Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas on the flipside...

When one thinks of Christmas, “California girls under mistletoe” and “Beach Boys tunes on the radio” don’t usually come to mind. That is, unless you are really an awesome person. In this case, the awesome person of choice is SideB Music label co-founder Brian Battles in his contribution to the independent label’s holiday stocking stuffer for 2010, Rockin’ The Mistletoe. In these auto-tune drenched days of Now Thats What I Call XMAS Vol. 183, it’s a relief to have a compilation of tracks that are anything but cookie cutter made. That’s where SideB comes in. Together with Jerry Boyd, Battles started the label up in 2006. Five years on, the label is going on stronger than ever on the strengths of the varied and unique acts the pair have added to their roster, some of whom were called upon to create tracks for this one of a kind holiday treat.

Scott Bennett kicks off the Christmas party with “Getting Ready For Christmas”; a breezy original that seems to be inspired more by Vince Guaraldi than Brian Wilson. Why should Brian Wilson be an influence? Well, I am not saying he should but it is rather expected when you are a founding member of Brian Wilson’s road and studio band. It’s not hard to close your eyes while listening to this track and find yourself skating on a frozen river (as a certain Joni Mitchell song also recalls).

Other Brian Wilson camp members of yesterday and today also make appearances. Band member Taylor Mills contributes the powerful “New Years Eve” (sure to send a shiver down your spine no matter what your thermostat is set to). The Stockholm Strings & Horns whom appeared on Wilson’s tour de force Smile album and tour deliver a “Christmas Song For My Darling” which became an instant favorite upon first listen. Stephen J. Kalinich, perhaps best known by Beach Boys fans as the lyrical collaborator during the group’s highly creative period in the 1970s, recites “One (My Christmas Wish)” with breathtaking results. Beach Boys archivist and documentary extraordinaire Alan Boyd sings us the tale of the “Christmas Bunny”, a playful track that is sure to bring out the kid in all of us.

There’s plenty more to feast upon. Laurie Biagini never fails to impress with her impulsive songwriting and knack for arrangements. “Christmas In The Air” is sure to make even the most sun filled Summer day seem like the Winter solstice. Nicholas Alan’s “Cigarettes In Snowmen” first appeared on the artist’s Busker EP in 2007. However, that does not negate it’s inclusion alongside the other tracks on the collection. In fact, it seems to take on more meaning in this new context.

Of all the tracks, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” is the one familiar holiday ‘standard’. As sung by Eric Matthews (the same Eric Matthews whom contributed the absolutely bitching cover of “Lonely Sea” to the Caroline Now! Brian Wilson tribute CD), it becomes a little less familiar and a hell of a lot more cool.

Had the phrase Cool Yule not already been taken (and quite honestly, over used) it would have fit nicely as the title of this endeavor. While each track takes its own path to its own destination, they all somehow end up in the same place (and just in time to cut the Christmas turkey).

To listen to or purchase Rockin' The Mistletoe, click here

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