various artists,
Bah Humbug
(Greentrax, 2002)

As soon as Halloween was over, shops began decking themselves with holly and the million and one things we don't need for a merry Christmas. Already record companies are promoting the Christmas releases off their top starts and deejays are trying to predict the year's Christmas hit.

Whoa! Step back, forget Bing and the gang, Greentrax has come to the aid of anyone fed up with glossy yuletide fare. The newly release CD Bah Humbug is subtitled "The Alternative Christmas Album," and I honestly believe that, if given the airplay, any one of these tracks could be a popular No. 1 for Dec. 25. The songs range from the mad to the ironic. (One track dates from 1954, showing that Crosby didn't have it all his own way back then.)

There are 13 tracks if we count the mad intro track called "The Bells, The Bells." The older track is a fabulously funny Tom Lehrer view on the commercialism of Christmas in his "A Christmas Carol" for a modern age. It is still as relevant -- perhaps more so nearly a half century later. Eric Bogle gives us "Santa Bloody Claus," in which he has little good to say about the jolly man in red.

Claus gets his comeuppance in a track by the fabulously titled group His Worship & the Pig. They are from the Stoke-on-Trent area of England and apparently present a Christmas show each year. Their contribution, "Mary Christmas," has Santa losing his wife to the man from Toys R Us. (It has some minor adult content as the children ask for "Cindy dolls with busts and action men with willies" to give you a clue as to who should get this CD for at Christmas.)

My favourite track has to the one called "The Man Who Slits the Turkey's Throats at Christmas." Robin Laing sings the song written by John Ruddin. As the title suggests, it is not a track to play while you eat but it is very funny without a full stomach. It could become the Christmas vegetarian's anthem.

Like all good comedy the tracks on here resound with emotion and reality. "There are no lights on our Christmas tree" is a comment on the loss of Christmas feeling. Basically, the tree is without lights because the father reckons they interfere with the television. Who can empathize with that?

Cyril Tawney gives us the tale of the shepherd who did not go to visit the manger -- and why -- in "The Lone Shepherd." "Christmas Morning" by Loudon Wainright III was written back in 1991 but is still relevant today. It is not a comic song but it definitely gives us an alternative view of how might celebrate a holy feast if we listened to his words. "For a Middle Eastern baby was born on that very day" and "the homeless ask on Christmas Day for us to give them something, God, we wish they'd go away."

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Christmas but I love this CD and I wish that everyone could hear at least one track per week from now until Dec. 25 if only to make us think of what it's all about. They would also get a laugh.

Well done Greentrax, you may not have the Christmas No. 1 but you should have.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 14 December 2002