About a decade or so after the release of the highly entertaining The Alligator Records Christmas Collection, label founder Bruce Iglauer must have gotten a hold of all the letters that blues fans had been writing Santa asking for another holiday blues collection. Assembling the best and brightest from the considerably talented Alligator Records roster, Iglauer and crew put together Alligator Records' Genuine Houserockin' Christmas, another inspired collection of Christmas tunes guaranteed to out even the grumpiest of Scrooges into the proper mood. Much like the first Christmas-themed album from Alligator, this second effort features mostly original material, and there's nary a "White Christmas" or "Winter Wonderland" to be found!
Alligator Records' Genuine Houserockin' Christmas
Keeping with the label's mission statement of releasing nothing but "genuine houserockin' music," this second Christmas album from Alligator Records is even rowdier and rockin' than the earlier volume. This one again kicks off with Chicago blues queen Koko Taylor, her "Have You Heard The News?" marrying gospel fervor with holiday cheer for a powerful performance. Koko blasts out the song's good news about Santa Claus coming to town above Chriss Johnson's blistering fretwork and some tasteful piano-mangling courtesy of Richard Gibbs, Jr.
Harp player Carey Bell – too often underrated in the shadow of Chicago blues contemporaries like James Cotton and Junior Wells – keeps the party going strong with the raucous, upbeat "Christmas Train." Copping a lick or two from Country Music Hall of Famer DeFord Bailey, mimicking his harp-generated train whistle for an intro, Bell quickly jumps back to familiar turf. Leading a talented outfit that includes guitarist Lonnie Brooks, bassist Johnny B. Gayden, and piano-pounder Ken Saydak, Bell puts the band through its paces with a locomotive vocal performance that is punctuated by Bell's hearty harp blasts, a few Christmas-y licks thrown in on the side.
Stay A Little Longer, Santa
Alligator label mainstays Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials bring their usual "A" game to the original, houserockin' "Christmas Time." With Mike Garrett holding down the back end with his tasty rhythm licks, and bassist James "Pookie" Young and drummer Kelly Littleton laying down a fierce groove, Lil' Ed embroiders the performance with his buzzing, rattling, bluesy fretwork and smiling vocals. One of the best female singers in the blues, Shemekia Copeland brings her sultry best to "Stay A Little Longer, Santa." Accompanied by tinkling piano keys and brushed drums, Copeland's double entendre lyrics are made all the more lascivious by her vocals, which turn from a kittenish purr to a lion's growl within the same verse.
Christmas is a family affair for the Holmes Brothers, and their "Back Door Santa" pushes Copeland's naughty-and-nice lyrical theme up a notch with a holiday version of the old blues trope of the "back door man." Wendell Holmes' rowdy, shouted vocals are perfect for the song, sounding like Santa leaving in a hurry, while his inspired guitar play and Hammond B-3 lend a sense of urgency to the performance. Bassist Sherman Holmes, drummer Popsy Dixon, and friend Catherine Russell add a bit of cheer with their delightful backing vocals.
Few artists can deliver genuine "rhythm & blues" like the great W.C. Clark, and his "Christmas Party" is a welcome slice of old-school soul. Clark's warm, gospel-tinged vocals bring to mind Sam Cooke or Solomon Burke, while his supple fretwork is both subtle and elegant. The Texas Horns provide an additional dimension to the song, one of the best performances on the album. Genuine Houserockin' Christmas includes a little Cajun spice in its grooves courtesy of C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band's "Zydeco Christmas." Few Louisiana madmen squeeze more glee out of an accordion keyboard that Chenier, and he brings a runaway rhythm to the song that is made all the more lively by his energetic, soulful vocals and the band's infectious, up-tempo backdrop.
The acoustic-blues of Cephas & Wiggins may seem a little out of place here, but the duo's "Christmas Day Blues" places the emphasis on the bluesy, heartbreak lyrics rather than on the music. The music ain't half-bad, either, Wiggins' mournful harp blowing like a chill December wind across Cephas's spirited guitar strum. Pianist Marcia Ball brings a bit more Louisiana hot sauce to the album with her New Orleans-flavored "Christmas Fais Do Do." Ball's friendly vocals lay out the story above Danny Levin's Cajun fiddleplay and Bradley Williams' raging accordion, her own considerable piano skills almost lost beneath the playful din. Coco Montoya takes it back down to the basics with "A Bluesman's Christmas," the guitarist's weeping tones and Anthony Patley's somber keyboards resting behind Montoya's mournful vocals and an overall smothering blues hue.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Genuine Houserockin' Christmas weighs in at a whopping sixteen songs (versus fourteen on The Alligator Records Christmas Collection), and we've barely scraped the surface with the aforementioned performances. The album also features hearty Christmas tunes from talents like guitarist Michael Burks ("Christmas Snow"), Roomful of Blues ("Santa Claus, Do You Ever Get The Blues?"), Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women ("Really Been Good This Year"), the great Lonnie Brooks ("All I Want For Christmas"), Little Charlie & the Nightcats ("It's Christmas Time Again"), and guitarist Dave Hole ("Fattening Up The Turkey"). Whew!
If you're looking for something other than the traditional Christmas tunes that get trucked out every season, do yourself a favor and have a blues holiday instead with Alligator Records' Genuine Houserockin' Christmas...you'll be mighty glad you did! (Alligator Records, released September 16, 2003)
Guide Disclosure: A review copy of this CD, DVD, or book was provided by the record label, publisher, or publicist. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.