Let It Snow, And Stay Inside Instead With Milky White’s “Christmas”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: 

http://fealgoodfoundation.com/

And for more about Milky White, you can follow them here:

https://www.facebook.com/MilkyWhiteBand

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: 

milkywhite1.bandcamp.com

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Happy Holidays everybody, from me here at OTBEOTB to you and yours!

Dreaming of a Milky White Christmas With Mikey Bar-Lavi

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As I’m starting to slowly and unnervingly realize now: it’s already the very beginning of December. That time of year when the snow starts to fly, the temperatures descend, and I begin to think about the Christmas season as the year we know as 2015 starts to draw to a close.

And as this final holiday of the year approaches, as most start to dream of sugarplums dancing in their heads or what type of whiskey smell the mall Santa will have on his breath, I begin to think of the music that provides an ample soundtrack to this time of year. Burl Ives singing “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, Elvis Presley and “Blue Christmas”, that time Run DMC did the ageless classic “Christmas Is”…. okay maybe not that one quite as much.

The point is, it’s time to focus on music around the holidays. And luckily, Mikey Bar-Lavi is going to start helping me do just that. Bar-Lavi, who is the lead singer and guitarist of a group called Milky White, reached out to me recently to mention that his band was recording a Christmas EP (A Milky White Christmas) and doing a couple of benefit shows on December 17th and 20th around New York City. The profit from said shows (at 89 North and Bowery Electric) as well as the EP go entirely towards a 9/11 first responders charity called Feal Good Foundation, and really make for a fantastic music-related fit into the giving nature of the season.

So with all of this information tucked firmly under my metaphorical cap, I was eager to interview Bar-Lavi and help spread the word about the band’s project:12239192_743319009134563_1556148251436671911_o1. What was the inspiration for putting together and hosting these upcoming December charity shows at 89 North and Bowery Electric?

(MB-L): The shows all came from our original plan to record a Christmas album. Once we decided to make this a charity event we just wanted to make sure we could make it as big and helpful as possible. We were lucky enough to have booking agents and venues who were excited about this project and willing to work with us to make this memorable.

2. And speaking of 89 North and Bowery Electric, having been to quite a few venues around NYC I’ve often found that each one possesses it’s own type of atmosphere and unique sense of…. character if that’s the right word. What have your experiences been like playing places like these as a band, and does that change at all around the holidays?

(MB-L): In terms of Bowery Electric and 89 North, they have such extremely different energies and I’m excited to see how different each show is. You’re 100% right that every venue has its own character and it adds an unseen element to every show. During the holidays I just think the vibe is a little friendlier. Especially when bands are coming together for a show like this, I think everyone feels very much on the same team.

3. You’re also playing these benefit shows with some other bands . What can listeners who have not yet been initiated expect to hear not only from your group, but some of these others that are also on the bill? 

(MB-L): Honestly, I can’t say I know every band on the bill for the 17th at 89 North. There are so many amazing bands in NY its hard to keep up! I work with an amazing team in putting these shows together and I look forward to discovering some new music picked by my collaborators.  For December 20th at Bowery Electric I picked Appalachian Apollo and my partner Nick Mishkin from L Rock entertainment selected Beecher’s Fault. Both are fantastic and I’m so excited that they will be joining us. 

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4. Now I know you’re playing these benefit shows on behalf of the charity Feal Good Foundation. What made you decide to choose this charity, and can you tell me a little bit more about it? 

(MB-L): When we were looking for a cause to support it was important to us that we find something localized that everyone could feel a connection to. Being a NY band, every one of us has a memory of 9/11 and we know that everyone who lives here has a strong connection to that day. When I found The Feal Good Foundation I immediately knew it was a perfect fit for us. John Feal, the founder got in touch with me right away as I reached out to him and his enthusiasm over the phone was very inspiring. He told me his story and why he started his charity and I knew then that I had to get involved. The FealGood Foundation raises awareness of the problems concerns and issues faced by 9/11 First Responders in their every day duties. This charity ensures that yesterdays heroes are not forgotten.

5. You’re also putting out a Christmas EP that coincides with the live shows and will also have all of it’s proceeds donated to the same charity. Tell me a little bit about that, and as a band that’s self-described as “Rock and Roll/PowerPop/Indie Rock/New Wave/Post Punk”, what’s the process like adapting Christmas songs to your brand of sound? Is it a broad leap or has it felt natural? 

(MB-L): It all started with the Christmas EP! To be honest it was a pretty natural transition musically. I think that we are going to surprise a lot of people with how this thing sounds. Most of our band has a jazz background and personally I’m a big fan of the kind of swing/rockabilly that is at the heart of most Christmas classics. We had so much fun putting this thing together and its probably the best guitar playing I’ve ever gotten to do on record. From now on we should probably just be a full time Christmas band.

6. Now I know the EP isn’t technically going to be out for a little bit longer yet, but is there a tentative tracklist?

(MB-L): There is! The record is done being recorded and heres the tracklist in no specific order.

 Let it Snow

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Baby it’s Cold Outside (Feat. Veronika Jokel)

 Here’s a fun fact about these three songs: all three are written by Jewish Songwriters. As a Jew myself, I’m glad to be keeping the tradition of Jewish Christmas Music alive.

5. And finally, in the spirit of the holidays… favorite Christmas song/artist?

(MB-L): I’ll take Brian Setzer’s Christmas music pretty much any time of year.

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Big thanks goes out to Mikey Bar-Lavi of the band Milky White for graciously taking time to do this interview with me! The EP A Milky White Christmas will be released soon (at which time I’ll do a review), but in the meantime you can check out news on the band, the benefit shows, the EP release, the Feal Good foundation and much more down at the links below.

https://www.facebook.com/MilkyWhiteBand

http://fealgoodfoundation.com/

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