Blues artist Mick Kolassa and his musician friends are doing their part this year to help audiences have an option from all of the run of the mill holiday music collections. They are doing so through Kolassa’s recently released record, Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album. Released Oct. 15 through Endless Blues Records, the nine-song compilation succeeds in providing audiences with that noted option. That is thanks to its original compositions and its unique takes on so many holiday standards. Kolassa offers audiences three originals over the course of the collection’s 36-minute run time. Two of those songs – ‘Christmas Morning Blues’ and ‘Beale Street Christmas Jam’ – close out the record and are unquestionably the best of that trio. Each will be discussed by itself here. In terms of the covers, there are plenty of notable entries. The most notable of those covers (at least in the ears and mind of this critic) comes in Kolassa and company’s take of ‘Merry Christmas Baby.’ It will also be addressed later. Each song noted here does its own part to make Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album enjoyable. When they are considered with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole makes this record a true standout among this year’s field of new holiday music collections that is well worth hearing every year.
Mick Kolassa’s recently released holiday music collection, Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album is unquestionably one of the top titles in this year’s field of new holiday music records. That is proven from beginning to end of the nearly 40-minute record through its unique originals and equally enjoyable covers. Among the most notable of the originals featured in this record is its penultimate entry, ‘Christmas Morning Blues.’ This song is so fun in part because of its musical arrangement. The musical arrangement is a clear Chicago-based blues sound. The use of the harmonica and guitar immediately conjures thoughts of the best works of Junior Wells. At the same time, there is no denying the influence of B.B. King here, especially in the combination of the guitar line, the sound of the drums (thanks to the production) and even Kolassa’s own vocals. Kolassa’s vocals are so eerily similar to those of King through their tone and delivery style. This even as the picture of Kolassa on the record’s cover makes him look like a cross between a bluesy Santa and a perfect fit as a member of ZZ Top.
As much as the song’s musical arrangement does for its enjoyment, it is just one part of what makes the song engaging and entertaining. The song’s lyrical theme also plays into its enjoyment. In the case of this song, the theme is clear. The song’s protagonist wakes up on Christmas morning, and the woman he loves is gone. Considering this, one would imagine this should have been a much more subdued work in the way of its musical arrangement. But the energy in the arrangement does well to help translate the sense of shock that the subject feels in making the discovery. The subject pleads to the woman here, “You didn’t leave no letter/Didn’t tell me I’d done/I bought all these presents/Put’ em underneath the tree/I spent my money on your presents/Laid ‘em on down underneath the tree/Look like you took ‘em with you/But you didn’t leave none for me/I wanted to go see my brother/Looks like you took my car/I tried to go to my brother’s house/You took my car/Now I’m standing here at home/And I Don’t know where you are.” He continues, “What’d I do wrong, baby/Why you gotta treat me this way?/I been good to you baby/But you treat me this way/You leave me standing here all alone on Christmas Day/I treated you like a princess/Now you treat me so bad/I gave you what you asked for/Now you treat me so bad/It’s the worst Christmas/This poor boy ever had.” He goes on from here with his pleas in similar style. What is so great about this is that this kind of situation is not limited to just a Christmas setting. It just happens to take place on Christmas in this case, but it is a theme that is used so often in the blues in general. So essentially, what Kolassa has done with his fellow musicians is crafted a standard Chicago style blues composition complete with familiar lyrical theme and simply placed in against a Christmas backdrop. It makes the song that much more original and enjoyable. It is just one of the record’s most notable originals. ‘Beale Street Christmas Jam’ is another great original presentation.
‘Beale Street Christmas Jam’ stands out in part thanks to its musical arrangement. The Chicago style blues approach is exhibited once again here. At the same time though, Kolassa also incorporates a touch of rockabilly a la Chuck Berry and even the most subtle touch of Dixieland to the mix for a whole that surprisingly works so well all in all. James Cunningham’s drum solo and Bill Ruffino’s bass solo work alongside the guitar work of Kolassa and fellow guitarist Jeff Jensen to make for so much fun here. Throughout the song, the group, including trumpet player Marc Franklin, take on so many holiday classics to make for even more enjoyment. Among the songs covered in the medley are songs, such as ‘Jingle Bells,’ ‘What Child is This?/Greensleaves,’ and ‘Silver Bells.’ ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ even get their own brief mentions courtesy of Kolassa, Jensen, and Ruffino. All things considered here, this full-on instrumental track proves itself another great original composition, even being a medley of covers. That is because the unique way in which the group took on the songs. Few if any arrangements of this sort are out there. If they do exist, they are so few and far between that it makes this rendition that much more enjoyable and successful. Together with ‘Christmas Morning Blues,’ the two songs collectively show clearly what makes Kolassa and company’s originals in this record so enjoyable. They are just a part of what makes the record stand out. Staying on the matter of covers, the group’s take of ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ shows the group’s strength with the holiday covers (even more).
‘Merry Christmas Baby’ stands out among the collection’s covers because of the way in which Kolassa and company took on the standard. He does honor to the original from Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore’s 1947 original. The duo’s original, which featured vocals by Charles Brown, is its own great 12-bar blues style work that incorporates piano and guitar (and even incorporates ‘Jingle Bells’ into the mix) for a subtle whole that is fully engaging and entertaining. Kolassa and company take that original and build on its success by moving the piano/keyboard to a nice, subtle supporting role and making Kolassa’s guitar line the lead. Cunningham’s work on the drums works alongside Kolassa, keyboardist Rick Steff, and Ruffino to give the song a sound and stylistic approach that is just as close to works from Stevie Ray Vaughan as to that of Baxter, Moore, and Brown.
Even more interesting in this song is that while the song’s arrangement is a subdued 12-bar blues style work, the lyrical theme is actually positive. This song presents a man who is just happy to be with his woman during the holidays. This is a man who just wants to be with him woman and is so suave about it all. Every guy can take a cue from him and not be afraid to be that cool about things. They can use the song, as a matter of fact, to help show their women how happy and lucky they are to have their lady loves. This is important because so commonly, 12-bar blues style songs are used for less happy moments. So to use this infectious sound and approach for such a happy mood and theme makes the song stand out even more. When it is considered along with the other songs examined here, the grouping gives audiences all the more reason to take in this record this and every holiday season.
As noted, they are hardly the last of the record’s most notable tracks. The country blues approach taken in ‘Jingle Bells’ for instance, gives that standard the most unique take ever. It conjures thoughts of Johnny Cash and others throughout its nearly four-and-a-half minute run time. The group’s equally unique take of ‘Frosty The Snowman’ is also of note. The semi-Dixieland style take on this song conjures thoughts of the best works of Dr. John. The sensual take of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ is so smooth. If this take on the standard does not set the mood for any couple, then something is wrong with those people. The muted trumpet conjures thoughts of Miles Davis while the keyboard line gives the song a sort of vintage R&B influence. The whole makes this take unique in its own way, too. Again, when these songs and the others featured in the album are considered along with the songs more deeply examined here, the whole makes the record overall one of the absolute best of this year’s overly crowded field of holiday music collections.
Mick Kolassa’s recently released holiday music collection, Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album is a must have for any holiday music fan. That is because it so starkly stands out from the rest of the field through its originals and covers. The originals are just as unique as the covers in their arrangements. The approach to the standards gives those songs their own identities separate from so many other holiday standard covers. The originals are just as enjoyable for their creativity and the engagement and entertainment that they ensure. The whole makes Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album a Christmas Album for the whole family. It should also be noted that 100 percent of proceeds from the album’s sales will go to The Blues Foundation. The Blues Foundation will then split the proceeds between two of its programs, the HART fund and Generation Blues.
Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album is available now through Endless Blues Records. More information on the record is available along with all of Kolassa’s latest news at:
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