I know it SEEMS like a weird title for a Christmas song, but they pull it off.
Holly Happy Days
The Indigo Girls aren’t the only lesbians in The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music; but while we await a reissue of The Children of the Day Christmas Album, Holly Happy Days will happily suffice. Hot on the heels of last year’s overlooked Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, the Girls’ first holiday album is heavy on the hoedowns, with an all-star bluegrass band racing through the Isaacs’ “I Feel the Christmas Spirit” and the Indigo original “The Wonder Song”. Despite a couple snoozers, Amy and Emily rescue the ponderous “O Holy Night” with their matter-of-fact arrangement. The real story on this album is the sense of community throughout. GLAAD Award nominee Brandi Carlile contributes backing vocals; the recently-out Chely Wright contributes the swingin’ tune “It Really Is a Wonderful Life”. The highlight is Woody Guthrie’s “Happy Joyous Hanukah”, resurrected several years ago by the Klezmatics. With vocal help from Janis Ian—one of two gay people to pen a #1 Christian radio hit—and GLAMA winner Mary Gauthier, it’ll make you spin around the living room like some giddy dreidel. This song simply cannot be recorded enough. Holly Happy Days is exactly as skillful, thoughtful, and fun as you’d expect. Your move, Jennifer Knapp!
My word, but these kids can sing! Sonos represent the innovative edge of nü-acapella, which means members blend the smooth pop-jazz harmonies of Bobby McFerrin with effects pedals, beatboxing that sounds like wan electro-pop, and NPR-friendly new songs, including the group’s own compositions! Four of these December Songs are originals; I don’t expect they’ll storm the X-mas repertoire like John Lennon’s “War is Over”, but they’re not unpleasant if overheard while trimming your tree. Really, though, you could do better. The sextet’s “O Holy Night” is a static arrangement that offers nothing new. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is an inspired choice, but the polite counterpoint adds little to the hymnal. Sonos scatter some bright ideas here and there, but hasn’t surmounted acapella’s greatest obstacle: how to make the music sound necessary as music, rather than simply as a vehicle for the group’s obvious talents.
My reluctance to enjoy Destination… Christmas! may be evidence that I lack a sense of humor. If so, Fred Schneider’s Christmas music killed it. The B-52s vet offers 11 bitchy, kitschy Christmas rants over the listless electronica of his Snuggie-garbed pals, Noah Brodie and Dan Marshall. The songs tend to be one-joke takes on holiday ephemera—chalet vacations, hating Christmas, seasonal sex, hungry yeti, fruitcake—stretched out way past their sell-by dates. At least Schneider seems to be having fun, but his B-52s-era exuberance is gone. The one laugh comes at the beginning of the Serge Gainsbourg parody “Santa Je T’aime”, but once that laugh disappears, you’re left with an exhausting fake smile plastered on your face. True, my preschooler now walks around the house singing “Santa’s Disco”, but he also says of “Fruitcake”, “This is a LONG song.” It lasts three and a half minutes.
[These all ran at www.popmatters.com, bless 'em.]