by Fred Mills
This is an 11-song collection of well-intentioned but dubiously executed holiday tunes. (A portion of proceeds go to the Port Authority World Trade Disaster Survivors Fund and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Education Fund.) Good news first: Mark Farner submits a new composition entitled “Mary (The Return From Calgary)”; its minor-chord piano motif, bolstered by bluesy guitar lines and subtly swelling orchestral backing, is perfectly matched to Farner’s soulful vocal. Greg Lake’s perennial “I Believe in Father Christmas,” while cynical enough (“They said there’ll be snow at Christmas/They said there’ll be peace on earth/But instead it just kept on raining”) to qualify it for inclusion alongside tunes like “Santa Got A DWI” and “Christmas in Vietnam” on Rhino’s classic Bummed-Out Christmas compilation, hits all the right notes, from jingling bells to booming kettle drums to rousing baroque trumpet salvos.
The bad news? Does the thought of a brand-new Styx tune (“All I Want”) ripping off Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Pt. II” put you in a festive mood? How about REO Speedwagon, normally a good band, turning in a number (“I Believe In Santa Claus”) that comes off like Michael Jackson — actually, it’s vocalist Kevin Cronin — trying to convince a toddler to hop up on his lap? Elsewhere, John Waite numbly submits his own wish list (“All I Want For Christmas”), Lake’s erstwhile bandmate Keith Emerson turns a classic (“Silent Night”) into a New Orleans funeral dirge, and the mooks in Survivor do whatever it is they do while sounding inexplicably like the Eagles (“Christmas Is Here”).
One supposes that Father Guido Sarducci’s warmed-over “Saturday Night Live” skit, “Santa’s Lament” (featuring a cheery reggae-cum-’50s-rock arrangement headed up by guitarist Joe Walsh) is no better and no worse than Bob & Doug McKenzie’s beer-stained version of “12 Days Of Christmas” — not included here, incidentally – but novelty songs wear thin fast. Speaking of “12 Days,” those damn Styx-Night Ranger-Damn Yankees Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades play the tune “straight” for a full 4:11 that seems more like an hour. I always hated that tune. Sigh. Well, at least the compilers had the good sense not to include anything from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, whose bloated, symphonic seasonal renderings put the “classical” back in “classic,” making Emerson seem positively perky by comparison.
On the last day of Christmas my true love gave to me … a mullet cut.
E-mail Fred Mills at email@example.com.