It has already been noted many times by this critic and others, that holiday music compilations are a dime a dozen. It’s hard nowadays to find that special collection of songs that will help get a person in the spirit of the season. Thankfully for all of the copycat, run-of-the-mill Christmas-themed compilations that hit store shelves and digital outlets annually, there are some rare diamonds in the rough that give listeners a viable alternative. One of those rarities has already been pointed out by this critic from punk super group The Myrrdherers, The Myrrdherers Sleigh Xmas. It is just one of this year’s rare welcome holiday collections. Ska/reggae band Mento Buru recently released another of those notable alternatives in its new collection East Bakersfield Christmas. Audiences can download the six-song record free now through the end of December, thanks to The Hub of Bakersfield, which provided grant funding from its “Cash for the Arts” program to make the EP. Audiences can download the album through Mento Buru’s official Facebook page. The EP is a welcome new alternative holiday collection in part through its featured songs, which will be discussed shortly. The arrangements that are featured within the songs add even more to the record’s appeal. They will be discussed a little later. The record’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements. When it is considered along with the EP’s songs and their arrangements, the whole makes the compilation a surprisingly enjoyable new addition to any listener’s holiday music library.
Ska/reggae band Mento Buru’s debut holiday compilation East Bakersfield Christmas is a welcome alternative to all the cookie cutter seasonal sets that start populating store shelves and digital retailers annually. That is thanks in part to the record’s featured songs. The six-song collection does mostly feature some familiar tunes, such as ‘Jingle Bell Rock,’ ‘The Christmas Song,’ and ‘Feliz Navidad.’ At the same time though, the record also features one song – ‘Donde Esta Santa Claus’ – as the record’s bookend. The English version of the 1958 tune opens the EP while its full Spanish-language version closes out the song. So while the EP’s track listing totals six songs, it in fact actually has five songs, one of which is more familiar among the Hispanic community than American audiences. This inclusion is important because it shows the band is doing its part here to connect with more than just one target audience. Sure it is only in the case of one song, but that the band presented that song separately in English and Spanish clearly shows that successful effort to reach a wide range of audiences. What’s more, the inclusion of even just that one song will perhaps serve as a starting point for a journey of cultural growth for audiences. That is the case as maybe hearing that song in particular will encourage some listeners to delve deeper into the history of Hispanic holiday music. Keeping this in mind, the EP’s body may be mostly familiar, but the inclusion of even one lesser-known song from another people and their culture plays its own important part to the record’s presentation. The arrangements featured within each of the record’s four songs are important to address in their own way.
The arrangement featured in ‘Donde Esta Santa Claus?’ is a catchy, upbeat composition that fully exhibits Mento Buru’s ska stylistic work. The band took Auge Rios’ original 1958 classic and gave it a whole new identity here. Rios’ original work is a much simpler work that echoes the sounds of the time with its sleigh bells, simple percussion and choral backing vocal approach. It is a work that lends itself to works from the likes of Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers and others of that ilk in its stylistic approach and sound. In the case of Mento Buru’s take on the song, the song has even more energy with the band’s full-on ska aesthetic. The only real throwback to Rios’ original work is the subtle inclusion of what sounds like a vibraphone late in the song’s presentation. Of course even with the updated Latin-tinged ska approach to the song, it still is so enjoyable as the energy really serves to help illustrate the energy that every child feels on Christmas Eve. To that end, it is just as enjoyable in its own way as the original song.
The band’s updated take on the 1500s tune ‘What Child Is This (Greensleaves)’ is yet another key way in which the EP’s musical arrangements show themselves to be so important. Everybody knows the original composition and how melancholy it sounds and feels. From one rendition to another, the song has remained largely the same from one take to the next. This has honestly made the song a song that has widely divided audiences. Either audiences have enjoyed it or simply disliked it. Mento Buru’s take however gives the timeless tune its own unique new identity with its reggae style approach. It picks up the tempo considerably, but keeps the mood relaxed while also staying true to the source material. There is even a surprise at the song’s end to give one last “punch” to the composition. While the original composition is meant as an honorarium of sorts to Jesus, it is just so solemn, maybe too much so. Mento Buru’s take on the song on the other hand, really gives the energy of the joy at the birth of Christ. It is a much needed and welcome update on the centuries old song, and just one more example of what makes the arrangements featured in Mento Buru’s new EP so important to its presentation.
The musical arrangement featured in Mento Buru’s take of ‘The Christmas Song’ is so important as it maintains the relaxed sense from the rendition made so popular by Nat King Cole but takes the song in a different direction. Rather than painting the standard wintry picture, Mento Buru’s take instead conjures thoughts of palm trees lit up by Christmas lights as waves gently make their way across the beach. The string arrangement featured in the Nat King Cole version are replaced here by the subtle guitar riff and a group of horns, just as subtly adding their touch to the song. Cole’s soft as snow vocals are replaced by the much lighter, almost playful vocal delivery here, too. The whole presents a nice tropical update to a song that has for too long been part of a media-induced fantasy of the holiday season. It is just one more way in which this EP’s musical content shows its importance to the record’s presentation. When it is considered with the other noted arrangements and the rest of the record’s arrangements, that whole makes for even more reason for audiences to hear this compilation. The arrangements are just one more way in which the EP proves itself so enjoyable. The sequencing of the songs and arrangements puts the finishing touch to the record’s presentation.
Being that the same song opens and closes East Bakersfield Christmas, it goes without saying that the EP starts and ends with the same level of energy. So audiences start and end the record on a high note. The EP’s energy stays high in the first two songs, but then pulls back in the band’s cover of ‘What Child is This? (Greensleeves).’ That pullback is only temporary, as things pick right back up in the band’s take of the popular tune ‘Feliz Navidad’ before pulling back slightly again in the group’s take on ‘The Christmas Song.’ Simply put, the sequencing expertly balances the EP’s energy throughout its nearly 20-minute run time. That balanced energy ensures even more, audiences’ engagement and enjoyment. When this aspect is considered along with the EP’s content, both its songs and their arrangements, the whole of this record becomes a work that is such a welcome respite from the run-of-the-mill holiday music compilations. It is certain to set a whole new, enjoyable mood for listeners as they deck their halls and celebrate the season.
Mento Buru’s new holiday music compilation East Baersfield Christmas is a unique addition to this year’s field of holiday music presentation. That is due in part to its featured songs. While most of the songs featured in the record are familiar songs, the EP does also feature one composition with which most American audiences are likely unfamiliar. Discovering that song could help lead to a whole journey of cultural discovery. The arrangements featured in the EP are just as important as the songs themselves, as they give the familiar songs some unique new identities that few if any other artists have ever given them. The sequencing of that overall content puts the finishing touch to the record, ensuring the collection’s energy will keep listeners just as engaged and entertained as its content. Each item examined here is important in its own way to the whole of the EP. All things considered, they make the record another surprisingly welcome way for listeners to get into the holiday spirit. East Bakersfield Christmas is available now. More information on the EP is available along with all of the band’s latest news at https://www.facebook.com/MentoBuru.
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