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holiday repertoire of the New Rhythm
& Blues Quartet (aka NRBQ)
is sprawling, diverse, typically twisted, and characteristically low-key -
but full of good cheer. The compact disc versions of their album, Christmas
Wish, actually manage to collect most of it - up to 19 tracks, including
four from a 7-inch EP called Merry
Christmas from NRBQ (Red Rooster, 1978) and eight
from the original Christmas
Wish mini-LP (Rounder, 1986). In all, the CD editions of Christmas
Wish compile yuletide flotsam and jetsam spanning
30 years - from a 1969 home recording of "Here Comes Santa Claus" (badly
played on what sounds like a mellotron) to a goofy, improvised 1999 live version
of Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time is Here."
Amidst the band's delightful, casual chaos, the clear highlight is the title
tune, one of a handful of original songs on the album. In fact, the band presents
three versions: the short "reprise" from the 1978 EP; a fleshed-out
version from 1979 that first appeared on the 1986 mini-LP; and a largely instrumental "TV
mix" from 1995. "Christmas Wish" is a simple, infectious tune
that frames singer/writer Joey Spaminato's simple, utopian vision:
I look at all the toys
all under the tree,
it makes me think about the way things could
if people all over the world could just see them, too.
1979, Rounder issued the longer version of "Christmas Wish" as a single
backed with keyboardist Terry Adams' tight arrangement of "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas," which
I suspect Adams' based on an earlier arrangement by Chet
Atkins. The track is most notable
for its loose adherence to Montana Slim's off-kilter original lyrics
(or perhaps Eddy Arnold's later version). "As
for me, my little brain isn't very bright," confesses
the singer, asking "choose for me, dear Santa Claus, what you'll bring tonight." Not
exactly the traditional holiday sentiments....
That sort of good humor and skewed perspective is present throughout Christmas
Wish, but it's not what I'd call a substantial record. Hell, half of it was
probably made up on the spot - NRBQ actually makes a something of a sport out of
improvisation. And, the band is equally fond of cacophony, electronic noise, and
toy instruments. Even further, only four of the 17 tracks exceed two minutes, and
four of them fail to crack a 60 seconds.
For instance, one of my favorite tracks - Terry Adams' "Electric Train" -
is a brief, impressionistic piece that clocks in at 1:09. And that's pretty typical.
So, like most NRBQ albums, listeners may enjoy Christmas
Wish collectively more than they enjoy any of its individual tracks. I know I
Consumer Notes. Big Notes Records issued Christmas
Wish on CD in 1995, followed by Rounder Records in 1997, but good luck finding copies - I've never seen one. Vinyl
and cassette copies show up with regularity on eBay.
More to the point, Japanese label Dreamsville first issued an expanded
edition (17 tracks) in
2000, followed by Clang! Records' deluxe
edition (19 tracks) in 2007. I have yet to see the Clang! edition (I believe
the band owns the label), but the Japanese version is lovely - pristine mastering,
nice cover art, and copius annotation (much of it, sadly, in Japanese...). [top of page]
- Christmas Wish (1979) Top 100 Song
Electric Train (1972)
Jolly Old St. Nicholas (1979)
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