Christmas has a way of turning even the most cynical into the sappily sentimental, and most seasonal music is less than challenging. But despite the popular image of goodwill and good cheer, statistics say it's also one of the most depressing times of the year for those less fortunate (or those who aren't big on forced conviviality). So Christmas blues compilations seems a natural idea - enough, at any rate, for Alligator to release a second collection.
Alligator, of course, is pretty much the big daddy of blues labels, with a generous stable of artists to draw from, many of whom are superstars in the blues world. And the first thing that strikes one here is just how representative these tracks are of a readily identifiable sound of each participant. Koko Taylor opens things with a blast on the funky ""Have You Head The News," giving way to Carey Bell's prototypical "Christmas Train." Michael Burks alternately smoulders and explodes with incendiary passion on "Christmas Snow," while Li'l Ed & The Blues Imperials deliver a patented, short-and-sweet grinder with "Christmas Time," an utterly irresistible slide-powered frenzy.
Shemekia Copeland provides one of the disc's few surprises with a jazzy "Stay A Little Longer, Santa," although the slightly salacious double-entendres are definitely in character; next it's The Holmes Brothers' impassioned "Back Door Santa," showing again that standard blues themes are just as applicable during the holidays. W. C. Clark's "Christmas Party" is typically smooth, soulful fare, as classy as the man himself. C. J. Chenier's "Zydeco Christmas" is a way-cool slice of the swamp with furious energy, so much so that Cephas & Wiggins' all-acoustic "Christmas Day Blues" provides welcome respite and a bit of a breather. It's back to Louisiana, though, for Marcia Ball's "Christmas Fais Do Do," on which Her Royal Tallness takes Christmas home to Cajun country.
Roomful Of Blues' latest crooner, Mark DuFresne, represents a return to the band's most successful era when they were fronted by Sugar Ray Norcia; like Ray, he can caress a lyric 'til it purrs, and he's eminently effective on "Santa Claus, Do You Ever get The Blues?" The ladies of Saffire are typically sassy on "Really Been Good This Year," a bouncy acoustic number; listen as they add exception after exception to the 'been good' list. Lonnie Brooks' signature sound is unmistakable on "All I Want For Christmas." There's no mistaking Coco Montoya, either, as he delivers a moody, ruminative "A Bluesman's Christmas," although the song itself isn't terribly strong. Little Charlie & The Nightcats take a light-hearted look at the season's commercial side with "Christmas Time Again (Spend, Spend, Spend)," before Dave Hole wraps things up with a relatively subdued (for him) "Fattening Up The Turkey."
All the tunes are originals written for this project, and while any could easily satisfy at any time of the year, there are small touches throughout that remind one that this is indeed a Christmas disc, whether it be instrumental flourishes that quote familiar carols or simply a little bit of jingle-bell percussion here and there.
A delight from beginning to end . . . if you were only going to own one Christmas blues collection, this is the one I'd choose!
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