The Xmas Factor

‘Tis the season to hear awful, horrible, terrible Christmas music everywhere.

However, one of the cooler things about Warren Haynes’s annual Christmas Jams, which I’ve never attended, unfortunately, is that nearly everyone who plays appears to eschew seasonal music for hard rocking, old-fashioned picking, and novel collaborations, e.g., Coheed & Cambria singing Dylan with Mr. Haynes last year.

Few bands in ye olde improv-rock scene pay much attention to the Xmas vibe, even given the opportunity. I once had a peak experience as the Disco Biscuits broke into “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker, at the Hammerstein Ballroom; but they played that year-round during the late ’90s. Same goes for Phish’s occasional stabs at Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy,” from A Charlie Brown Christmas, the seasonal perennial that debuted in 1965, about the year they were born. They also goofed on “The Little Drummer Boy” four times, usually during the summer.

If you want to hear a Christmas album that doesn’t wear out its welcome, look no further than Seasons Greetings From moe., a 2002 quickie that surprisingly stands the test of time. I just listened to it for the first time in, oh, seven years or so, and it brightened my morning considerably. Rob Derhak is apparently the Christmas-ophile responsible for forcing his bandmates to learn and record the album during soundchecks while the band was touring in September.

What’s great is how musical the album is, which is where the fun lies for this grinch (and Scrooge, too). I’d completely forgotten Al Schnier’s “Fire on the Mountain” teases in the middle of moe.’s version of Linus and Lucy.” Jim Loughlin’s mallets bring out the subtle minimalism in “Carol of the Bells” (which would also make a good Dario Argento horrorshow scene scored by Gremlin). Derhak (“Together at Christmas”) and Schnier (“Home”) each contribute touching rockers testifying to how great it feels to return from the road. And it took a certain amount of curatorial smarts to come up with “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” a lesser-known tune by “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” composer Johnny Marks, which moe. performs punk-rock style à la the Misfits. There’s a snazzy surf-rock rendition of “Oh Hanukah,” Chuck Garvey croons “Blue Christmas,” and their psychedelic slide-guitar take on “Silent Night” segues nastily into a very proggy “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire.” They wrap this nifty gift up with a rockabilly “Jingle Bells.”

Fortunately for my sanity, Seasons Greetings isn’t the only holiday music I can tolerate. When the inevitable playlist must be constructed for a late-December get-together, you’ll usually find tracks from these excellent albums on mine:

Unsilent Night by Phil Kline

A Caribbean Mas Christmas Party

Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics

The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album

Holidays! by Brave Combo

Another Christmas Gift for You from Sonic Trout Records

Messiah Remix

Eclectic Method – Haul The Decks 2009 from Eclectic Method on Vimeo.

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