comps are an uneven bunch.

But at least I did get to showcase my mother's considerable talent; she made the cover Christmas scene for me several years back, as well as the Christmas teddy-bear on the back cover. And folks at FaLaLaLaLa got to check out some of her homemade ornaments, too. (I love you Mom and Dad.)

I should also thank my Canadian friend (everybody's got one, right Cap?) Roy Forbes, who (being an avid collector of 78s) always manages to point me in the direction of a vintage track or two. On this one, it's Johnny Bond, Jesse Rogers and Doye O'Dell.

TRACK REVIEW:

(Click on image to enlarge)


1.) Extremely slow version of this Christmas standard... by the four minute mark, you're numb. From the 2005 "Sounds Of The Season" country Christmas comp.
2.) Fine Christmas song by Lonestar that somehow missed their 2000 "This Christmas Time" album but found a home on the same "Sounds Of The Season" comp as above.
3.) I've admitted it before - I'm a fan of old school country. I will stand by Tammy Wynette as she sings this classic any day of the week. Easily found on her "Christmas With" CD.
4.) WOW! Sounds awfully like Gene Autry! This Jesse Rogers & His 49ers cover came from a 1949 RCA record (78 RPM) transfer.
5.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Sunshine Ruby was the LeAnn Rimes of the 1950s! This was the A-side of her 1953 or 1954 Christmas single (RCA 47-5474) and ended up on the "Sweetheart Of The Big 'D' Jamboree" comp from Cattle Compact.
6.) A good but typical bluegrass rendition. From the "O Santa Where Art Thou?" compilation
7.) Jim Lauderdale's melody is catchy and is quite the line dancer foot stomper! From an impressive 2005 compilation recorded to benefit Kate, a three year old girl from Nashville with an extremely rare genetic disease.
8.) Title says it all and only a country song could get away with it. A pretty good song from Kenny Chesney off his "All I Want For Christmas Is A Real Good Tan" CD (see what I mean about country and titles?).
9.) Wynonna's had a bad week and we wish her nothing but the best here at the yuleblog. This song was released in 1994 on "The Stars Come Out For Christmas" comp but inexplicably left off her solo Christmas album last year!
10.) WOW! The Oak Ridge Boys and Christmas music are a perfect match. Why it took them so long to record a Christmas album is beyond me. Lost a little respect for these guys since two of them admitted they were Chicago White Sox fans... grrrrr!
11.) Written when Brad Paisley was a lad of 13, we hear a tape of him playing this live onstage first. Full grown Brad takes over, and both end up singing at the end of this song - a beautiful song about Joseph, Mary, a manger, and baby Jesus.
12.) Name a stringed instrument on this song and Rhonda Vincent can probably play it - great song from her 2006 "Beautiful Star: A Christmas Collection" album (and check out that cover!).
13.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Several years ago, I found this online (BearShare). My elation was short lived as a computer crash entombed the song (and a TON of other Christmas stuff) on the hard drive. Glad to re-add this gem by Elton Britt once again. That reminds me... when did I backup last?
14.) Another great 78 RPM transfer! For a wee bit more on Johnny Bond (and where to find another Cattle Compact comp with this song), click on Bond's name!
15.) Sweet country version of "The Christmas Song". Taken from the benefit comp (see #7 above) from the group BR5-49. Once again, that's BR5-49... Yee haw!
16.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! "There's a buckboard zoomin' through the Christmas night with Ole Tex Kringle at the reins..." You can't get more country than that! Doye O'Dell has a full career and this came from an import comp entitled "If Tears Were Gold".
17.) The second Jody Lynn song I've heard on Martin's comps (the other was on "Progressive Christmas V4"). Still can't find an artist site for Jody but the liner notes state this song comes from the 1999 Christmas comp called "Rockin' Blues Christmas". I suppose both songs came from the same source, yes?
18.) Ed Ames recorded several Christmas albums, both with his brothers and solo. Unfortunately, none of his solo albums are available on CD; you can find the odd track here and there on countless compilations. This ballad of the Christmas donkey (think the ugly ducking) is as lovely as any song in the Christmas pantheon and deserves radio airplay at Christmas.
19.) WOW! This great Christmas country song (recorded by Chess Records of all places!) takes on more importance when you read the tragic tale of Jimmy Donley - this may have been one of the last songs he ever recorded!
20.) Another fine song from Misty River! The second song that Martin has used (the first was on "Great And Small") on his comps. This is from their 2004 Christmas album.
21.) Interesting! Mindy Wade takes "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" and gives it a different, country melody. The end result is quite good! Bravo! Off her debut album (a Christmas one at that!).
22.) Dennis Jay has a remarkable voice (think Randy Travis but not so twangy and deep) and even throws in some yodel! WOW! This excellent song comes from a 2002 holiday comp while his 2003 solo album "What You See" contains the song "Christmas In The Badlands".
23.) Lovely version of "Silent Night" by Steve Oliver. Liner notes state this is "audio from television appearance" but you can get all of his Christmas song (including this one but not this performance) on his "Snowfall" album.
24.) Garth Brooks freely admits he's a George Strait wannabe. One of the best selling singers throughout the 1980s, he laid the groundwork for the explosion of country in the 1990s and beyond. And last Christmas, he released a new Christmas album through the Hallmark stores from which this wonderful rendition came from.


I love old school country (pre-1985). I'm not a big fan of contemporary country music. However, I really enjoyed this comp. Even if I wasn't a fan of country music as a whole, I could listen to this and find something I would absolutely treasure:

Old school - Elton Britt, Ed Ames, Jimmy Donley, Sunshine Ruby, Doye O'Dell. New school - Brad Paisley, Rhonda Vincent, Dennis Jay, BR5-49, Mindy Wade. Not counting the Sara Evans track, every one of these tracks I could foresee using down the road at some point!

This comp is very special. Some time after I began reviewing the first of his comps, I learned from Martin that his father - the very person this country Christmas comp was made for - had passed away from an undisclosed illness he fought for nearly two years.

Martin, I wish you again our deepest sympathy for your loss. I hope you'll take comfort knowing that I have heard all the time, effort, and love you put into this country Christmas compilation last year for your father and it really comes across.


UP NEXT: JohnsCDs 2006-0566-027 - Christmas In Tikrit


Capt

Thursday, March 29, 2007

JohnsCDs 2006-0263-011 - So Much Vinyl, So Little Time 'Til Christmas

We're still looking at comps created by Martin Johns of Greenville, South Carolina and this is the last of three comps dealing with all vinyl Christmas music.

This might be my favorite cover of the whole Johns lot. Not because of the laissez-faire attitude of the record clerk. Not because of the glorious stacks and stacks of vinyl.

Not because of the Arthur Godfrey album (which I now own in my vinyl collection) or "A Christmas Record" located above the record clerk's head.

I love this album cover because of the PhonoLog on the counter.

In this day and age of the Internet and online databases that can find someone or something with a few clicks, it's good to see those glorious yellow and gold pages awaiting someone to unearth its treasures.

That and the "Help Stamp Out Opera" sign are just priceless.

For more on this all-vinyl comp, we ask Martin yet again for his special insight revolving (get it?) around this one in a segment we call...

STUBBY SPEAKS:

I see the All Vinyl CDs as something of a trilogy. They were showcases for a handful of singles I desperately wanted to track down and share. Sascha Burland for "Solid Gold Christmas V2", Phil Moore for "Mo' Xmas Vinyl", and, on this one, it's The Leopards and John Cafferty.

It just happened that the acquisitions were split by time. That said, it IS necessary to fill out the discs with other good and interesting music. Truth be told, I transfer the vinyl and get close to a final mix before I ever check to see if the cuts are on CD, somewhere.

If a track is on a CD, I'll drop it, unless that CD is as hard to find as the record... or unless I don't feel like dropping it. But I definitely strive for the vinyl orphans, favoring those from artists people might recognize.

I listen to my CDs dozens of times before I run them off, to ensure that songs will withstand repeated plays (a subjective call, to be sure). I am WELL aware that "Little Becky's Christmas Wish" can barely withstand a single play, but it's such a "collector's item" that I felt I had to include it, painful though it may be. Blondie ("Yuletown Throwdown") was also in line for a spot on this CD, but one unlistenable track seemed more than enough.

I also couldn't do anything about the noise on the opener - caused by water damage that, I am told, affected the entire "found box" of this 45. The noise dies down fairly quickly and, anyway, I have a soft spot for all those funky sounds (pops, clicks, cue burn...) you can only get from vinyls.

TRACK REVIEW:

(Click on image to enlarge)

1.) I'm guessing this scratchy but great sounding 45 never made past the western Lake Erie region in Michigan and Ohio. Thankfully, Martin found a copy and preserved it here. Want a copy? eBay is calling you!
2.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! The FULL version with Mel, Kim, and Griff Rhys Jones! Every file sharing program had the 45 version which edited out the comedy before and after. This is from the 12" single - awesome!
3.) WOW! Very reminiscent of the "Gimme Dat Ding" sound by The Pipkins! This song by The Leopards would always get airtime on Vin Scelsa's NY radio program at Christmas - a favorite of Martin's (now mine!).
4.) Candypants chose a minor 1963 hit from The Pixies Three as a B-side to their 2003 "Happiest Time Of Year" Christmas single. This is an incredible song! Visions of Phil Spector and The Ronettes are dancing in my head!
5.) A reggae flavored cover of Carla Thomas' classic song by the same group who brought us "Funky Nassau"! Fabulous stuff, mon!
6.) "Sleigh Ride" by Roxy Music? Be still my heart! According to this Roxy site, Phil Manzanera and sometime Roxy Music member John Wetton were the driving forces behind this single for Christmas, 1980. However, Andy Mackay and Manzanera, under the guise of "The Players", release an FULL album entitled "Christmas" on Rykodisc at the same time!
7.) Martin admits this song is on compact disc in his liner notes. The 78 record that this came from gives it such a rich warm sound though that's a CD will never duplicate.
8.) You'd never guess this was recorded in 1960 - you'd swear it was a forgotten blues artist from an era gone by! Black Ace is NOT forgotten and this song ranks with the best Christmas blues out there.
9.) Bill Cosby had a strange 1970s. Two failed TV shows, a batch of bad movies, and his kiddie contributions (Electric Company, Fat Albert) were his best known stuff. This song from 1977 give Cos the chance to do his best Barry White impression ("I want to be your Santa Claus, Mama, and look down your chimney..."). Only Cosby could get away with this...
10.) Another rare track from The Cajun Cook! Justin Wilson speaks the intro to this song and then tears it up with a Dixieland behind him! This is a fabulous track and I won't say "I GARONTEE!" because it's been done.
11.) Long before the current lineup, long before they hit it big, The Dixie Chicks self released this Christmas single in 1991. It's a typical twangy country homage that many bands record trying to get noticed in Nashville. Click on the link to read all about it.
12.) I officially declare "Donde Esta Santa Claus?" by Augie Rios the SECOND best Mexican flavored Christmas song ever! This one wins by a landslide! Read a good biography of Lalo Guerrero at his son Mark's website, order a FULL CD of his comedy records here, or look at the ton of material Lalo donated to CEMA!
13.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Sarducci sings it straight (weird) and tries to capture the flavor of a 1960s Christmas pop song. Makes me wonder what Father Guido heard in confession to get this record released in 1980!
14.) "Eddie & The Cruisers" was released around the time I reached high school and I still can't figure out its appeal. Two bad movies, "EDDIE LIVES" T-shirts, and music that stank up the airwaves. This Christmas song is catchy but, like the "Eddie" phenomenon, is way too long and I tuned out quickly.
15.) The Allstonians have a great little ska number here! To quote Wikipedia, "the group is notorious for its extremely high number of ex-members, as well as of its love of alcohol." Find this song on their "Early Years" comp!
16.) Originally released as a Christmas single in 1981. 21 years later, Ray Curtis re-recorded this song for the "Santa's Got Mojo" comp. This version is just dynamite!
17.) WOW! Edgy but simple Christmas rock! According to Martin, the writer of this song is John Kaspar (who lives in Whitehouse Station, NJ) who heads up the John Kaspar Band. Google didn't even come up with this!
18.) What a tune! A long lost forgotten Christmas single I never knew existed! For more info, read Marv Goldberg's amazing notebook on The Larks.
19.) Loungy Christmas song sung by Hollywood Joe. This one really must be obscure - even Joe isn't selling it at his website!
20.) The A-side to the Candypants single (see #4 above). Not your average Christmas song - very mellow and a melody that will get stuck in your head.
21.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Off all the Vietnam Christmas-themed songs out there (and there are more than you think), this Becky Lamb track is the heartbreaker of them all! Listen as Becky writes to Santa asking for her older brother (who just died in Vietnam and alluded to throughout the song) to come home for Christmas.
22.) Pearl Jam has been issuing Christmas fan-club singles since 1991 but only four are Christmas tunes. "Let Me Sleep (It's Christmas Time)" / "Ramblings" were both released in 1991, "Don't Believe In Christmas" in 2002, and this extremely well done Stevie Wonder cover from 2004. Click on a link...
23.) A Bob Dylan soundalike singing "White Christmas" in 1984. Someone posted this on Napster back in the illegal days and gave credit to Dylan. Not to be confused with "Bobby The Poet" from back in 1967.
24.) Back in the day, budget record companies would throw some demos and subpar songs recorded by their stable of stars onto a LP and cash in quick. This great doo-wop flavored Christmas song is taken from one such compilation featuring other stars like The Belmonts (without Dion) and Charlie Francis.


Where do I begin? Like his previous two vinyl comps, Martin has given us a treasure trove of pure, golden vinyl Christmas goodies. And like his two previous vinyl comps, I wholeheartedly enjoyed every moment of this.

Genuine surprises were abound in this comp. The Candypants, The Larks, Mel & Kim, Justin Wilson, you name it! It's surprising to me that many of these great songs aren't on compact disc. They truly deserve the all-star treatment and would brighten any of the tired Christmas comps that the record industry continues to issue every holiday season.

In closing, I want to share this. Back in 2000, I first laid eyes on the Goldmine Christmas Record Price Guide and cribbed about 30 or 40 titles from it that I wanted to find. Entering 2007, about ten songs remained on that original list.

In the course of two weeks, Martin Johns has helped me scratch off NINE of those ten songs with his three vinyl comps. Becky Lamb and Father Guido Sarducci were taken off the list with this comp and only one song remains (Vaughn Meader's JFK single called "St. Nick Visits The White House" - released then withdrawn at Christmas, 1963 for obvious reasons).

Thanks Martin for all the help and let the searches continue...


UP NEXT: JohnsCDs 2006-0364-020 - Hand Crafted Christmas


Capt

JohnsCDs 2006-0162-015 - Santa's On The Download (2-CD)

To use a familiar quote: "Opportunity knocks, but doesn't always answer to its name." In this case, thy name is Martin Johns.

For some time, I've been trying to find a comp that would not only showcase its music but also its dynamic artwork / liner notes that Martin puts just as much energy into creating.

I wasn't sure if I'd find the right comp until this this 2-CD set came along. It's the second double disc set that Martin had sent to me; the first being the "Holiday Festival Of Music".

This set also came without a track listing - Martin had printed extensive liner notes with the year of release and web links of each song - what I've been doing all along in my track reviews!

Therefore, there's not much to type any more (cue the wild cheering and enthusiastic applause). Here is Martin's special insight about this comp... better known as...

STUBBY SPEAKS:

Free Internet Downloads! It started innocently enough. Mistletunes posted a link to the J. Geils download. Dr. Jim pointed me to Poco. I found Roger McGuinn. Then I thought, "let's see what else is out there." What I found was the cutting edge of the modern Indie scene, podcasts, mp3 blogs, and free Internet downloads.

Like the Sharity community, every place you land leads you to ten more sites. By the end of February 2006, I'd downloaded over 30 CDs of Christmas songs, almost all of which were licensed by Creative Commons (legal to download, copy and share). Some of it was godawful, of course, but the vast majority was wonderful.

I wanted to comp this segment of the Indie scene and soon had a 2 CD demo prepared. At a loss for graphics, I reached out to one of my "subscribers" (Kathy Adamchak) who I know to be very talented, gave her the general idea, and she readily agreed to help out. It's the only time I've done that, but I'd certainly like to use more original artwork in the future (anybody out there feeling creative?).

Few changes were made from the original demo, though I stumbled upon "Christmas Rhapsody" just as I was getting ready to run the CD off, and I had to make some adjustments.

DISC ONE TRACK REVIEW:

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DISC TWO TRACK REVIEW:

(Click on any image to enlarge)


I am CaptainOT and I approve of this 2-CD set! I can't add anything else to it - Martin's done it all on this one!

My keyboard thanks you profusely Martin!


UP NEXT: JohnsCDs 2006-0263-011 - So Much Vinyl, So Little Time 'Til Christmas


Capt

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

JohnsCDs 2005-1061-015 - Great And Small

Martin Johns and his comps have covered quite a lot of musical ground to this point.

His themed comps include Christmas swing, rare Christmas vinyl, Christmas beach music, Hawaiian Christmas music, Christmas blues, Christmas bluegrass, and Christmas rock.

This comp is quite unique. Not only does it have the least amount of tracks of any of Martin's comps (a mere 17), but it focuses on the spiritual side of Christmas.

After all, whose birthday are we celebrating at Christmas?

It might be easy for some to put together a comp with a theme like this. Stock up on the contemporary Christian artists, pull some classic spirituals, and treat it very reverently.

However, with a diverse artist list of Cliff Richard, Grover Washington Jr., and Joan Osborne, something tells me different. Let's call in Martin and ask him for his special insight on this comp in a section reserved just for him called...

STUBBY SPEAKS:

I've found that my "Traditional" mixes are infinitely better if I do them very close to Christmas. (My "Traditional" mixes are traditional in terms of theme, tempo, mood and sentiments - not necessarily in terms of the music.) So I've gotten into the habit of doing them after the year's mixes are distributed and then, if they work, I distribute them the following year.

In 2005, I felt that my mixes had been especially secular. I wanted to do something that had a greater emphasis on the religious or spiritual aspect of Christmas without getting preachy.

This comp is a great example of the "first 3 tracks, last 3 tracks" method. I love the ethereal opening (I used to do a lot more of that sort of thing) which I think enhances the great second track. And the closing 3 tie it all up nicely (in my opinion).

Those tracks strongly establish the comp's "credentials," if you will, allowing me to wander anywhere in the rest of the mix without losing the overall focus and feel. And, while I realize folks might not believe this (especially after we get to "Tikrit"), the mini anti-war set was pretty organic (as were most of the others... honestly).

When I make my comps, even listening to them several times, all seems well. But, inevitably, listening in retrospect, I can hear things that I'd like to change, places where the flow could be better, songs I'd replace or move. Not this one (not yet, anyway).

Not a single change was made from the original demo, I wouldn't change anything now, and, all in all, I'm very proud of this one. If I were to choose one comp that best represents me and my comping style, this would be the one.

TRACK REVIEW:

(Click on image to enlarge)


1.) Kim Robertson provides the harp and haunting vocals while Peter Buffett (son of billionaire Warren!) plays keyboards in an exquisite medley. Find this from the 1996 "Star Of Wonder" Christmas CD.
2.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Take the Byrds' classic song "Turn, Turn, Turn" and add "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"! WOW! Harry Gore did a great job! Head over to his MySpace site to hear this one!
3.) Interesting, introspective song that asks "What would I do if I was in Mary's shoes"? The Kings Highway released this on their "All Year Long" Christmas CD.
4.) At the height of his popularity as "the British Elvis", Cliff Richard converted to Christianity and has faithfully stuck to his beliefs. He's also shot for the famed UK Christmas number one spot for years - this was his 2003 single (peaked at #5) - paging Billy Mack!
5.) Great lyrics to this one! Bev Barnett & Greg Newlon's sound is fantastic - from their "Starry, Starry Night" CD.
6.) WOW! "No one's going home for Christmas, though everyone's tired of this war." Julie Sanderson's pure tale about the Civil War will forever ring true. Off the "Holiday Feast Creme De La Creme" comp.
7.) Grover Washington Jr. took the sax to new heights in his illustrious career. This is a marvellous version of "I Wonder As I Wander". He also fostered in a new generation of smooth jazz artists - including one Kenny G. Whyyyyyy!
8.) Spoken word pastiche about Kriss-Miss, told by Bobby Gaylor (actor / comedian / spoken word). His website doesn't work and I can't find where this came from.
9.) Lovely soul / smooth jazz version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" Donna Harvey's got a voice on her! Wish I could find out more about her.
10.) Not sure about this one. Lots of synth, has a 80s feel... Are those kids singing or 3 Blind Mice? Hmm... Available on their "2 Cents An Acre" CD.
11.) WOW! Rough, gritty (but danceable) version! Joan Osborne recorded this for the 1997 comp "Home For The Holidays" then later released it on her Christmas album in 2005.
12.) Very nice song from Mercy Me. Easily found on their "Christmas Sessions" album.
13.) Poco? Really? Sounds like them... can't find where it came from... very nicely done!
14.) Jill Parr has a wonderful voice and it shows on this top notch rendition of "O Come All Ye Faithful". Off of her Christmas single of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" (I think - I can't find it).
15.) Another introspective song about the power of prayer at Christmas (see #3 above).
16.) You gotta love a group that has their Christmas CDs on the FRONT page of their website! Very nice song off Volume II!
17.) Very nice song from Misty River! This excellent song can be found on their "Midwinter - Songs Of Christmas" CD and end the comp just right.


A definite change of pace and not a bad listen either. Very consistent throughout the whole comp balancing the light and the serious, the important messages with some whimsy.

It's always nice to reflect at Christmas and this comp will put you in the mood to do that. It also proves that the message won't get lost either in the hands of the right messenger.

Martin, another good job. This is the comp I'll play after the kids are in bed, the wife is doing sudoku, and I can stare at the Christmas tree in the dark and chill.


UP NEXT: JohnsCDs 2006-0162-015 - Santa's On The Download (2-CD)


Capt

JohnsCDs 2005-0960-026 - I Got A Rock For Christmas

We've reached the midway point at our look at the 21 comps Martin Johns sent to our P.O. Box. This is comp number 11 - ten more to go over the next five days (I think I can, I think I can...).

This comp was chosen out of all the rest by my wife who stood in utter disbelief when I brought home the shoebox full of Christmas comps.

She looked at it and was impressed by its lineup and graphics. Instinctively, she went to our kitchen CD player and played parts of it.

I don't remember much of what I heard on that first listen - I was too busy cataloging and categorizing all the other comps.

I do remember the sound - sharp, strong beats, heavy guitar. It was a Christmas rock comp after all. And looking at the artists, it should be a cut-above-the-notch comp at that.

This is the part of the review where I ask Martin about his special insight into the comp. It's reserved for him here in a segment called...

STUBBY SPEAKS:

This one was a gift, though I doubt he realized it, for one of the folks I trade comps with. This fellow is a rock and roll guy. And I hadn't done a straight rocker in a while. So I said, "Let me see if I can do something that he would groove to."

Generally, I feel my Bubblegum roots tend to make most of my stuff sound like pop/rock - even the genre mixes - which kinda makes me feel a rock mix is somewhat redundant, at least without some other unifying theme.

But I had a few cuts I'd been sitting on and was anxious to use (The Acres, Billy Idol, Davie Allan - a gift from Dr. Jim) and I had wanted to have a mix open for a Marshall Tucker cut anyway (a relatively late release that year).

I like this one. It's not a classic or anything, but it rocks a bit and it's playful. It also has enough familiar names to hold the interest of those who get tired of saying, "Who are these people?"

TRACK REVIEW:

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1.) The title says it all. The Acres have a solid sound and a good Christmas song on their hands.
2.) Nicholas Markos has a catchy tune here but when the song is 70% repeating the chorus and "la la, la la", the song needs a trim. From his 2001 "Holiday Pop" CD.
3.) This sounds like a Radio Disney song. Whaddya know? I called it! Everlife is a Disney product and this came from "Radio Disney Jingle Jams".
4.) Anberlin covers the great Darlene Love / Phil Spector song quite well! Darlene Love is from my father's generation, U2 is from my generation, this one's for my kids. The tradition carries on...
5.) This song (taken from "Devil's Playground") planted the seed in Billy Idol's head to record a FULL Christmas album last year - the train wreck of the 2006 holiday season.
6.) Refreshing! A simple rock song about a Christmas tree, not too heavy, not too light! Canada's Universal Honey recorded this back in 2003 on their "Can't Stop Thinking About Christmas" album.
7.) WOW! Very, very reminiscent of The Cars! This Adventures of Jet song came from an obscure but highly impressive Christmas comp called "Fossil Jeans Presents 13 Tracks V4" with quite a lineup of music!
8.) The third song from Lisa Mychols' Christmas album I've heard in the past month and WOW! Has that 1960s bouncy feel with Phil Spector touches! Great, great stuff!
9.) Oh yeah! The Four Imperials still had that 50s doo-wop sound and added some 1960s car rock to make this classic! Easily accessible via the "Rockabilly Xmas" CD from Buffalo Bop - pricey but it's worth it!
10.) This should have been named "Hey Setzer!" A tad overdone but very listenable song from "Dig That Crazy Christmas".
11.) A lovely song by the always good Marshall Tucker Band. This one's off their 2005 "Carolina For Christmas" CD.
12.) Funeral For A Friend is quickly becoming a favorite band of mine and they snuck this impressive Christmas song under my nose on the "Taste Of Christmas" comp - added to the wish list!
13.) "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a letter saying goodbye..." 2-3-4, BAM! Morphs into a loud, whiny lament over a breakup (they never come close to the actual "Twelve Days of Christmas" melody - could have helped). This got dull real quick. Next...
14.) Nicholas Markos doing his best James Brown! And it's close! This is where being repetitive can actually help you! Fine song from "Holiday Pop" (see #2 above).
15.) Nice to see Dwight Twilley is still around! This is a rockin' tune from his 2004 Christmas EP.
16.) Gwen Stefani before she became Gwen Stefani. I miss the old No Doubt and this track from "A Very Special Christmas 3" captures their sound before they hit it big... sigh.
17.) Like an ice cube down your back, this one will wake you up... even if you're dead! Bedlight For Blue Eyes' contribution to the "Taste Of Christmas" comp (see #12 above).
18.) A Merry New York Christmas? Didn't know they held the patent. I liked this Rob Thomas song for a time but I've heard it so much over the past year or so that I'm not sure what I think...
19.) Caleigh Peters' godmother is Barbra Streisand in case you were wondering. It's sad that all these Radio Disney songs all sound the same (see #3 above).
20.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Davie Allan & The Arrows have been fuzzing their brand of music for years! This was brilliant! From their sumptuous 2004 Christmas CD "Fuzz For The Holidays"!


Well doggone! This comp had enough Christmas rock power on it to keep several Christmas trees lit for an entire holiday season!

Dwight Twilley, Funeral For A Friend, and Davie Allan were all great surprises. It was good to hear from Lisa Mychols, The Four Imperials, and No Doubt again. Then there's the Radio Disney stuff... Too much of it can cause sugar shock, just so you know!

In all, another solid comp. Martin hasn't really had a bad clunker out of the bunch. And I'm saying that now not to jinx him - I'm fully confident that the second half of the bunch will be as equally good or better than the first half. Stick around and see!


UP NEXT: JohnsCDs 2005-1061-015 - Great And Small


Capt

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

JohnsCDs 2005-0859-020 - Breaking Up Christmas

The cover scan of this Martin Johns comp doesn't do it justice. It's a rich paper with silver snowflakes impressed into the border along the top - warm touches indeed!

On the inside cover of this comp (see below) is an explanation behind the term "breaking up Christmas":

"Every Christmas, for 150 years or more, the mountain families of western North Carolina and Virginia have gathered in the simple homes of their neighbors.

"They eat, drink, and dance to the music of the banjo and fiddle players, stationed in the doorway between rooms - for TWO WEEKS, thru little Christmas (January 6th).

"They call their celebration 'Breaking Up Christmas'."

You learn something new everyday! Thank to the almighty Google, I've found there are not one but two online sites which discuss this further. Amazing but true!

Scanning over the playlist, this looks like a Christmas bluegrass / mountain music extravaganza! Which is good considering I've woefully low on Christmas bluegrass.

We ask Martin for his special insight on this comp in a section we've reserved for him entitled...

STUBBY SPEAKS:

This one was for Woody, who loves Bluegrass but has patiently sat through all my other stuff all these years. Even the "Bluegrass" tapes I'd done in the cassette days were as much Folk as Bluegrass (technically, I titled these tapes "Christmas in 2B" - see notes for "Progressive Christmas V4").

This one does have a dash of Old Timey, but, really, how can you NOT include a song (a standard of "Breaking Up Christmas" festivities) entitled "Squirrel Heads And Gravy"? Woody, and his lovely wife Maureen, also gave me the Banjo Dan CD ("The Catamount Is Back" - not a Christmas CD) and it took me years to find just the right spot for "Winterland Dream".

TRACK REVIEW:

(Click on image to enlarge)


1.) About as pure bluegrass as you can get. Paul Brown sings for 15 seconds twice on the song, mentioning the term "breaking up Christmas" both times. To some, this is Christmas music!
2.) Ashley MacIssac plays a mean fiddle and takes the revered spiritual "Go Tell It On The Mountain" and pumps some needed life and fun into the song! From his 1993 "Cape Breton Christmas" CD.
3.) The First Family of Bluegrass Gospel Music singing about their favorite holiday and musical genre - quite well! Find this foot stomper on their "20 Bluegrass Christmas Favorites"
4.) Banjo Dan doesn't play banjo on this - shocked? Guitars, fiddle, and mandolin make up a good non-Christmas Christmas song! Taken from the aforementioned "The Catamount Is Back" CD.
5.) Great band name - but should The Rarely Herd be trusted? Their cut off the "Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas" comp is superb but they're wearing suits and ties throughout!
6.) If you're looking for a good starter bluegrass Christmas CD, try Patty Loveless' 2002 Christmas album. This song is a great cross of toe-tappin bluegrass and fun Christmas.
7.) A 1:01 instrumental - packs a good wallop! Thankfully, nothing is mentioned about the mountain food delicacy or serving sizes.
8.) WOW! Ever wonder if a bluegrass artist witnessed the birth of Christ? Then listen to this great track from Timothy P. Irvin & The Rocky Mountain Stocking Stuffers' "Bluegrass Christmas" CD!
9.) Inez Lancaster might have the best title of any Christmas CD I've reviewed today - "Snowed In With A Mandolin On Christmas Day"! This fantastic instrumental version of "Joy To The World" is on there as well!
10.) Here's a bluegrass song about Christmas shopping and its evils - extremely witty and catchy to boot! Tim O'Brien recorded this in 2002 for the "Christmas On The Mountain" comp.
11.) Another good starter bluegrass Christmas CD! Name a stringed instrument on this song and Rhonda Vincent can probably play it - doggone good version of this one!
12.) The Osborne Brothers were the first to record "Rocky Top" - the official state song of Tennessee and possibly the most popular bluegrass song ever. This is their revisit to Rocky Top - at Christmas! From what comp did this one come from?
13.) WOW! The Dixon Brothers had one great decade of music together but their influence lives on. A great 1930s bluegrass track from the "Papa Ain't No Santa Claus" Christmas comp!
14.) Liked this song very much but I can't find anything about Damascus Road or what the source of the song came from.
15.) I'm guessing this is what a modern-day "breaking up Christmas" would sound like. The Isaacs recorded their Christmas album back in 2000 - out of print already? Uh oh...
16.) A classic bluegrass track off the "Light Of The Stable" CD - one of the best Christmas country albums of all time. Emmylou Harris turns 60 next Monday (April 2) - still looks and sings better than a lot of Nashville's current favorite females. Happy Birthday Emmylou!
17.) The Country Gentlemen fueled the bluegrass / folk explosion of the 1960s. This is a great Christmas song (and I can't find it on a comp or album anywhere)!
18.) A slow bluegrass Christmas song with so much soul, it's scary! Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers really do an amazing job on this one - find it on their "Christmas In The Hills" CD.
19.) WOW! Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver give this one a gospel quartet feel and it is perfect (so I'll accept them wearing suits)! From their 1991 Christmas album (OOP I'm afraid).
20.) Very spiritual bluegrass Christmas song from The Bluegrass Cardinals. This was released on the 1993 "Sugar Plums - Holiday Treats From Sugar Hill".
21.) Spiritual bluegrass, heavy on the bluegrass! Alecia Nugent has a fine voice and recorded this for the "O Christmas Tree" comp (see #11 above).
22.) The East Tennessee tradition is carrying on with The Larkins. This one's a musical road map ("It's Christmas in Chicago...")! Can't get much more eastern Tennessee than this: off their "Christmas At Dollywood With" CD
23.) Ol' Doc Stanley sings us a great bluegrass tune! This is from his 1993 Christmas album appropriately called "Christmas Time".
24.) They don't call him Fiddlin' John Carson for nothing! WOW! Off the "Where Will You Be Christmas Day?" comp from Dust-To-Digital. Bill Monroe took this incredible song, abbreviated it to "Christmas Time's A-Comin' ", and got all the glory.
25.) The GrooveGrass Boyz fused bluegrass and funk (of all things!) with some help from Bootsy Collins (of all people!). No funk on this - straight bluegrass pickin' "Auld Lang Syne". From the "Christmas On The Mountain" comp (see #10 above).
26.) This song is probably required playing during "breaking up Christmas". This is a very nice, laid back rendition by the Cox Family. Another track from "O Christmas Tree" (see #11 above).
27.) Patty Loveless rounds this one out with a fine track from her Christmas album (see #6 above).


You nailed it perfectly Martin. It blended nicely, each track brought a different sound to the table but didn't stray from its roots too badly, and the flow worked well.

I would be fibbing if I didn't say that after a while, some of it sounded the same. But Martin changes courses ever so deftly and steers the bluegrass ship from crashing onto the shore and into the calm sea.

After listening to this, I think "breaking up Christmas" is a fine tradition. Everyone should take two weeks off at Christmas and hold house parties left and right. It would promote brotherhood, the Christmas spirit, and get you prepared for the long winter ahead. But does it have to be bluegrass music for two weeks straight?


UP NEXT: JohnsCDs 2005-0960-026 - I Got A Rock For Christmas


Capt

JohnsCDs 2005-0657-031 - Blues For Christmas

If there was a musical genre that closely identified with Christmas, it would be the blues.

While most of the world focuses on the Christmas season, the gift giving, the get togethers, the tinsel, the shopping, and the like, there is an undertow of stress, depression, etc., that lurks below the surface.

Enter the blues.

The blues have often been an outlet for the artists and listeners to vent their frustration at people and things. Perhaps if more Christmas blues were heard, suicides and overindulgence would decline rapidly.

This is just a theory. But it couldn't hurt, huh?

Was this the theory behind Martin Johns impressive looking comp on Christmas blues? Or was this another showcase of his incredible talents to package together another themed comp?

I've asked Martin that question in the special section we've set aside for his insights into his comps that we call...

STUBBY SPEAKS:

Since I was enjoying an abundance of Christmas spirit in 2005, I wanted to take the opportunity to crank out a straight ahead Blues mix, one that generally stayed away from the more familiar (possibly overplayed) Blues Christmas tracks. It may not be my most Christmassy mix, but I believe it's a solid Blues CD.

The graphics are among my most favorite efforts. I know it's not an original concept, but I thought it was very well executed. Not a hint of red or green, yet many shades and textures (like the music), allusions to the church and to urban life, almost no soft edges (just the Christmas ornament upper left), and the star (upper right).

Even the font for the title was a complimentary choice. I could easily see this one sitting in a CD bin at Sam Goody's. And I, for one, would certainly buy it.

TRACK REVIEW:

(Click on image to enlarge)


1.) I didn't know Toronto had the blues, eh? That's where Chris Whiteley comes from and this song is plain fantastic! This one comes from a great Canadian comp called "Santa's Got Mojo" featuring all Canadian blues artists!
2.) The one and only Queen of the Blues! Koko has long been a fixture on the blues scene and her Christmas songs are always highlights - like this one! Find it on Alligator's "Genuine Houserockin' Christmas".
3.) Lovely stuff from Big Al & The Heavyweights. This Christmas rocker was the final track on their 1996 album "That Ain't Nice" - no full Christmas CD yet... why wait, guys?
4.) WOW! I can listen to that harmonica train intro forever! Carey Bell is a near living legend in Chicago and this track from "Genuine Houserockin' Christmas" (see #2 above) proves it!
5.) Impressive slide guitar on this - but I can't for the life of me can't find anything about this one! Whoever it is and wherever it came from, it's good as gold!
6.) Got the blues sound but not the blues feel. Casey York is better suited singing other genres... like beach music. After all, this did come off the "Carolina Christmas" comp (scroll down).
7.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! No fillers, all beef - the reel deal! This is it! Titus Turner was a great singer (the Beatles covered his "Leave My Kitten Alone"!) and this swinger from "Blues Blues Christmas 1925-1955" is flat out incredible!
8.) When I first heard this, I thought Jack De Keyser was a black artist - he's got the feel and the sound down to perfection. Born in London, England and living in Canada, this was a true highlight from the "Santa's Got Mojo" disc (see #1 above).
9.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! A forgotten blues single from the past! This is listed in the Goldmine Christmas Record Price Guide as "Mr. Bo & His Blues Boys" but doesn't have a year. This was on the Dead Dog comp "Santa's On His Way" but it seems this website is now defunct.
10.) Eddie C. Campbell is another Chicago blues legend who can almost walk on the water. This slow, simple blues riff / track was the only Christmas track on his 2000 album "Hopes And Dreams".
11.) Ever wonder what a Christmas party for blues musicians sounded like? Peggy Scott-Adams is the host and comments as she goes. This is a fine track from the "Christmas With Miss Butch Records" comp.
12.) 35 seconds of "Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy" on harmonica! Bruce Kurnow's "Holidays In Harmonicaland" is a definite on my wish list.
13.) Another great Christmas track from another Chicago blues legend! Found on Billy Boy Arnold's 1999 "Catfish" CD (the only Christmas track).
14.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Scratch another long lost Christmas song off my search list! This is a R&B / blues / 50s rock n roll blend complete with Raelette-like backup singers! Another great track off the "Santa's On His Way" comp (see #9 above).
15.) Sassy, straight, and toe-tapping fun with Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women! Another great track from "Genuine Houserockin' Christmas" (see #2 above).
16.) WOW! Tampa Red was one of Elmore James' influences! Red's classic bottleneck guitar is on full display in this vintage recording off the "Blues Blues Christmas 1925 - 1955" CD (see #7 above).
17.) From the man who brought you the "Chicago Winter Weather Blues"! Golden Big Wheeler is a true Chicagoan and you can find this jammin' Christmas blues track (and "CWWB") on his 1997 "Jump In" CD.
18.) I wouldn't call this Lisa Layne track blues - more country rock along the lines of Travis Tritt maybe.
19.) Charles Brown's classic Christmas song in the hands of Francine Reed is a symphony! Awesome rendition from beginning to end! Find this on the "Ichiban Blues At Christmas V3" comp from 1994.
20.) Clarence Gatemouth Brown was one of the most talented blues artists ever (click on his name to read his amazing life story). This understated but powerful Christmas track came from "The Alligator Records' Christmas Collection".
21.) I wish there was a better biography on Cootie Stark than this obituary. Stark was the last master of the Piedmont blues and where this phenomenal version of "Silent Night" came from is beyond me. A perfect way to end this comp!


A famous quote states "Pizza is a lot like sex. When it's good, it's really good. When it's bad, it's still pretty good." The same could be said of this good (really good) Christmas blues comp I've just heard.

I enjoyed this comp quite a bit. It was good to hear some of the older blues (Tampa Red, Titus Turner), the newer kids on the block (Jack De Keyser, Chris Whiteley), and some real surprises for good measure (Cootie Stark, Ray Agee).

Some Christmas when I'm feeling overwhelmed, stressed or bummed, and desperate for an outlet, I'll reach for this comp and rock the blues away. Or is that blues the rock away?


UP NEXT: JohnsCDs 2005-0859-020 - Breaking Up Christmas


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