Frank Gutch Jr: Getting Your Fa-La-La-Las (Christmas Compilations & Suggestions); Plus Notes
Nothing says Christmas like a curmudgeon and nobody is more of one than Jaimie Vernon which makes me wish I knew some of the stories behind his long career in music and, also, in life. Regaling you with tales of chicken wire and whoopee cushions would make this a lot easier to write— nothing like fart jokes to liven up your reading— but it is Christmas season and I must put aside the slings and arrows, as humorous as they might be.
I mention Jaimie because he recently posted about a Christmas album he had released a few years ago— Taking Care of Christmas— and it set off all kinds of bells and whistles in my head. My mother was the biggest proponent of Christmas I’ve ever known and I spent my youthful years awaiting the season almost angst-ridden. Thanksgiving kicked me into cheerful gear every year and the next month was a wonderland of ideas and wishes and everything magic. When I was a kid it had a lot to do with presents, greedy little bastard that I was, but it also had to do with the weather (football season weather, before they began stretching pro seasons out of proportion, and there isn’t anything quite like a little nip in the air) and food (Christmas candy and nuts and oranges— yes, kiddies, fruit was incredibly seasonal back then and good oranges were only available around December just as watermelon was limited to late summer and apples to the Fall). Of course, music was a major indicator too, radio ready with Johnny Mathis and Doris Day and Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby Christmas albums the day after Thanksgiving if not on that day. When I was really young, say early fifties, radio was all we had and it handed us the season on a platter and music was limited though only slightly so. The fifties began to change all of that though, when rock and roll came along and Country & Western started embracing the rock beat and the new and younger artists. I was there to witness the birth of many of what they call standards today— Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and Bobby Helms’ Jingle Bell Rock and, later, The Beach Boys’ Little Saint Nick and Elvis’s Blue Christmas. Or was that one of Elvis’s earlier songs? In later years you would get songs like The Kinks’ Father Christmas and Greg Lakes’ I Believe in Father Christmas and, yes, they were about the holiday but just didn’t catch on, maybe because radio had lost its grip by then. But every year there came the deluge and Jaimie’s mention of Taking Care of Christmas brought back the many memories of the music and the season, so I did a little digging. Guess what? It is still happening. Here are a few Christmas compilation labels which, if you are intrigued by the season, you might want to check out. And that curmudgeon comment about Jaimie? He only wants you to think that. When he is not forced to deal with the Harpers and the Trumps of the world, he is actually like you and me. Well, kind of. But truthfully, not at all.
Bullseye Canada— A Close Friend of Santa’s (and other music freaks)
You gotta love a label which gets the whole Christmas thing beyond the hey-this-is-a-good-way-to-make-more-money thing. Sure, Columbia and Capitol and Warner Brothers are good at putting together compilations of all kinds, including Christmas, but I have always thought them worrying more about promoting artists as a time of year consumers are open to just about anything. Jaimie Vernon over at Bullseye Canada takes it more personally. For him, it was more about the artists and what they could do. I believe he put together three projects which were Christmas-oriented, two of which are available today. In fact, one is on CD and is very limited in quantities. That one is the aforementioned Taking Care of Christmas. Rather than bore you with the details, I will let Jaimie bore you. Here is a link to a column he wrote some time ago which tells the story behind the release. Read it. It is interesting. Click here.
An aside: Whereas Taking Care of Christmas was included on the Bullseye Canada release of the same title, it was only on the physical copies of the CD. It will not be on the digital package. The rights have since reverted back to Randy Bachman for inclusion on his own Christmas album of the same title. Here is a video of Randy and cohorts playing that song.
Alongside that, the label still has a compilation titled Get Your Fa-La-La-Las Out which I have dialed into my MP3 player and which I peruse now and again. You would be surprised how much fun it can be to listen to Christmas music in July when you’re taking walks on a hot July or August day. Contributing to this 2015 release are Bob Segarini, who falls into a black hole of Beach Boy-dom and makes it work right good; Nick Gilder (yes, that Nick Gilder); Gary Pig Gold, talking his way through Christmas Pop (and sings a little); Frank Zirone, who crosses maybe Paul McCartney with so many of the MOR singers of the early sixties on I Look For Christmas (this would have been perfect radio fodder for 50s and 60s AM radio); Dee Long (ex-Klaatu), who sings lead, evidently, with Focal Points. Even Vernon tried to get into the mix but they stationed guards at the studio door so he couldn’t get in. The rat bastard fooled us all by including a track he had recorded in 2013 with his old band, Moving Targetz. It’s all-Canadian and all-American at the same time.
Jaimie, by the way, has rejuvenated Bullseye Canada and has posted a number of albums for your perusal, all of which may be found through his page on Bandcamp (click here). Included among the goodies are Cats & Dogs (a relatively unknown project which includes Bob Segarini), four (count ’em— four) Beatles tribute albums featuring a string of Canadian musicians, some of whom you know and others who might just surprise you, two fairly recent Dee Long (ex-Klaatu) albums, one of the most creative albums I have heard in recent years which Jaimie put together with a handful of friends titled Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts, and more. Seriously, you should check out this page. Hopefully, in the near future, Jaimie will be adding more from the old Bullseye Canada catalog and might, with luck, be working on some new things.
The following is a track from Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts, a recreation (if it had been actually created) of Radio Station CRCK’s last broadcast as a Pop radio station.
You can contact Jaimie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Green Monkey— the 800-Pound Christmas Gorilla
Good ol’ Green Monkey. If any label loves Christmas on an indie scale, it is Tom Dyer and crew. They have just released their umpteenth Christmas album (I will look the actual number up in a minute) and have a catalogue to make all the Santas in the world jellyroll with joy. Why, these guys have so much fun doing this, people check in just to see who’s outdone who. A few years ago, Gary Minkler and The Green Monkey Christmas Chorale teamed up for this Popeyed version for sailors.
Two years ago, Dyer himself along with the Northwest Ono Band offered up this little rocker. I assume that the “Lou” in this song refers to Lou Reed, who died that year, but they keep me out of the loop for a reason, I guess. I think they are afraid they will become super successful and have to tour or something. Still and all, it’s a great substitute for another lame Frosty the Snowman, eh?
The year before, Seattle band aaiiee served up a little Krampus stew with this little ditty from Green Monkey’s Merry Krampus.
See where I’m going with this? Oh, it seems like great fun and some of the tracks are intriguing if not world class, but there is a method to the madness. You see, Green Monkey has always been an oddball organization in that they are incredibly supportive of one another and they do this for charity each year. Yep. Whatever they bring in, they give out. Now, if that ain’t cool, nothing is.
I wanted to know a little something about the commitment to Christmas albums and charities, so I contacted Dyer. First off, the lineup and title for this year’s compilation?
DYER: The lineup so far is: Green Pajamas, 3 Ninjas (4th Year), Tom Dyer, Tim of Seattle (Me and Jim of Seattle), Toxic Socket (5th Year), Zelda Starfire (2nd Year), Pleasure Island (2nd year), The Navins (2nd Year), Write Brothers, Guns of Nevada, Fresh Prince of Brain Wizard, Eric Padget, Free Creature, Steve Martineli… There may be a couple more. (Ed. Note: the “years” refer to the number of years they have contributed to the compilations)
Well, why do it in the first place?
DYER: Why do it? Well first off, I am not Christian so it has nothing to do with that (though I still like doing Jesus Xmas songs – doing “Joy To The World” this year).
I’ve just always liked Christmas music. I have a pretty big pile of it in my CD collection and of course my Xmas 30 Years In The Making CD, shows I’ve been whacking away at it for a while. When I started doing this label again in 2009 I thought from the get go it would be fun to do a Christmas album. Did one the first year and by god it was fun! I have done one every year since except the year we did a Christmas show. Part of what makes it fun is when I put out the word for submissions in early October, I have no idea what I will get. Could be a goose egg, could be a million. It is never either of those – always end up with about 15 – some repeaters some new. Then you have to pull all the pieces together in a very short time. Most people that make Xmas albums plan ahead and record them in summer. I like the spontaneity of slapping it together right before Christmas. I have only rejected two songs ever. One because it was just too slick for my tastes and one because it was too crude in regard to procured professional sexuality (hookers). I am fine with cuss words, suicide and all kinds of stuff. Every year we have “bummer Xmas songs” led by the “king of bummers” Three Ninjas. I love his stuff. Finally we give all the dough we get to charity – MusiCares, which helps music people in need and that is a good thing.
Man, you gotta love an attitude like that. It is fun, though. For one thing, I am an avid Green Pajamas fan. I believe them to be one of the most overlooked bands in existence. Yes, they have a following and, yes, it isn’t all that small, but damn it, it should be much much bigger! And it is always interesting to see what they come up with. Their albums, as well. As for the others, like Dyer said, you’re never sure what you are going to get.
By the way, the title of this year’s album is All I Want For Christmas. Here is the link.
The Gift of Christmas? Here Are Some Ideas…..
I had this penciled out and then Julian Taylor came along and everything got knocked down a notch. Seriously, sports fans, Julian Taylor Band‘s Desert Star is a knockout. The dude writes like he was born everywhere and the influences are numerous. You want rock? Funk? Soul? Reggae? The guy plays everything. And what a band! Horns, no horns, but always with the classic lineup— keyboards, bass, drums and guitar. First few times, I felt disoriented, there were so many twists and turns. Like this outstanding semi-ballad, Chemical Low. It doesn’t get much more majestic than this.
Or this solid rocker. The band can play.
Two things I have to say. Julian Taylor is cool. Desert Star is my pick for Album of the Year. You want to stuff a stocking, start with this one. Amazon should have it and if you live in Toronto or another large Canadian city, it should be available at your local record store.
Just to make a point. Here is a live show caught on video— save it for when you have time. It’s long, but it gets better and better as it unfolds. Totally worth the time. Like I said. It’s a hell of a band.
Here is a one-two punch to the solarplexus— two albums years apart which have a Burt Bacharach/Hal David feel and sound. The first is by a Norwegian band known as Ophelia Hope, a band I have written about may times but only because their one album is a freaking killer and is supposedly still available on CD at cdBaby. Smooth stuff with some of the best writing and arranging I have ever heard.
The second is an actual album of Bacharach & David songs as interpreted by Rumer. Her new album, titled This Girl’s In Love: a Bacharach & David Songbook, captures the songwriting team right where it should. Beautiful voice, adapted to the songs which are freaking legendary. I normally avoid albums like this but this one deserves attention. A stunner of an album and my pick for AotY until Julian Taylor blindsided me. Set yourself. Listen to this.
Man, did you hear those arrangements? I only wish I could do that. Brings tears to my eyes. You have someone you want to overwhelm with a romantic gift, this is the one. I know. She’s way too big for me. But I can’t help it. The combination is too strong. (Insert must… resist… cartoon here).
I have been singing the praises of Amy van Keeken for awhile now and a few people have picked up on her, but I know there are a lot more people out there who would really get into her if they just listened. The new EP, All the Time, recorded with her band Timeloop is one I would recommend to anyone who has an ear for light Pop and outstanding melodies. Like this title track.
Her two earlier EPs have been pressed on vinyl— So Long on Side One, Live Right on Side Two.
Available through her Bandcamp page. Click here.
Australia’s Angharad Drake is going to be a monster and you have a chance to get in on the ground floor in The States. She’s already making waves down under and is looking for a trip to America sometime next year. I’m hoping that will include The States but after the election, I am sure many musicians will be altering tour plans. Here is her latest single, released not long ago, and is only an indication of what she will be doing in the near future. World class. As for albums available right now, I highly recommend Sword, but have to admit that I will be picking up anything she has available. I love this girl.
She has, I believe, three previous albums, all worth picking up. You can listen on her Bandcamp pages. Click here.
Plus, a bonus…
Closer to home, Daisy House is readying a new album for release sometime right after the first of the year (fingers crossed). They have three albums available, three of which are freaky good. Sixties Pop and Rock with a touch I have heard all too seldom. These guys have been the easiest sell I have ever had. I just posted a video and my colleagues come out of the woodwork.
Remember a year or so ago when I was writing about Lavacado? They made quite an impression on me— loud, crunchy, adventurous. Well, since then they have added another guitarist, one Tim Bethune, and have amped up their game. Pretty much what they played before except the sound is fleshed out (amazing what one guitar will do) and their songwriting is better (though it was plenty good to begin with). Seattle people should be into these guys— they’re rockers and they base themselves there. Singer/guitarist Tal Goettling was the vocalist for the legendary Son of Man. Click here to sample.
For the musically adventurous, I heartily suggest Jim of Seattle‘s new album Both the Planet Frank & The Chet Lambert Show for anyone who appreciates the real adventurous side of music. It’s nuts what JoS has done and amazing that he did it so well. Keep an open mind when you listen. This is an outstanding work if for no other reason than that no one else is doing this or doing it as good. I call it Sci-fi Rock. Listen here… and lookie here, Jim also has a Christmas album! How cool is that? Click here to listen.
I’m not a real fan of Modern Country but I love country rock and The Youngers put some of the best there is up on the album Picture of You. I reviewed their last album, Heritage, which they recorded eight years ago and could have overlaid the review I gave it right over the new one. Good, good stuff. For those who know people who have twang in their hearts.
I know I’m missing a handful of albums which really should be here but I lost my notes (an every day occurrence) and need to get this in for posting. Damn! But I did want to add The Green Pajamas to the list because they are the one band that has carried me through decades of music without disappointment. Their latest album, To the End of the Sea, is another typical Pajamas album, meaning that it is better than most of the tripe people are buying these days. Take a listen to these videos and tell me I’m wrong.
Now, what say we get to the…
Notes….. If I ever had any doubts that the US and Australia were connected, it all faded away when I heard this song by Down Under’s Bill Jackson. I heard of Bill a handful of years ago when he was promoting an album titled Steel + Bone which I was lucky enough to review. There was something in the songs or maybe beneath them which made me dig deeper and the more I dug the more I liked. Bill is one of those guys you don’t pay much attention to until he opens his mouth and hear what he has to say, both plain talking or singing. I was maybe predisposed to like Aussies, my father having told me more than once that if I ever got into a fighting war, I should pray that I have Aussies by my side. Fiercest fighting men he had ever met. So when Bill came along, I befriended him immediately, hoping to keep that fierceness at bay. I kid, of course, but am glad to count him among my friends. He reminds me a bit of Steve Goodman or John Prine in that he speaks to the common man who deals with common experiences yet do not know how unique those experiences are. Like in Silver Screen Cowboys. I had always thought Cowboys and Indians were as American as it gets, yet thousands of miles away toward the bottom of the planet…..
It’s like Charlie Faye & The Fayettes are reading my mind…
I can’t do the Patreon thing because I have no credit card, but it is something I would be very much into if I did. I think it works this way. You check out what is on the Patreon site and click on what you want to see/hear and pay something to see/hear it. In the case of Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri, I would be all over whatever they put up. They are two exceptionally talented people (I would say musicians but they are much more than that) who have always deserved much more than they have been given. Here is an example of the sort of things they do.
New songs, new videos, weird creative things— it is all part of who they are. I am sure there are lots of other artists on the site that people would love to have a deeper look at. Look at it this way. It is like The Beatles Fan Club. How many of you would love to have those original fan club Christmas 45s? I thought so. You can check out Devon and Paul’s page by clicking here.
Buck Curran, like many of us, are watching the whole Dakota Pipeline thing closely. If the presence of public resources backing private corporations doesn’t piss you off, it should. Here is what Buck thinks about it. Anyone have other current day protest songs to share?
I will not call Kirsti Gholson a guilty pleasure because I have always thought she deserves international attention. Her self-titled album from 2000 caught my attention and when it took her an ungodly amount of time to follow it up with the excellent The Summer I Stopped Whining, I was beginning to organize a search party because I was sure something bad was wrong. Truth is, I was ready ro send out another one when this showed up in my inbox. Two beautiful Christmas songs (well, maybe Count Your Blessings is a stretch but what do I care? It’s Kirsti!) and I’m happy as a clam. Dip your ears into some sauce worthy of the season.
Kirsti has had quite an effect on me over the years. She is an avid advocate for animals and humane treatment of and I include this as only one of a handful of songs written because of and for the plight of animals in the inhumane settings we humans have put them. These words Kirsti wrote preface this song about a “test” animal named Ally. Read and you will understand why I post this here.
Ally was a chimpanzee who was raised in a human family until he was 5 years old and taught sign language. His story and others are documented in Roger Fouts’ book, Next of Kin.
Dr William Lemmon ran the Institute for Primate Studies and was known for his special brand of sadistic cruelty towards his “subjects”. Loved for his sweetness and exuberance, Ally was eventually sold (by Lemmon who refused to let him go to a sanctuary) to a research facility where he became just another number to be experimented on repeatedly. Ally was not the only one to be sold into a confusing, nightmarish hell. All efforts to find Ally failed. I wrote this song for Ally and for all the innocent “disappeared”, non-human and human.
You think Christmas is all Bing Crosby and David Bowie? This should scrub your ears clean! Elouise! And there is a whole album of intense stuff like this— not Christmas but cool.
Speaking of Steel + Bone, Bill Jackson has reposted a live video of the title track from his excellent Steel + Bone album. When I first heard the album, I was convinced that Bill was as important to Australia as Steve Goodman and John Prine are to The States. Jackson (along with brother Ross, who shares a lot of songwriting duties) writes songs worthy of museum status when it comes to Australian history and Pete Fidler, who plays dobro on this track, is among the best I have heard on the instrument. When I hear him play, my mind goes directly to Randy Kohrs and Pat Wictor, two of the best there are.
Frank’s column appears every Tuesday
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“Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.