With the glut of remix albums flooding the market these days, it should come as no surprise that there are a slew of them showing up in the Holiday music bins. Two of the more promising new ones (despite the awful cover art on both) are Merry Mixmas on Capitol/EMI and Christmas Remixed from Six Degrees. Will either of them have you hip-hopping arond the tree?
The Merry Mixmas crew would seem to have the advantage of pulling from the vast EMI catalogue for classic source material by artists such as Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald and Lou Rawls (most original tracks are from the excellent Ultra-Lounge Christmas Cocktails collections). There are some noted remixers/DJs/whatever involved that even I have heard of including MJ Cole, Q-Burns, and Ursula 1000.
There are a few standout tracks, like Bent’s dreamily ambient take on Bingo’s “Winter Wonderland” and PSapp’s vocal twist on Les Brown’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep me Warm.” The overall result, however, is a surprisingly bland collection of remixes that are so respectful and similar to the originals that they are almost redundant. The formula for almost every remix is to let the original vocal track play through with little or no change while adding a subtle layer of techno drum, bass, and synth effects resulting in a tastefully updated electronic variation — but not a radically transformed new creation. The one remix that diverts substantially from the original turns out to be a tortured re-casting of Nancy Wilson’s “The Christmas Waltz” into 4/4 time (or does awayTEAM not know how to program 3/4 beats into a drum machine?)
Otherwise, it all goes down a little too easy with few surprises, shocks, or smiles… it’s basically a remix album that even your grandmother might like — but is that really what you want out of a remix album? Besides, she’ll enjoy Chirstmas Cocktails a lot more… and so do I. [Note to Santa: you can finally get Christmas Cocktails Part 3 without having to re-buy Parts 1 & 2 in the Ultimate Christmas Cocktails box set (as it should have been all along! Shame on you, Capitol… expect coal in your stockings!)]
Turns out the real party is happenin’ on Christmas Remixed 2 where our holiday mixmasters seem to know how to make something new and fresh out of a familiar tune. This collection lives up to (and perhaps even improves upon) the original Christmas Remixed from Six Degrees released in 2003. Each track has a distinct personality, and there’s a good mix of vocal and instrumental selections (unlike the all-vocal Merry Mixmas). Highlights include:
- Bombay Dub Orchestra’s jazz/funk wah-wah guitar drenched “Jingle Bells” perfectly blended with Joe Williams’ vocal
- tasty twists on Jimmy McGriff and Charlie Parker by TONAL and King Kooba
- the head-bobbin’ beat of “Frosty the Snowman” remixed by the Rondo Brothers (with Patti Page’s hilariously looped “thumpity-thump-thump” refrain)
- Charles Brown’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” mutated into a strange retro-synth hip hop ballad by Ohmega Watts
- the sinister funky drumming superimposed upon “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” by Red Baron
- 46bliss’ ethereal, spooky “Silent Night” with the echoing vocals of Mahalia Jackson and backing choir (this one would have been even better without the backbeat, though…)
Sure, there are a few tracks that coast and go on a little too long, but overall this is a perfect example of what a good remix album should be: originals reimagined in interesting, creative ways with plenty of stylistic variety and thoughtful track sequencing. Hey, I bet grandma would even get a kick out of this stuff (especially after a couple Tom and Jerrys…)[Note to Santa: How about a Christmas Remixed 3 in my stocking next year?]
Decision: Christmas Remixed 2 (break)beats Merry Mixmas, y’all… word (and so forth…)