On the 1st Day Of Christmas… “Christmas On Death Row” (album review)

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Hip hop and Christmas aren’t strangers. Run DMC’sChristmas in Hollis” even made the cut for the holiday compilation album A Very Special Christmas. Rapper Cee Lo Green dropped a seasonal disc, Cee Lo Green’s Magical Moment. DMC kept their track family friendly, and Cee Lo opted for a soulful take. Enter Christmas On Death Row. No, this isn’t an amalgamation of criminals bursting into joyous carols. Rather, Death Row in the title refers to the well-established rap record label which features notable artists such as West Coast legend Snoop Dogg.

Christmas On Death Row features original holiday tunes by a collection of the unlikeliest of folks. Snoop Dogg and the late Nate Dogg spit a West Coast Xmas ditty, “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto.” The funky bassline sets the tone for the entire album. Nate Dogg’s baritone hook actually could fit on a mainstream track, but the references to weed which proceed from (surprise, surprise) Snoop remove any illusions that this is a traditional holiday album. Directly following the comedic “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto” is Danny Boy’s poignant “The Christmas Song.” I guess the producers deemed Snoop’s nasally drawl too sacrilegious for such a revered holiday favorite. Running down the tracklist, the ratio of classic Christmas hits and original hip hop tracks is pretty even.

While recognizable seasonal songs by Death Row crooners are enjoyable, the true standouts and reasons to bump Christmas On Death Row are the ghetto inspired tracks. They’re unique and manage to deliver seemingly honest messages. The Dogg Pound roc the mic on “I Wish,” with a chorus of “I wish I had love.” Verses present traditionally rap content, such as shout outs to recently deceased homies and admittances of dopage. Danny Boy reappears on “Peaceful Christmas,” and Michel’le provides an emotive “Silver Bells.” Thankfully, after these covers “Christmas in the Ghetto” steers the album back towards the holiday-themed Chronic. Again, the eggnog and indo play prominent themes, and hearing gangstafied Christmas tunes pleasantly mixes up the festivities. If you’re into alternate leaves of green, you’ll likely appreciate this West Coast rap take on Christmas.

As previously mentioned, the traditional tracks, though well done, feel like filler. They’re worth listening to, but everyone’s heard these songs more times than they’d like to recall. That’s not to say that the iterations found on Christmas On Death Row pale in comparison to their urban counterparts. Nate Dogg lends much appreciated appearances on several tracks. Much like Cee Lo Green, his booming voice feels natural rapping or spitting seasonal lyrics. He can hang with the funkiest of hip hop beats and schmooze with slowed down, expressive instrumental.

Christmas On Death Row offers an entertaining and unusual West Coast funk-soul-holiday fusion. Though the combination may sound incompatible, it works surprisingly well just like the sweet-salty M&M trail mixes. If you’re a hip hop head, definitely add this to the collection, though be mindful of tracks to skip if you’re among a more conservative crowd.

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On the 7th Day of Christmas… “Silent Nightclub” — Richard Cheese (album review)

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Richard Cheese may not be a household name, though after this review you’ll likely plow through his entire discography quicker than a one horse open sleigh. A comedic singer, he performs lounge and swing style takes on top 40 hits. Hitting play sucks you into a portal, transporting listeners into a Vegas cocktail bar complete with martini and halfway unbuttoned silk shirt.

Amid Cheese’s extensive catalog is an aptly titled Silent Nightclub. As the name suggests, the album is an amalgamation of “holiday” hits. A quick glance at the tracklist and the brow furrows in confusion. Only five of the 15 total songs are traditional Christmas tunes. The other 10 are mainly pop hits which slightly relate to the holidays. And most of the time the connection is more of a stretch than the Grinch shimmying down a narrow brick chimney. Cheese opens with Dead Kennedys’ punk anthem “Holiday in Cambodia,” presumably because it contains the word holiday. He does however, use jingle bells and a Christmas melody to provide a festive ambiance.

Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” follows up “Holiday in Cambodia,” a hilarious reference to the Virgin Mary. Conservative religious folks may be offended, but one listen to the disc and it’s obvious Cheese isn’t meant to be taken seriously. Cleverly, he includes “Like a Virgin” and unless you’re quick to ponder the non-commercial aspects of Christmas, the reason for inclusion may pass you by like Santa skipping the naughty kid on your block. Cheese also includes “Ice, Ice Baby,” “Imagine,” “Naughty Girl,” “The Trees,” “I Melt With You,” and finishes on an appropriate note with “Holidae Inn.” His choices are undeniably unique for a Christmas CD, and you’ll be gnawing the candy cane in your martini in no time.

Amusingly, though predictably, even the holiday tracks aren’t exactly straightforward. The version of “Jingle Bells” on Silent Nightclub features animal noises rather than the actual lyrics. This album by no means seeks to replace the original versions of your holiday favorites. “Last Xmas” is actually only 18 seconds long, and Cheese explains the shortened Wham cover by proclaiming “…that song sucks.” Sorry Wham fans. Take your problem up with Richie. As the sole original track “Christmas In Las Vegas” paints an entertaining portrait of Vegas with a twist. Rudolph bets on red and the Wise Men roll sevens. Cheese exploits both Christmas and Las Vegas clichés, stuffing both into a witty stocking.

Silent Nightclub serves up a hearty, creative dose of mildly, though carefully and astutely selected tracks. Additionally, Cheese’s mock-serious, sleazy delivery packs a ramshackle sled of laughs. Try not to keep from bursting into fits of giggles while the artist woof-woof-woofs in tune to “Jingle Bells,” double-times through “Christmastime is Here,” or jollily bounces down John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Just like spiking eggnog spices up the holiday merriment, Richard Cheese’s Silent Nightclub is sure to get the Christmas party popping.

On the 10th Day of Christmas… “Silver Bells of Christmas” — Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney (Review)

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A few years ago while ambling about the aisles of Big Lots I uncovered Silver Bells of Christmas in a bargain bin of CDs. Noticing the album was a Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney collaboration at the traditional Big Lots low price, I picked up a copy. If you’ve seen the classic holiday film “White Christmas,” you’ll realize this isn’t the first Crosby/Clooney tag team.

Upon first listen I was struck by the raw audio quality. As a vinyl fan, I actually appreciated the rough pops and hisses. Granted, my Roxio Easy LP to MP3 kit delivers much richer vinyl transfers, but then again Silver Bells of Christmas was a dollar. My second reaction was surprise. Although the cover art advertises “With Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney,” there’s only one song featuring the two musicians together. Interestingly, it is the title and opening track “Silver Bells.” Of the remaining nine songs, six are Bing solos leaving Rosemary only three.

What sets Silver Bells of Christmas apart from other Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney releases is the raw audio. Complete with the flaws of a rough transfer, this CD mimics an old-timey feel. As soon as you push play you’ll be transported in front of a wood-paneled gramophone. Sure, you might have other iterations of these songs, but the versions found on this release, particularly the initial song, are worth the price of the disc alone. Undoubtedly the greatest track is “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Bing delivers a jazzy rendition complete with a slam-bam finish as the crooner would say. He truly goes to town, hollering: “whoa Rudolph, what a shiner/brightens up the whole darn sky/whoa Rudolph, looks like a miner, prancing across the sky.” Then he proceeds to drop a dose of scat, ending with “whoa diddy, abadoodeeda, abadoodoodadeedee (rough approximation).” After listening to this, it should come as no shock that ol’ Bing partook of the green stuff. And no, I’m not referring to Christmas trees…

From the Amazon store, it seems like you can cop this album at a Big Lots price online. Audiophiles might want to skip out, but if you aren’t bothered by the tinny quality, this is a great addition to the Christmas collection. You can’t go wrong with the B-sides of Bing and Rosemary. Heck, it’s worth the money just to hear Bing lackadaisically scatting his way through “Rudolph.” Maybe he should have voiced the Claymation snowman rather than Burl Ives…