Red House Christmas
'Tis the season when all kinds of melodies launched by St. Nicholas impersonators fly through the air, hoping to find a place above your hearth for Christmas. Trouble is, most of 'em need to wind up in the fireplace instead of over it. But that's getting to be hazardous to your health. Too many canned hams wrapping themselves in resuscitated chestnuts have already been roasted over open fires for too many years.
But Red House Records' take on the Xmas situation is innovative and refreshing. The few chestnuts that show up here are cracked open and re-heated without drying them out or sucking the meat out of the shells.
Davina and the Vagabonds kick it off with a rousing version of Elvis '57 classic, “Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me.” But instead of regurgitating the Big E's hunka-hunka burnin' love version, D and the V's dish out a mixed platter of rockabilly and jump blues, with Davina serving up a spot-on Brenda Lee impersonation and Vagabonds trumpeter Zack Lozier ripping out a zippy, cracklin' solo.
Bill Kirchen,best known for his guitar solo on Commander Cody's “Hot Rod Lincoln,” lays down a twangy undercoating on “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'.”It's a far cry from the funky, stingin' soul of Albert King's '74 Stax version, with King telling Mrs. Clause what he wants from her for Xmas:
“Now Christmas is for the children
And I want them to be real pleased
But right now Mama it's Christmas Eve
Come make your Papa happy please.”
Kirchner's version is low-down boogie-woogie with a side of Louisiana-flavored country courtesy of his uncanny vocal resemblance to Jerry Lee Lewis.
But if it's down home classic country you want for Christmas, put on Dale Watson's “Christmas To Me.” In full Johnny Cash mode on vocals and guitar, Watson's original has the soldier son returning home to the good old country for an old fashioned family gathering.
If you like your Yuletide greetings to be of the raw and raucous persuasion, put Charlie Parr's “Slim Tall's Christmas On the Lam”underneath your tree. Just make sure your Christmas bush is firmly anchored so's the vibrations from his rattly resonator don't shake it loose from its moorings.
Sounding more Emmylou than Elvis, former Levon Helm bandleader Larry Campbell and wife Teresa Williams offer up a soulful country-flavored take with glorious harmony on Elvis' classic version of “Blue Christmas.”
The Wailing Jennys close it out with a mournful, high and lonesome banjo-fueled rendition of “Glory Bound,” with a fiddle-sweetened chorus surrounding their family style vocal harmony as the song swells majestically to a rousing Chieftans-style finish.
Finally there's an aural Christmas present that truly belongs at the fireside, not in it.