Sunday, October 10, 2021

Folksingers 'Round Harvard Square - Joan Baez, Bill Wood and Ted Alevizos


Folksingers 'Round Harvard Square
Joan Baez, Bill Wood and Ted Alevizos
Veritas Records 1

This is easily the most collectible of Joan Baez's officially released records, I sometimes see it priced over $100 which I think is ridiculous if you are going to value it on the basis of quality.  I like Joanie and have most of her Vanguard albums all of which are much better than this and a whole lot cheaper as well.  I paid about fifteen bucks for my copy which I think is still a bit high but I am glad I have it.  Of course the record is collectible because of its rarity much more than the music.  It was recorded in Boston in 1959 when Baez was beginning her rise to stardom and prior to her signing with Vanguard.  She shares the bill with two other Boston area folk singers, Bill Wood and Ted Alevizos both of whom retreated into academia after this record although Alevizos recorded some albums of Greek folk music as well.  Baez dominates the record appearing on ten of the eighteen cuts including six solo performances.  She also dominates talent-wise.  Wood is a competent singer with a pleasant voice and a good guitar player but his music is completely ordinary.  Alevizos has a wonderful voice but his style is old-fashioned.  Even on the tentative performances she offers on this record, Baez's charisma and expressiveness are impactful.  The record opens with the traditional murder ballad "On the Banks of the Ohio" which Baez recorded again in a superior version on "Joan Baez, Vol. 2."  She sings it prettily but without much feeling which is fine with me since I dislike this genre of folk song anyway.  She perks up on the spiritual "O What a Beautiful City" which gives her an opportunity to display the electifying power of her voice when she chooses to unleash it full force.  My favorite of the six solo performances is her version of the old folk song "Sail Away Ladies."  I'd prefer a rawer country arrangement but there is no denying the appeal of Baez voice in full flight.  "Black is the Color" is not my type of song but I can't fault the beauty of Baez's interpretation although she gives a stronger performance of the song on "Joan Baez In Concert Part 1."  I think anyone who heard her perform this would know she was going to be a star.  "Lowlands" is an old sea shanty that she sings in a far too subdued manner for my liking. "What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby" is a religious song about the birth of Jesus also known as "Mary Mary" and "Virgin Mary."  I don't like the song but Baez's strong vocal makes it tolerable to me.  "Kitty" is a duet between Baez and Wood.  She sings harmony for the most part but has a verse for herself.  Needless to say I find myself focusing entirely on Baez although I like the vigor of Wood's guitar work.  It was originally recorded by the ballad duo Marais and Miranda.  "So Soon in the Morning" is an uptempo spiritual driven by Wood's dynamic guitar.  Baez does not have much space to do her thing but it is an engaging track.  The country flavored "Careless Love" is my favorite track on the record.  Baez mostly sings harmony but I find her loose and playful performance charming, even a little bit sexy.  The song is about the consequences of premarital sex.  Bill Wood kicks off side one with his solo performance of "Le cheval dans la baignoire" (misspelled "beignoire" on the cover) which was written by the French singer Stéphane Golmann (also misspelled on the cover.)   Wood starts the song by reciting the story of the song in English and then he sings the song in French.  It is an energetic performance mostly played for humor.  "John Henry" is such a familiar song I don't see the point of covering it.  I like Wood's energetic fast-paced guitar work but his vocal is not up to the task of making his cover interesting.  "Travelin' Shoes" is a nice I-gotta-ramble type song that needs more grit than Wood can provide.  "The Bold Soldier" is an old fashioned style performance akin to the likes of Burl Ives who recorded the song himself.   Ted Alevizos takes his turn with the mournful "Walie Walie" which is also known as "When Cockle Shells Turn Silver Bells."  He sings the song beautifully but his performance could have been recorded in the 1920s, he makes Baez seem even more utterly contemporary by comparison.  This is also the case with the glacially slow "Rejected Lover." "Astrapsen" is a Greek song that inspires Alevizos to deliver his most animated performance.  I like it so much that I'd probably be tempted to buy one of his Greek records if I came across a cheap one in the bins.  Unfortunately the energy of this song dissipates with the dreary "Lass From the Low Country" which puts me to sleep.  The album ends on a high note with a stirring performance by the trio on the spiritual "Don't Weep After Me."  Alevizos is a strong singer but Baez cuts right through him with her soaring soprano but she is nice enough not to overwhelm her partners too often although it obvious she could blow them off the stage.  I don't encourage anyone to run out and grab this record unless you are a Joan Baez completist with deep pockets.  I like parts of it but there aren't enough of those parts to get me to sit through the whole thing very often.  Side one is all Baez and I imagine most owners of this record just play that side but I would rather just listen to one of her early Vanguard albums.  If you are a fan of commercial folk music from the 1940s and 1950s and you come across a reasonably priced copy of this, you probably won't regret buying it.  It is too genteel for me but I appreciate its merits.  Recommended to fans of the Weavers.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Joy - Apollo 100

Apollo 100
Mega Records M31-1010

I have a long history with this ridiculous record.  When I was a kid my sister took ballet classes and my mother would force me to go to her dance recitals which I regarded as torture.  At one of them however the girls danced to the title track of this album, "Joy" which is a rock version of J. S. Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."  I was not into music back then but the song absolutely enthralled me.  The song was a top ten hit in the U.S. so I began to hear it occasionally on the radio although I failed to catch the artist.  You couldn't just whip out your phone and ask it what you were hearing back then, you couldn't even whip out your phone since it was hard wired into the wall of your home.  The years went by and I became obsessed with the Beatles and other 1960s bands and I lost interest in tracking down this record.  By the time I was in college I was into Bach and had acquired multiple copies of his arrangement of the song.  I didn't think I needed this version but occasionally I would hear it on the radio or in a movie and realize that it still appealed to me.  Eventually more than thirty years after I first heard the song as a child I finally bought this album.  I have to admit that even now when I put it on the turntable and hear the harpsichord riff for "Joy" fading up, I still get a little excited.  The song is so kinetic and engaging I can't resist its allure.  Unfortunately that is not true for the rest of the album, in fact none of it even comes close.  Apollo 100 was a bunch of studio musicians led by keyboardist Tom Parker who seems to have specialized in instrumentals and pop arrangements of classical music.  "Mad Mountain King" is a stiff arrangement of Grieg's "Hall of the Mountain King" which is in total contrast to the effervescence of "Joy."  The song picks up steam in the end but I've heard symphony orchestras rock more convincingly than this.  "Mendelssohn's 4th" is taken from the second movement of his "Symphony No. 4 in A Major."  It is a ludicrously jaunty arrangement that is a vulgar travesty of the original work which I suppose you could argue is the most rock and roll approach one could take to this but I still don't like it.  "Evil Midnight" is an arrangement of Saint-Saëns' "Danse Macabre" that sacrifices much of the mood and atmosphere of the original for energy.  It sounds like something you would hear in Disneyland aside from the dumb drum solo.  Parker returns to Bach for "Air for the G String" which was adapted from the second movement of his "Orchestral Suite in D Major."  The beginning of the song follows the Bach model but then Parker takes it in a jazzier direction complete with a sax solo and vibes.  My fondness for the Bach original prevents me from endorsing this, but I give Parker points for trying something different.  He also has an arrangement from a more modern composer namely Leroy Anderson and his "Jazz Pizzicato" although that piece is already so pop music oriented that Apollo 100 essentially plays it as written.  Parker contributed a few of his own songs to the record.  I think the most interesting one is "Tamara" which he co-wrote with Brian Hunter and Tony Ritchie.  For the most part it sheds the classical pretentions for a pop melody and a heavy section in the middle.  Its chamber pop style suits Parker extremely well and I wish more of the record sounded like this.  His other songs are less successful.  "Exercise in A Minor" sounds like a classical pianist jamming with a samba band.  The pretty but vapid "Classical Wind" could be the soundtrack to a TV commercial.  There are two other original songs on the album not written by Parker.  "Reach for the Sky" was written by Tony Ritchie and Del Spence.  It comes closest to replicating the euphoric sound of "Joy" although it is too derivative to be truly memorable.   "Libido" was written by Apollo 100 guitarist Vic Flick and Reg Leonard and it features a pleasant melody with catchy guitar lines and a tasteful string arrangement.  It sounds like a cross between a European film soundtrack and a Belle and Sebastian outtake.  I have no regrets about buying this album but I wish more of it sounded like "Libido" and "Tamara" and less of it featured "rock" versions of the classics.  When I was younger I was into prog-rock and appreciated the idea of classical-rock fusion.  I have less tolerance for it now, but even back then I think I would have found Parker's style to be insipid.  I prefer the audacious vulgarity that Emerson, Lake and Palmer brought to their heavy interpretation of "Pictures at an Exhibition" which seems like an experiment worth trying.  Parker's approach just sounds like he is dumbing down the music to me.  The exception of course is "Joy" which does fuse the dynamic quality of rock with Bach's original music.  Bach has always been the exception that proves the rule.  From Paul Simon to Procol Harum to the Toys to the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble, Bach's music has frequently been successfully transposed to rock probably because the strength of his musical motifs lends itself to rock melodies.  I can't unconditionally recommend such a silly record especially since you can just buy the single of "Joy" and likely have all the Apollo 100 you will ever need.  However if you love "Joy" as much as I do and you come across this album (which is generally pretty cheap), you will probably find stuff you like on it if you buy it.  I don't play it much but I enjoy it when I do.  Recommended to fans of Focus.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Folk Rock - The Fleetwoods

Folk Rock
The Fleetwoods
Dolton BLP-2039

I am a sucker for folk-rock.  Slap that label on an album and I'll probably buy it or at least think long and hard about it.  I didn't even hesitate about this one, I bought it as soon as I saw it.  I am a fan of the romantic lush pop recorded by the Fleetwoods in the late 1950s and early 1960s so even though I was pretty sure this was not really folk-rock, I knew I wanted it.  This was their final album and it seems like a desperate attempt to stay relevant with the changing times, but I find it worthwhile and enjoyable.  About half the record is folk-rock and most of the remainder is commercial pop given a "folk-rock" treatment, namely jangly electric guitars over a rock rhythm section.  The group's vocal harmonies are the biggest strength of the record and the primary reason I play this when I could be listening to the Byrds instead.  The group tackles several folk-rock classics.  Their cover of Bob Dylan's "All I Really Want To Do" regrettably sounds more like the Cher version than the Byrds version but I dig the Fleetwoods' vocals more than either.  The arrangement for Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" was obviously lifted from the Turtles' hit version.  It lacks the force of the Turtles' version but sounds very pretty nonetheless.   Their version of Sylvia Fricker's "You Were On My Mind" closely imitates the hit version by We Five right down to the big hooky bass line that drives it.  The vocal is a little stiff, but I like the group's enthusiasm.  Their version of Gordon Lightfoot's "For Lovin' Me" is weirdly given a bossa-nova style arrangement rather than a folk-rock one even though it is an actual folk song.  It sounds lovely and I like it a lot but it does not mesh with the rest of the album.  I have my doubts about the folkiness of Gale Garnett's "We'll Sing In The Sunshine" even though she stuck it on an album called "My Kind of Folk Songs" and it charted on Billboard's country chart.  The arrangement is straight pop and the song suits the Fleetwoods very well.  I prefer it to the original.  The rest of the songs are basically pop songs.  Lee Hazlewood's "Not The Lovin' Kind" was a top 40 hit for Dino, Desi and Billy and the Fleetwoods' performance sounds very similar.  It is not a folk song but I think it is the most convincing folk-rock performance on the album. Their version of the Toys' hit "A Lover's Concerto" begins with some harpsichord suggesting a chamber pop approach befitting its J. S. Bach origin, but then the jangly guitar and rhythm section kick in giving it an unconvincing folk-rock sound.  "You Can't Grow Peaches On a Cherry Tree" has a vaguely folk feel to it but it could also be an easy listening song.  I presume they picked it because the Browns released it as a single around this time and they have a similar sound.  It was also covered by Nancy Sinatra later.  Jerry Cole's "Run, Don't Walk" sounds more surf than folk-rock to me and rocks about as hard as any Fleetwoods' song I have ever heard.  Their cover of the Fortunes' British Invasion hit "You've Got Your Troubles" also doesn't sound like folk-rock and sticks to the hit version for its arrangement.  I like it more than the hit version because I prefer the Fleetwoods' vocal.  I never bought Sonny and Cher as a folk-rock act and the Fleetwoods cover of their "Baby Don't Go" doesn't even bother to force it into a folk-rock arrangement.  Since I can barely tolerate Sonny Bono's nasal whine I prefer the Fleetwood version once again for its superior vocal.  The concluding song on the album "This Is Where I See Her" was written by John McCartney and the album's arranger Billy Strange.  Although it has a folk-rock arrangement, it is straight romantic pop with a nice swelling chorus.  It is perfect for the Fleetwoods' style and I wish more of the record sounded like it.  It is easily my favorite track and although the Fleetwoods were obviously out of touch with the zeitgeist of the time this song suggests they might have had a future if they had followed this vein a little.  This song's quality does make me regret that this was the Fleetwoods' final album.  This record is too much of an oddity for me to endorse it whole-heartedly, I suspect some Fleetwoods fans will be alienated by its rocked up sound and non-fans may dismiss it as derivative.  I personally eat it up and play it more than any of my other Fleetwood albums even though I fully recognize that it is not up to the standard of their classic work.  It is not all that easy to find but if you are a folk-rock nut like me you might want to give it a try if you stumble upon a copy.  Recommended to fans of the Tokens.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Stockholm 67 - The Electric Prunes

Stockholm 67
The Electric Prunes
Sutro Park SP1010

I like the first three albums by the Electric Prunes, "The Electric Prunes," "Underground" and "Mass in F Minor," but I think if you are going to own just one Prunes album this is the one to get.  It is a live album professionally recorded by Swedish radio from a concert in Stockholm in December 1967.  Since the Prunes were undermined by their management and record company during their recording sessions, this live album arguably represents the purest and most effective expression of the Prunes' vision and capabilities as a band.  There are only eight songs but the band offers up high energy and elongated versions of them that shred the original studio recordings.  The album opens up with "You Never Had It Better" which was the B-side of a single.  The studio version is a riff-driven psych rocker that is one of my favorite Prunes tracks.  The live version follows that blueprint but with a more thunderously heavy performance.  Ken Williams has a blistering guitar solo that is even better than the smoking studio version.  Vocalist James Lowe apologizes for America's involvement in the Vietnam War prior to launching into the Prunes' biggest hit "I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)."  The song is missing the psychedelic sound effects of the studio version but otherwise sounds similar.  "Try Me on for Size" was on their first album.  It opens with a blast of acid rock guitar that is right out of the Big Brother and the Holding Company playbook before launching into the song's hypnotic riff.  Lowe's vocal is far more impassioned than the studio version and Williams unleashes an extended killer guitar solo that I find thrilling.  Mark Tulin's bass solo is less compelling but energetic.  The song evolves into an acid rock jam that is unlike any of their studio recordings.  This is the highlight of the record for me.  The record slows down with "I Happen to Love You" which was on "Underground."  Lowe introduces the song as a Monkees reject that they picked up.  Lowe's vocal is grittier than the studio version and the band's performance is heavier with a wonderful rave-up at the end.  Side two opens with a cover of Muddy Waters' blues classic "I Got My Mojo Workin'."  The song is more garage-psych than it is blues however with Tulin laying down a mesmerizing bass riff over which Williams unleashes sizzling torrents of acid rock guitar.  Lowe delivers a riveting vocal that reminds me of Jim Morrison at this best.  "Long Day's Flight (Til Tomorrow)" is another track from "Underground."  Williams and Lowe again shine on this track which crushes the studio version with its power and energy.  It is followed by a tremendously exciting cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning" which is highlighted by Lowe's charismatic vocal and William's dynamic guitar runs.  The song was probably inspired by the Yardbirds' classic cover which has long been my favorite version, but this one is arguably even more exhilarating.  The record concludes with "Get Me to the World on Time" which was the band's second top 40 single.  The band kicks out the jams on the song with electrifying riffing from Tulin and Williams that gives the record an explosive finish.  What a breath-taking set!  I wish I could have been there.  I first heard this on CD about 20 years ago and it was revelatory to me.  I was a fan of the Prunes but I had no idea they were this talented.  I was thrilled when it finally came out on vinyl in 2012 in a very handsome package.  It is among my favorite records.  If you like edgier garage rock or hard-psych this is a must have.  I rate it among the best recordings of the genre.  Recommended to fans of the Chocolate Watchband.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Electronic Sound - George Harrison

Electronic Sound
George Harrison
Zapple ST-3358

I don't think it is unfair to suggest that if George Harrison hadn't been a Beatle who happened to own his own record company, this recording would never have found its way onto vinyl.  It consists of two side long recordings of experimental music performed on a Moog synthesizer.  Side one is listed on my version of the album as "Under the Mersey Wall" but it is actually "No Time or Space" which was recorded in Los Angeles in 1968.  Reportedly it is actually an edit of a demonstration of the Moog for Harrison by electronic music pioneer and Moog sales rep Bernard Krause who was upset that Harrison appropriated it without permission for his record.   It begins with percussive bursts that sound like gunfire before some sci-fi style noodling emerges.  They are punctuated by short blasts of white noise that sound like escaping air.  Krause expands his palette of sounds in a variety of ways but the structure of short figures of melody interspersed with percussive sounds continues.  It actually does sound like someone attempting to demonstrate all the capabilities of the instrument.  It goes on for 25 minutes and I usually find it tedious to listen to but if I am feeling mellow I can make my way all the way through it and even appreciate some of it, particularly the sci-fi passages which have some psychedelic charm.  There is an energetic section about two-thirds of the way into the recording which I find stimulating if I am in the right mood, it sounds like someone destroying a ship's horn while tap dancing on a synthesizer keyboard.  If nothing else it does display Krause's impressive skill with the instrument.  Krause was so miffed with Harrison that he chose not to share this skill with him which left Harrison at a disadvantage when he later recorded side two in England which he entitled "Under the Mersey Wall."  This one is mercifully shorter clocking in at a mere 18 minutes.  Harrison sounds like a guy who is learning a new instrument, he is far less dynamic and bold than Krause but he also has more of a pop sensibility so his noodling is more melodic.  He is drawn to drones which is appealing to me and he is less inclined than Krause to deliver blasts of noise.  He uses the Moog more like a conventional synthesizer.  I would appreciate it if the recording was more structured and less tentative, but I do find it mostly pleasant and if I am in the right frame of mind, even engaging.  On the rare occasions that I pull this off the shelf, I generally just listen to "Under the Mersey Wall."  I can't say that I'm sorry that Harrison didn't pursue electronic music beyond this album, but I think he could have become pretty good at it.  I generally would rather listen to "Under the Mersey Wall" than most of "Living in the Material World."  Many Beatles fans dislike this record, but I respect it and admire Harrison's adventurous spirit in creating it.  One could argue that it was a display of arrogant self-indulgence that Harrison believed his experiments were worthy of a public audience, but he did get a chump like me to fork over 15 bucks for a used copy of this album so I don't think he was wrong.  I have no regrets about buying it and I listen to it more than John and Yoko's experimental records (although I think they are more interesting.)  Recommended to people who think Eno is too pop-oriented.

Monday, January 18, 2021

We Shall Overcome - The Freedom Singers

We Shall Overcome
The Freedom Singers
Mercury MG 20879

This is a post in honor of MLK day.  Lately during these divisive and tumultuous times, I have been listening to political music from the 1960s, much of it folk music.  The debut album by the Freedom Singers is one of my favorites.  The group came out of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and several members were field secretaries for SNCC.  They were formed to spread the message of civil rights equality and to raise funds for SNCC activities.  I first encountered the group on an album called "Newport Broadside" which features political songs from the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.  I bought it because I was interested in the songs performed by Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs but the three tracks by the Freedom Singers greatly impressed me.  Aside from Joan Baez they are easily the best singers on the record which is otherwise comprised of music by white folkies.  Two of the tracks they performed are also on this record, "Dogs" and "Get on Board."  I was so impressed that I bought this record when I came across it in a record store many years ago.  The record opens with "Dogs" by civil rights activists James Bevel and Bernard Lafayette which uses the ability of different breeds and types of dogs to get along as a comparison for race relations.  The group performs acapella as they do throughout the album with only handclaps for percussive support.  They are applauded at the end of the song so I assume they had a small audience present when they recorded this album.  "Woke Up" is derived from an old gospel song but the lyrics have been adapted to focus on freedom rather than Jesus.  The group are superb singers and their harmonies are very invigorating to hear.  This is one of my favorite tracks on the album.  Next up they tackle the popular traditional folk song "I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow."  They have changed the setting of the song from Kentucky to Georgia where the group was formed and where most of them are from.  The song is not specifically about the civil rights struggle nor is Leadbelly's "Sylvie" which they perform after it.  The song is also known as "Bring Me Little Water Sylvie" and describes a thirsty farm worker seeking water.  The group deliver a powerful interpretation of the song that gets a strong reaction from the audience.  This is followed by another Leadbelly song "Pick a Bale of Cotton" which also has no obvious connection to the civil rights movement aside from perhaps the hardships suffered by black farm laborers.  I'm not complaining though as the group delivers a very spirited performance.  "We Shall Overcome" is such a cliché at this point I have trouble relating to it.  Whenever I hear Pete Seeger or Joan Baez singing it, I wince.  However the Freedom Singers are such skilled singers that they keep my attention as they deliver it and restore some of its potency for me.  Side two opens with "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around" which is derived from a gospel song but instead of heading to heaven they are marching to freedom with topical references to segregation and reactionary city commissioners.  It is a heartfelt and stirring performance.  "We Shall Not Be Moved" is another spiritual that has been adapted for civil rights activism and given an energetic interpretation by the group driven by their wonderful harmonies.   It is followed by a mournful version of "Cotton-Eyed Joe" that will be unrecognizable to fans of Rednex's high energy dance song.  I don't perceive any connection to the civil rights aside from the song's pre-Civil War origins as a song sung by slaves on plantations.  "Get On Board" is derived from a 19th Century gospel song called "The Gospel Train."  Instead of riding to Zion, the song encourages fighting for human rights and freedom with topical references to getting arrested and resisting angry mobs.  It is a very engaging rendition.  This theme continues on "Freedom Train" where the slow somber pace of the song showcases the remarkable vocal harmonies of the group.  The album concludes with an enthusiastic performance of the gospel song "This Little Light of Mine" that substitutes the light of freedom for the light of God and gives the record an impassioned and uplifting finish.  When I was younger I was a fan of more pointed and aggressive political music, but as I've gotten older I prefer more subtle music like this that stresses emotion over dogma.  Much of this music is not overtly political at all but I think its aura of brotherhood and decency is more effective than most political music that I have heard.  Even beyond the lyrical content, the remarkable singing skill and the warmth of the performances make this an enormously appealing album.  I find it makes an inspirational soundtrack for contemplating the legacy of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement and hoping that during the difficult days ahead that this country will still reach the promised land of racial equality.  Recommended to fans of the Impressions.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Christmas Party - The Monkees

Christmas Party
The Monkees
Rhino RI 573134

This was my go-to record this past Christmas.  Even though I knew this would not really be a Monkees album when it came out, I was still excited to get it last year.  It is basically a Micky Dolenz record with cameos from Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork, plus some archival recordings by Davy Jones.  To be even more accurate it is closer to being a Fountains of Wayne album with lead vocals by Dolenz which I think is probably a good thing.  I love the Monkees but I have my doubts about Dolenz on his own and besides I am also a Fountains of Wayne fan.  That band's Adam Schlesinger played bass and keyboards for most of the tracks and produced most of it as well.  He brought in bandmate Brian Young to play drums on the record and Jody Porter for a track as well.  Schlesinger had also had a big role in the prior Monkees' album "Good Times!"  He died last year of Covid-19 which along with Peter Tork's passing in 2019 gives this record a special poignancy for me.  The album opens with "Unwrap You At Christmas" by XTC's Andy Partridge which features a bouncy poppy tune to accompany mildly salacious lyrics.  "What Would Santa Do" was written by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer.  It is a punchy tune with an ebullient chorus and amusing lyrics in which the singer gets cuckolded by Santa Claus so you know this record is not directed at the kiddies.  Davy Jones sings "Mele Kalikimaka" by Robert Alex Anderson.  The vocal is lifted from a Christmas cassette Jones made in 1991 with Chip Douglas featuring new instrumental backing from Schlesinger and crew.  It is the sort of music hall type song Jones excelled at and his performance is very charming.  "House of Broken Gingerbread" was written by Schlesinger and Michael Chabon.  It is power pop with psych overtones featuring an inspired vocal from Dolenz that reminds me of the Monkees' "Porpoise Song."  The lyrics describe more Christmas debauchery.  Michael Nesmith croons the venerable classic "The Christmas Song" by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé which is given a lush interpretation with country embellishments courtesy of Pete Finney's steel guitar.  Even in his prime Nesmith did not have the chops to handle this song, but I find his clumsy yet sincere vocal rather endearing.  His son Christian produced and arranged the song and plays guitar and keyboards on it as well.  "Christmas Party" was written by power pop heavies Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey.  It is the most raucous and hard rocking song on the album as is appropriate for a song about a wild Christmas party that name checks James Brown, Darlene Love and, in a nod to Monkees fans, Auntie Grizelda.  The song opens with some Monkees dialogue that I assume was lifted from their TV series.  The side concludes with a lovely cover of Big Star's "Jesus Christ" by Alex Chilton.  Prior to this album I would never have believed that Micky Dolenz would someday be singing a song from "Third" but here it is and he does it very convincingly.  Side two opens with a cover of Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" by Roy Wood.  It is an exuberant song with a sunshine pop sound worthy of the Turtles.  Jones takes on another Christmas classic with Jay Livingston and Ray Evan's "Silver Bells."  Once again the vocal is lifted from Jones's Christmas cassette with tasteful new instrumental backing.  The song suits Jones very well.  Dolenz returns with a delightful cover of Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime."  It sticks pretty close to the McCartney version and is one of my favorite tracks on the album.  Nesmith dips into the past with his version of Claude and Ruth Thornhill's "Snowfall" which dates back to 1941.  The song was produced by Nesmith's son Jonathan who also plays all the instruments and sings back up.  Nesmith's vocal is pretty weak but his son covers up for him with a very dense and rich arrangement.  Peter Tork finally makes an appearance humbly warbling "Angels We Have Heard On High" in a bare bones country arrangement featuring Tork on banjo.  Tork's voice sounds frail presumably due to his illness, but I nonetheless find his performance moving and charming, easily the most authentic moment on the album.  Dolenz gets to break out his soul man schtick for the rhythm and blues Christmas classic "Merry Christmas, Baby" by Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore.  The song is given a heavy lumbering treatment that gives Dolenz plenty of room to emote.  The record concludes with a 1967 acapella performance of the 16th Century Spanish song "Riu Chiu" which was taken from "The Monkees" tv show and is the only track to feature the group performing together on the record.  It is a little jarring to hear the lads sounding so young, but it does give the record a memorable and touching finish.  I love this album but I have to admit it is not very cohesive.  The Dolenz tracks and the tracks from his bandmates sound like they come from entirely different albums.  On the other hand you could say that about some of the original Monkees albums as well.  I dig the eclecticism and there are no tracks on here that I do not thoroughly enjoy.  It will be spinning on my turntable for many Christmases to come.  Recommended to fans of Sloan and the Posies.