Brave Combo,
It's Christmas, Man!
(Rounder, 1992)

It's Christmas, Man! is one of my family's very favorite Christmas albums. Brave Combo's lively and sometimes odd take on standard Christmas songs is the perfect counterbalance when we tire of more subdued versions, and their four original songs fit in nicely with the other eleven familiar tunes.

There are polkas, of course; in fact, the album starts with one. After hearing "Must be Santa" as a polka, it's hard to appreciate non-polka versions -- the fit is so perfect, in tune and words. One of the original songs is "Santa's Polka," with lyrics about a polka-appreciating Santa bringing two young polka fans their new instruments (including an accordion, of course). "Buon Natale" is a polka-style waltz.

It's not all polkas, though, at all! Several Latin styles are represented, as are horas and a ska number. "O, Christmas Tree" makes an odd samba complete with its characteristic instrumentation, and is followed by the original cha cha "It's Christmas," an entertaining celebration of the season. "Corrido Navideño" is an original ranchera that captures the energy of this style. "The Little Drummer Boy" combines minimalist lyrics into a guaguanco that indeed features the percussion. "Feliz Navidad" sounds very natural -- and danceable -- as a cumbia.

"The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting...)" is done in a ska style, though not a hard-core one. While the rhythms are ska, the instrumentation isn't particularly, making an interesting blend. The original "Christmas in July" takes an almost Cajun turn, with such lyrics as "Let's spend Yuletide / Down by the poolside" and other helpful suggestions for a very different sort of celebration -- at least to those of us in the cooler parts of the Northern Hemisphere.

All this energy is punctuated by a few slower songs. "Please Come Home For Christmas" is a pleasing soft-rock rendition of this bluesy classic. A short "Frosty the Snowman" is done as a jazz standard, and Brave Combo's version of "Ave Maria" is beautiful and touching.

Hanukkah does get a little attention. "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah" interprets this standard as a hora, and it works very well. And the final track on the album is a brief klezmer "Jingle Bells," done in a minor key.

It's Christmas, Man! is a unique and entertaining addition to a Christmas music library. The liner notes tell us that it was originally created for the Japanese market, and I'm glad that Rounder made it available to us here -- and that they suggested the addition of the Hanukkah pieces. It's one of the CDs that gets the most play in our house during Christmastime, and I think almost anyone would appreciate the blend of musical styles into an unexpected and lively seasonal album.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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