What’s that festive sound you’re hearing? If it’s fun, fresh, and a little off the beaten path, it might just be coming from Omnivore Recordings’ recent reissue of The dB’s and Friends’ now-classic holiday party Christmas Time Again! (OVCD-152).
Christmas Time first arrived as a holiday vinyl EP from the Chris Stamey Group in 1986. Seven years later, in 1993, the collection was expanded for a new CD release, with the track count jumping from seven to sixteen tunes. In 2006, Collectors Choice Music revived the album once more as Christmas Time Again, with three songs dropped from the 1993 version and eight more added, for a total of 21 seasonal specialties. Omnivore’s new incarnation adds an exclamation point, and ups the track list to 22 titles, dropping selections and adding seven new ones. Though the 22 songs reflect various musical styles, all are oozing with happy holiday spirit.
Four previously issued tracks have been retained from Stamey’s band The dB’s including the melodic power-pop title track which has opened every iteration of this album, the even more spirited (pun intended) “Holiday Spirit” from 1993 (with its cries of “Gimme gimme gimme!”), the country-flavored original with the familiar title of “Home for the Holidays” and a goofy cover of Jose Feliciano’s perennial “Feliz Navidad.” Stamey and Cathy Harrington’s “You’re What I Want (For Christmas)” and his attractive guitar instrumental “It’s a Wonderful Life,” both of which were included like “Christmas Time” on the original EP, are still here.
Ballads and upbeat pop-rockers have both been reprised from previous editions. Marshall Crenshaw does well with the throwback ballad “(It’s Going to Be A) Lonely Christmas,” originally recorded by The Orioles. In a much more modern vein, Whiskeytown’s country-rock “Houses on the Hill” remains enjoyable. It was first included on Christmas Time in 2006, and while it’s not quite a true “Christmas song,” that shouldn’t be held against it! Sweet harmonies lift Wes Lachot’s gently rocking “Christmas is the Only Time,” and producer-singer-songwriter-musician Don Dixon brings a bluesy swing to the classic “I Saw Three Ships.”
“‘Cause the point of a gun was the only law that Santa Claus understood…,” Ted Lyons repeats in the offbeat “The Only Law That Santa Claus Understood,” a track which has been included on all past versions of Christmas Time. (Apologies to Hal David and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”!) Lyons is also represented by the instrumental “Santa’s Moonlight Sleighride” with its tropical feel. The late Alex Chilton will surely inspire a smile with his simple, unadorned live take on Mel Tormé and Robert Wells’ “The Christmas Song,” one of the few Christmas standards here. Big Star’s Third, the group which happily celebrates the legacy of Chilton’s old band, contributes a new live version of Big Star’s “Jesus Christ” featuring Chris Stamey, Jody Stephens, Ken Stringfellow and lead vocals by R.E.M.’s Mike Mills. (Note that the original “Jesus Christ” has recently been reissued on vinyl by Omnivore for Black Friday’s Record Store Day Event!)
The new tracks all fit smoothly into the framework of this collection. Robyn Hitchcock contributes the spoken-word piece “The Day Before Boxing Day,” while a more lively diversion can be heard with Yo La Tengo and Jeff Tweedy’s “Eight Day Weekend,” a rocking reworking of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman’s “Seven Day Weekend,” Hanukkah-style. Skylar Gudasz appears with Tim Madigan’s ethereal, piano ballad “The Sounds of Christmas,” and Lydia Kavanagh’s delicate original song “It’s Christmas” is of a piece with Gudasz’s track. Birds and Arrows offer a mellow, harmonica-flecked “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and Brett Harris earns the closing spot with a faithful, heartfelt rendition of Harry Nilsson’s beautiful “Remember (Christmas).” Nilsson’s song never once refers to Christmas at all, yet it conjures up images of holidays past in a touching and always-timely admonition to “remember when you’re sad and feeling down…”
Omnivore’s new Christmas Time Again! has been mastered by Brent Lambert and Michael Graves, and features attractive design by Greg Allen. Chris Stamey also supplies a brief new liner note, but discographical annotation is sorely missed, especially considering this album’s singular history. Those listeners looking for a breather from the wonderful yet omnipresent standard Christmas songbook won’t be disappointed with the diverse and spirited offerings here.
- Christmas Time – The dB’s
- Holiday Spirit – The dB’s
- (It’s Going to Be a) Lonely Christmas – Marshall Crenshaw
- The Sounds of Christmas – Skylar Gudasz
- Christmas Time is Here – Thad Cockrell and Roman Candle
- Home for the Holidays – The dB’s
- Houses on the Hill – Whiskeytown
- Christmas is the Only Time – Wes Lachot
- It’s Christmas – Lydia Kavanagh
- Eight Day Weekend (Live) – Yo La Tengo and Jeff Tweedy
- I Saw Three Ships (Live) – Don Dixon
- The Only Law That Santa Claus Understood – Ted Lyons
- In the Bleak Midwinter – Birds and Arrows
- The Christmas Song – Alex Chilton
- Santa’s Moonlight Sleighride – Ted Lyons
- Jesus Christ (Live) – Big Star’s Third featuring Mike Mills
- Christmas Light – Keegan DeWitt and The Sparrows
- You’re What I Want (For Christmas) – Chris Stamey and Cathy Harrington
- Feliz Navidad – The dB’s
- The Day Before Boxing Day – Robyn Hitchcock
- It’s a Wonderful Life – Chris Stamey
- Remember (Christmas) – Brett Harris