It happens every year around this time. People around the world start gearing up for the winter holiday season, despite political and/or religious beliefs. Everyone has their standard traditions, music included. Since 1986, pop fans from all over have had the opportunity to have the Chris Stamey and Friends Christmas Time to add to their traditional holiday music list. Released at the time as a seven song release, Chris revisited the project in 1994, adding more friends and tracks for a total of seventeen tunes. Fast forward to 2006 and now we have a new and improved version, The dB's And Friends "Christmas Time Again" with an impressive twenty one songs.
Let me give you a quick lowdown, for those not in the know, about Chris Stamey/The dB's. Back in the late 1970's, the Winston-Salem region of North Carolina was a happening hotbed of the indie pop music scene. That none of the people from that time and space never broke in a big way, is a mystery to it's myriad of fans, as they were as important to that genre and time as The Beatles were to theirs.
Not to discount the roles that members Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby, and Gene Holder brought to the mix, founder Chris Stamey was known not just for his musicianship but as being the-guy-behind-the-console producer of choice for a lot of other, more well known artists. When someone has a list of people like R.E.M./Michael Stipe, Ryan Adams, Jack Bruce, Matthew Sweet, and Andy Partridge on their resume, and Stamey does, you would think that more people would sit up and take notice. But nope… didn't happen. Still, that didn't stop The dB's from making their music and being a part of a scene that includes other artists like Alex Chilton and Big Star.
So, back to the Christmas Time CDs. The original 1986 version, unfortunately out of print, was recorded by the Chris Stamey Group. That humble beginning was only seven tracks: "Christmas Time", "Something Came Over Me", "The Only Law That Santa Claus Understood", "Sha La La", "Snow Is Falling", "You're What I Want (For Christmas)" and "It's A Wonderful Life." The 1994 reincarnation saw ten additional tracks including more traditional songs like "Oh, Holy Night", "Silver Bells", "The Christmas Song" and "Feliz Navidad" all recorded by various forms of The dBs, solo and together, Alex Chilton/Big Star, Syd Straw, and Kirsten And Brent Lambert.
It's Christmas Time Again, adds four new tracks mostly recorded specifically for this project. It takes a step away from the first two versions of this album. Chris, Peter, Alex and friends have widened their circle of influence this time around. However these additions do not take away the feel of the earlier records, but fit in with every other song as if they were meant to be there right from the start.
Marshall Crenshaw, singer/songwriter, makes his contribution to the cause with a tender version of the '50s doo-wop classic song "Lonely Christmas". A fan of the fifties rock genre, Crenshaw (and his at the time trio) was not only the featured band in the film Peggy Sue Got Married but has also portrayed Buddy Holly (LaBamba). So he comes by these chops in an organic way and makes this song as authentic sounding as possible.
Singer/songwriter/producer Don Dixon collaborated with dBers Stamey and Peter Holsapple for a new version of his "Christmas Is Saturday", which highlights his unique vocal style and sound. A jazzy live version of "I Saw Three Ships" is a remarkable addition from Dixon also. Mr. Dixon is a smooth live performer, so much so, that it is only the inclusion of the audience's applause that gives away the fact that this was not a studio recording.
Thad Cockrell and Roman Candle joined together to record "Christmas Time Is Here", a lilting and lovely song that stands the chance of becoming a new classic holiday tune. The list is rounded out with the sweet "Christmas Lights" by relative newcomer Keegan Dewitt.
In a recent press release for "Christmas Time Again", executive producer and artist Chris Stamey had this to say about putting another version of Christmas songs out: "Home for the Holidays" is the theme here. This is the soundtrack of my guest-list for the dream holiday party: I can close my eyes and imagine the cast grabbing the mic, one after another, as the mistletoe swings in the breeze and the Yule log crackles and sparks." In the liner notes, he makes note of the amount of time between each of the three releases and jokes that "Guess I'll see you 'round about December 2016."
I may go through a couple of copies of this CD if I have to wait ten years for an updated version. Until then, I guess I'll have to be content with trying to get invited to that dream holiday party.