Monday, September 15, 2008

Marah - A Christmas Kind Of Town

A quick road trip over the past two years:

In March 2007, I reviewed Dave Chesler's homemade Christmas comp entitled "The Christmas Cheese: Chesler's 2006 Holiday Compilation". While doing a track review, I first came across this group called Marah and their song "Christmas With The Snow":

GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Marah creates a wonderful, contemporary song that's very reminiscent of the Phil Spector "wall of sound" Christmas songs! If their 2005 Christmas album sounds like this, consider it added to the wish list!

The next track on Dave's comp was Marah again. This was their skit entitled "Boozing It Up With Friends":

Reading the Christmas Reviews review of Marah's CD, they state that several of the tracks are under a minute in length and two feature funny skits / segues like this one... Added to my wish list!

During Christmas 2007, I got a $20 gift card to and purchased the entire Christmas CD from Marah. That was before my son Alex (with some help from his mom) wound up buying me the Yep Roc Christmas sampler "Oh Santa! New & Used Holiday Classics".

Earlier this year, I reviewed that CD here and made this comment about Marah's song "New York Is A Christmas Kind Of Town":

The quasi-title track from their excellent 2005 Christmas release (which I picked up last year - watch for a full review soon).

And that's what brings us to today.

Here's several facts you should know about the group (the anti-bio from their website):

1.) Marah turned ten years old in July 2005.

2.) Marah's debut was recorded on a broken seven-track in an auto garage in South Philly and released in 1998.

3.) Marah's fifth album, If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry, contains brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko's most personal songs to date -songs inspired by their lovers, their buddies, their drinking, their idiosyncrasies, and their everlasting quest to obtain a fiver or tenner.

4.) Marah has had 14 various members through the years. Some were cool, some not so cool!

5.) Marah's 2005 line-up is Dave Bielanko (vocals, guitar), Serge Bielanko (guitar, vocals), Kirk "The Barber" Henderson (bass, keys), and two new members, formerly of Philly punk band Squad 5-0, Dave "Fire & Ice" Peterson (drums) and Adam Garbinski (guitar).

6.) Over the course of their career, Marah have been described as "a humble bar band," "poetic," "working class prophets," "broke," "too self-conscious," "unselfconscious," "epic," mythic," romantic," "the once promising Philadelphia rock band," "increasingly difficult to compartmentalize," "the could still be's" "the best band you've never heard of," and "one of the best live acts on the contemporary music scene."

7.) Marah has self-produced four of their five records, and performed in 14 different countries (and Arkansas!).

Marah made a Christmas album for a number of reasons (taken from their artist info page on Yep Roc):

1.) Because it is the most wonderful time of the year. Irving Berlin was a Siberian Jew and he wrote "White Christmas", arguably the best Yuletide ditty of them all.

2.) To make a Yuletide record we had to record it in the middle of the blistering NYC summer heat. That gave us the excuse to decorate our apartment studio with string lights and plastic snowmen and celebrate Christmas in July too!

3.) Really good holiday songs allow decent "liberal" folks to celebrate certain "conservative" values like family, friends, eating dinner together, roasting chestnuts and home fires burning without employing tactics like tightening borders, tax cuts for the elite, veiled racism, and Old Testament brainwashing!

4.) A great Noel number is your best shot at being played on the radio! To hear your own Christmas recording in the car on the drive to Grandma's snowy farm would be the absolute bomb!

5.) Christmas music makes most people really happy. That's the whole point of music in the first place. So, get A Christmas Kind of Town and get in the spirit!


1.) Intro - Curtain Rises
"Is that on?" A quick :14 second track introduces the Christmas Time Players (see #2 below).

2.) Christmas Time Is Here (featuring The Christmas Players)
A straight-up, near perfect cover of the Vince Guaraldi Trio's Charlie Brown Christmas song.

3.) New York Is A Christmas Kind Of Town
A wonderful original song devoted to NYC at Christmas time... bet this one gets radio airplay at Christmas in the Big Apple!

4.) Baby, It's Cold Outside (featuring Felicia Navidad)
Another competent cover. Ms. Navidad (aka Christine Smith) has a wonderful time on this one!

5.) Boozing It Up With Friends (Skit)
"Say, did you know that wassailing is an old, English term for a night on the town, boozing it up with friends?" HEH!

6.) Holly Jolly Christmas
I wasn't a big fan of this Burl Ives standard. However, this version is so good it's going on my annual Christmas CD this year! And checking my archived list, it's the first time "Holly Jolly Christmas" has EVER been featured there! WTG, Marah!

7.) Here We Come A Wassailing (#1)
One chorus of the caroling classic. Total time: 23 seconds.

8.) Christmas Time's A Comin'
Marah takes a Buck Owens Christmas song and give a countrification that's pretty good for a band from NYC!

9.) Let It Snow (Plastic Santa & The Eggnog Fog)
Methinks the summer heat was getting to them or they had a blast goofing on this song... chuckling here!

10.) Quithmith Pudding (Skit)
The dangers of mixing yuletide pudding and some "gentle booze". Naked snow angels, anyone?

11.) Counting The Days ('Til Christmas)
A fast-tempoed, drum-driven (near polka-ish) beat that celebrates the anticipation heading up to December 25th. Another fantastic original Christmas song!

12.) Here We Come A Wassailing (#2)
Another chorus of the caroling classic (with a little fortification). Total time: 24 seconds.

13.) Silver Bells
A soulful rendition with Beach Boy-like harmonies as backup. Extremely haunting and effective.

14.) Christmas With The Snow
Trying to outdo Phil Spector's wall of sound, this song hits you like a snowdrift with its many levels, great lyrics, and jingle beat. Stands up after many, many, MANY re-listens!

15.) Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Simple cover, excellent harmonies, great arrangement. Enough said.

16.) Handsome Santa (featuring Zuzu Petal)
One girl (with bare accompaniment) trying to get Santa in his sack. "Kick off your boots, and let's have some hoots!" And Mrs. Claus doesn't have to know!

17.) Auld Lang Syne
Another country-fried version - this one's pretty good. Just when you think it's getting too long, add the Christmas Time Players in a rousing chorus!

18.) Here We Come A Wassailing (#3)
Final chorus of the caroling classic. Total time: 25 seconds.

19.) Outro - Curtain Call
"Thanks for coming. And remember, every traffic cop is a peppermint drop!"

20.) Counting The Days: A Christmas Polka
Remove vocals, add some accordian, and ah-one, and ah-two... Stay tuned for a phone call to Santa in his sleigh over the Atlantic Ocean and a reprise of "Auld Lang Syne"!

This was a lot of fun revisiting this CD again. I've listened to it now about 25 times since I first purchased it last December and it still hasn't gotten old. The production is just so spot on and the groups collective voices are crisp and refreshing from beginning to end.

It definitely sounds like the group had a blast recording this CD - their infectious humor and spirit pervades every note. It's worth a trip to this Christmas Kind of Town to hear the funny skits, the excellent covers, and those great original Christmas songs.



Ernie said...

I think that Christmas In The Snow track showed up on a compilation someone sent me, and I loved it. Maybe I need to invest in the whole CD...

CaptainOT said...

Ernie - If you do buy it, you will not be disappointed.

Thank Dave Chesler!