Give your Christmas some local attitude

Staff writerDecember 25, 2009 

People record Christmas songs for lots of reasons - to have fun, to mock, to celebrate - and not many linger much longer than that year's wrapping paper. But a few turn out to be worth revisiting, and we've had some great ones come out of the Triangle. So to mark Christmas, here is a Triangle Christmas mix that extends from the present day to nearly a quarter-century ago.

(1) Chris Stamey & the dB's, "Christmas Time" (1985) - The title track to power-pop guru Stamey's Christmas album (most recently reissued in 2006) gets our Triangle Christmas mix off to a rousing start.

(2) Vaughan Penn, "Under the Mistletoe" (2007 ) - Sometimes a kiss is the best holiday present of all. Just ask soundtrack-star-turned-Christian-pop-star Penn, who contributed this gal-pop gem to the second "Have a Holly Raleigh Christmas" album.

( 3) Southern Culture on the Skids, "Merry Christmas Baby" (1996) - Local kings of the trailer-park set check in with a glad 'n' greasy version of the great Charles Brown classic. "Baby" appeared on a Geffen Records compilation called "Just Say Noel," which was released during the Skids' two-album stint on the Geffen roster.

(4) Blind Boys of Alabama, "Away in a Manger" (2003) - The late George Scott (a longtime Durham resident who died in 2005) took the lead vocal in this bluesy version of "Manger," paired with sacred-steel guitar god Robert Randolph and P-Funk mastermind George Clinton. Moving, but not sentimental in the least.

(5) Ben Folds, "Bizarre Christmas Incident" (2002) - Santa turns up naked, covered in Crisco and dead in a chimney in this warped yet strangely fascinating song by the expatriate Chapel Hill piano man.

( 6) Trekky Yuletide Orchestra, "In the Bleak Midwinter" (2006) - Various members of the Trekky Records roster team up for this heartfelt rendition of the English carol. It combines ambient twang with piano that's straight out of church (if your church is very cool, that is).

(7) Clay Aiken, "The First Noel" (2003) - Come on, now, we can't NOT have the Raleigh "American Idol" finalist on here. Somber has always been Aiken's strong suit, and this fits his theatrical voice perfectly.

(8) Tracy Thornton, "Jingle Bell Rock" (1994) - We move west to Greensboro, stomping grounds of Toxic Popsicle percussionist Tracy Thornton. He also did an album called "Steeling Christmas," holiday songs played on steel drums, and it's amazing. (9) Mommie, "Santa Claus Is Strong" (2009) - A charming ode to the power of believing in old Saint Nick, rendered with aplomb by Connells singer Doug MacMillan's children's-music band. "Strong" is the opening track on this year's "Have a Holly Raleigh Kids-mas."

(10) Squirrel Nut Zippers, "Santa Claus Is Smoking Reefer" (1997) - An unlisted hidden track on the Zippers' live mini-album "Sold Out," "Reefer" is as hilarious as it is scandalous.

(11) Flat Duo Jets, "Jingle Bells" (1992) - A loopy, saxophone-and-guitar instrumental from Dexter Romweber's former band. This appeared on a very quirky compilation, "The Mother of all Flagpole Christmas Albums."

( 12) Rey Norteno, "De La Mano De Dios" (2008) - The author of "Raleigh, Norte Carolina" contributed this accordion-driven seasonal ballad to last year's third edition of the "Holly Raleigh" series. Feliz Navidad!

(13) Andy Griffith, "Joy to the World" (2003) - This warm, inviting version of the old spiritual appeared on Griffith's album "Stories and Songs of Christmas."

(14) Terry Anderson & the Olympic Ass-Kicking Team, "Santa Had a Wreck" (2006) - From the first "Holly Raleigh" album, and a song you might well hear when Anderson plays his annual Christmas show/birthday party at Raleigh's Pour House tonight.

(15) Arrogance, "Little Drummer Boy" (1980) - It involves more laughing than singing, but this fun little trifle used to be a seasonal radio staple around these parts.

(16) Brantley Family Band, "Deck the Halls" (2006) - Bull City guitarist Jim Brantley's ( thebrantleyfamilyband.com) rocked-up version of the old standard also appeared on the first "Holly Raleigh" album.

(17) Cool John Ferguson, "White Christmas" (2002) - A jazzy rendition of the Irving Berlin standard, by a guitarist many believe is the best on the planet. Take that, Bing Crosby.

(18) Tift Merritt, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (2002) - We end on a wistful note with expatriate songbird Merritt's lovely, gospel-tinged reading of this standard. "I'll Be Home" appeared on a compilation, "A Very Special Acoustic Christmas."

david.menconi@newsobserver.com or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat or 919-829-4759

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