“It’s that time, Christmas time is here, everybody knows there’s not a better time of year…”
So go the first two lines of the timeless Mavis Staples song “Christmas Vacation”, penned specifically back in 1989 for the Chevy Chase National Lampoon’s film of the same name. And while the truth level of such a lyric might be up for some contested debate (even though it is a classic song to a classic John Hughes favorite, FYI), it is indeed Christmas time once again and inevitably it’s time to hear songs about it everywhere.
The checkout at the supermarket, the aisles of Any Department Store USA… basically anywhere that has a roof and a working radio puts you at risk of getting a hearty dosage of holiday cheer courtesy of Gene Autry and Burl Ives. Not to say there’s anything wrong with that, but even after just my 25 years of life I’m ready to look for something new. Something… that doesn’t have that feeling of mainstream radio repetition lurking in the background.
Luckily, if you’ve been reading OTBEOTB lately you may have noticed my last post featured an interview with Mikey Bar-Lavi, lead singer of the band Milky White. If you haven’t perused it yet I’ll give you a moment to back up and join the rest of the class (it’s highly worth the read), but to give you the basic cliff notes version in early December Mikey and his band were on the cusp of releasing a Christmas EP for charity entitled A Milky White Christmas. Along with several benefit shows all proceeds from the EP were going to a fantastic charity for sick 9/11 first responders called the FealGood Foundation, and all in all it was a wonderful story I was honored to cover with Mikey. Especially with the controversy that came along later involving the Zadroga Act and the US government’s inexcusable slowness in passing long term healthcare for these aforementioned first responders.
But that aside, a little over a week ago now Milky White released A Milky White Christmas into the world, and while it is an EP in every essence of the word (clocking in at three songs and under ten minutes)… I don’t think the band could have been drawn it up any better.
Leading off with the lightly feedback-drenched simplicity of “Let It Snow”, Bar Lavi’s voice immediately plays attention captor with his Conor Oberst croon settling comfortably amidst lightly jazzy Tony Bennett-isms and imagery that puts you right in front of the fire next to the popcorn. It’s a rosy red sway of a track that’s at once fresh while still playing homage to the warmth of what good Christmas music is all about.
“Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” immediately takes that warmth and ease and plays with it outside it’s comfort zone in a psychedelic mini-intro before launching into that more familiarized Brian Setzer twang-a-long shuffle. It’s a moment that’s a bit more peyote than pumpkin pie, but welcomed as a sort of…. non-traditional egg frying on an LA County sidewalk before the frostbite sets in.
And “Baby It’s Cold Outside” makes for a fine closer as Bar-Lavi is joined on the duet by the vocal talents of Veronika Jokel. The two pair off well as Jokel’s nuanced tempo is a fitting swing partner to Bar-Lavi’s moon eyed-sounding innocence on the track. It’s almost Ben Gibbard-like in it’s simple charm while still keeping the often-questioned seduction of the song’s lyrics largely in place. Add in a little prairie cowboy harmonica and brushed in drum lines, and you have a song that keeps true to it’s jazz roots while toning down the often excessive grandeur used in many covers in the past.
And really all in all, if I could go back to a phrase I just used to describe this EP it would be simple charm. None of the arrangements here try to do too much other than highlight the appeal of these songs, while adding new spins and elements that don’t just make each track a note-for-note redo.
It’s a highly welcome change from business as usual Christmas music. So if you’re looking to shake up your holiday playlist, make those Christmas family gatherings today just a little more interesting (AKA bearable) all while donating to a wonderful cause, look no further than Milky White and A Milky White Christmas. It still may not prove Mavis Staples right, but it’ll certainly please your listening ears.
For more about the FealGood Foundation, visit the link below:
And for more about Milky White, you can follow them here:
If you’re in NYC be sure to catch them at the Bitter End tomorrow night for their last show of 2015! And buy A Milky White Christmas here:
Happy Holidays everybody, from me here at OTBEOTB to you and yours!