Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Best Christmas Music
(see this entry for the introduction)

Oy! To The World
The Klezmonauts

There are a lot of "stunt" Christmas albums out there: one-note-jokes involving run-of-the-mill Christmas music being played in an uncommon style, such as an "all-reggae" Christmas, or (less seriously) on a kazoo, or on wood shop tools. I’m all in favor of artists doing something different—please, God, do something different—but seldom are these “stunt” albums worthwhile.

You think “stunt album” when you hear about "Oy! To The World," an album of Christmas classics done by a Klezmer band called the Klezmonauts. The idea of the traditional Jewish musical form (wiki) being wedded to Christmas tunes sounds like a quick joke that can't be sustained for more than a couple of minutes, but it works. The first few songs tease and tickle the familiar tunes with the high-tempo and minor-key trills of Klezmer music, and the effect is to simultaneously distance you and draw you in. Is that really "Joy to the World?" Why does this sound more "joyous" than the "straight" versions I've heard?

The band then (apparently) realizes that even a well-done Klezmer album can only go on for about three songs, so they start to seamlessly incorporate all sorts of other musical references. "The Little Drummer Boy" brings in the pounding drumbeat of Dick Dale surf music, while "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" slides into an Ennio Morricone spaghetti-western so gently that you are never quite sure where the changeover began. Quotes abound -- you find yourself saying things like, "Hey, was that 'Inna-Gadda-Da-Vita?'"* -- but they never overwhelm the music.

It's an incredible cure for cookie-cutter Christmas music.

Check out samples on the artists' website (including a complete download of "Oy! To the World"), and order a copy for yourself. Buy from the artist or eBay -- don't bother with the idiot on Amazon selling a copy for $60.

* No, it's actually "Sunshine of Your Love"

 1:15 PM

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