Monday, December 20, 2010

Tis The Season - For Christmas Albums

Christmas CDs have turned into something of a cottage industry, although the results are often cottage cheese. This year, however, several Americana-friendly artists are serving up some rather tasty musical treats for the holidays.

Shelby Lynne – Merry Christmas (Everso Records). On this 11-song set, Lynne gives a torchy touch to some holiday standards (“Silent Night” and “Sleigh Ride/Winter Wonderland”) with her rendition of “Silver Bells” really shining. The disc’s middle section is particularly strong as Lynne delivers a moving “O Holy Night” to a festive “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and follows it with a powerful original “Xmas.”

Indigo Girls – Holly Happy Days (IG Recordings). Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have put together a dozen holiday tunes – some old, some new, some borrowed and some originals (sorry, that it doesn’t rhyme). They display an entertaining range of music, from traditional choral tunes (“Angels We have Heard On High”) to more down-home efforts (the bluegrassy “I Feel The Christmas Spirit”). The gentle Amy Ray original “Mistletoe” is a lovely tune no matter the season, but the Girls really shine on the uptempo tunes (“I Feel The Christmas Spirit,” “It Really Is (A Wonderful Life),” and “The Wonder Song). They even give a shout-out to hillbilly Hebrews with a spirited rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “Happy Joyous Hanukkah.”

Scott Miller - Christmas Gift (Fay Recordings). This Xmas CD presents one of the more unusual song credits – Miller, R.B. Morris and T.S. Eliot - which appears on the opening track medley “The Kingdom Has Come/Journey of the Magi.” Miller’s 7 song seasonal offering serves up an entertaining mix of reverence and irreverence. His front porch arrangements of “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Joyful, Joyful” fill the former while his original “Yes, Virginia” and the Roger Miller (no relation) “Old Toy Train” supply the latter. And anytime John Prine’s wonderful wry “Christmas In Prison” gets recorded, it is time to celebrate.

Dan Hicks – Crazy For Christmas (Surfdog Records). It’s should come a no surprise that Hicks’ Christmas offering is a fun, spirited affair. Using his signature hot jazz/western swing/vaudevillian rock hybrid, Hicks and his Hot Licks mix oldies but goodies (“Run Run Rudolph,” and “Here Comes Santa Claus”) with good-humored originals (“Christmas Mornin’” and “I’ve Got Christmas By The Tail”). It all makes for a merry Xmas party album.

So when you are looking for a new Christmas disc, you don’t have to settle for Susan Boyle or Katherine MacPhee, but seek out one of these alternative Christmas albums.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Go See Hear In L.A.: Dec. 20-Jan. 2

In the holiday spirit of giving, I will be giving you two weeks of picks instead of one. While maybe it has to do with giving myself a break during this winter break time period.
Either way, onto the shows.
On Dec. 20, Middle Brother, a band formed by members of the Dawes, Delta Spirit and Deer Tick, will be playing a benefit show at the Troubadour. Don’t know much about the band, but they have a good pedigree.
Also, on the 20th the Blind Boys of Alabama will be filling Disney Hall with their sweet sounds.
That rockabilly filly Rosie Flores will be playing a trio of shows before the year’s end. Her shows on the 22 at the Cat Club and the 23rd at the Redwood Bar will be Christmas-themed while her 29th show at the Cat Club will regular rocking affair.
On the 27th, the Long Tangles out of New Orleans come to the Silverlake Lounge for a show. They are one of those boy-girl duos and they have a lovely poppy sound with some appealing dark shading. Watch out for them.
When it comes to New Year’s Eve, the top bet is the Lucinda Williams show at the Viper Room, if you can snag tickets. There’ll also be a swinging time at the Mint with the Royal Crown Revue and Donovan Frankenreiter headlines at the Grove of Anaheim

Have a great holiday. Thanks for reading. And see you in ’11.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Go See Hear In L.A.: Dec. 13-19

This week the holiday season swings into full steam. Local country angel Lynda Kay hosts a holiday show at the Variety on Monday night. Los Lobos will be appearing at the Grammy Museum on Tuesday before their big local show on Sunday the 19th at the House of Blues. X has its Xmas gigs at the House of Blues on the 15th and the Ventura Theatre on the 16th. Ozomatli celebrates its Quinceañera at Club Nokia on Saturday night.
There are other notable shows at well. The White Buffalo will be appearing at Costa Mesa’s Detroit Bar on Dec. 14 and the next night at the Mint. The Rescues continues its Hotel Café residency with shows on Dec. 14 and 15, with Garrison Starr also playing on the 14th. Mike Viola and Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger will be sharing some sweet pop tunes at the Hotel Café on 12/15, while things will be more “low” key at Spaceland when Low plays there.
Badly Drawn Boy has a pair of shows at the Troubadour 12/15-16 with up & comer Justin Jones opening.
NYC-based soul-funksters Soulive will be at the Roxy on the 16th in support of its new disc Rubber Soulive. For funkiness from the rock side, there's Head Like A Kite at Spaceland/Satellite on 12/16. Check out their super catchy "We're Always On The Wrong Side Of Sunrise" to hear one of the band's shiny moments.
John Grant, whose Queen of Denmark disc is well worth checking out, performs at the Gene Autry Museum on 12/16, along with the Chapin Sisters
The eclectic and acclaimed banjo wizard Bela Fleck brings his Flecktones to the Orpheum on Dec. 18

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Go See Hear In L.A.: Dec. 6-12

It’s been a busy week, which is why I am only getting to this now.

Hopefully it’s not too late to get either the rugged Texas country rock band Reckless Kelly at the Mint or folk chanteuse Edie Carey and Americana-rooted Sarah Sample at Genghis Cohen on Tuesday. Both women have new albums to celebrate, Bring The Sea and Someday, Someday (respectively). I was familiar with Carey from her earlier work but Sample was a pleasant surprise

The one and only Jonathan Richman starts his two night stand at the Troubadour on 12/7; Gail Davies is his opener.

Wednesday finds up and coming local rocker Delta Spirit at the Music Box while the Silverlake Lounge hosts Western States Motel (shouldn’t they be at the Hotel Café?). Jokes aside, they have a jaunty, engaging indie rock sound that is worth exploring.

The Bad Plus sets a spell at the Mint 12/9-11, with them doing an acoustic show on the 11th.

The Bird and the Bee lands at the Mondrian on the 10th. That same night, You Tube starlet Kina Grannis plays the El Rey.

The show of the week probably is at McCabe’s on the 10th, where NEeMA shares the bill with Anais Mitchell (presenting her Hadestown show). I am not familiar with Mitchell, but my No Depression colleague Kim Ruehl raves about her which is an good endorsement for me. NEeMa is a cool singer-songwriter whose CD Watching You Think comes out in Feb (and hopefully I can write it about more but it holds several really memorable tunes). A guy named Leonard Cohen co-produced her disc, by the way.

The Black Crowes farewell tour comes to the Palladium on Saturday. Say what you will about them, but the band has done some good things with and for roots rock. Opening for them is a fine L.A. country rock group, The Truth & Salvage Company.

Saturday night also is the night at Dan Hicks has a Christmas Show at McCabe’s (he has a new Christmas CD just out). I remember as kid liking Hicks’ “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away.” He too has a place in Americana history.