PREPARE FOR THE MERRINESS! The Fogcutters are getting ready for the holiday season.
When done right, Thanksgiving through Christmas is a month-long party of friends, family, and whatever beverage-and-food combination turns you on. It's also the only opportunity you have all year to bust out the Christmas-music playlists for the gathering du jour. The pressure's on. Do you go all-Christmas, maybe just leaving on WHOM or putting together an ironic mix centered around "Do They Know It's Christmas," or do you sprinkle in Christmas tunes that won't be obvious outliers into a broader party mix?
That latter is much harder, as the normal songs set unfair bars for the Christmas songs to get over, but it's helpful when you've got an ample supply of contemporarily recorded material. Better yet if it's local and you're inclined toward local mixes. Recent efforts from Don Campbell, the Sea Captains, and Cam Groves have helped in that regard, but this year's contributor is remarkable for fitting in so seamlessly with your Etta James, Sinatra, and Bing Crosby LPs.
The Fogcutters continue to demand attention for big band-style performances and arrangements by simply overwhelming listeners with creativity and competence. They're no nostalgic novelty. With yet another State Theatre performance looming December 7, the Fogcutters whet appetites with Jingle These Bells, a five-song Christmas drive-by that offers equal doses Rat-Pack class and Buena Vista Social Club fire.
The opening take on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is full of the latter, with chiming and teasing horn lines of the central melody upbraided by salsa rhythms. There is a sway and ripple to the way the British and Latin influences co-mingle; John Maclaine's arrangement is very danceable. It also serves as a pretty setting for sax, trumpet, and finally an electric guitar solo from Max Cantlin that's as laid-back as your first neat whiskey of the night.Finally, with 30 seconds to go, the horns play the song as straight as could be in homage to what, at its core, is a delightfully melancholy number: "When we were gone astray." (Also: Annie Lennox did a version of this song? Jars of Clay?)
The middle tracks are jazz-traditional vocal-led, featuring a highly resonant and big-voiced Chas Lester on "The First Noel," where he positively fondles the word "Israel," and a delivery by Stephanie Davis on "Silent Night" that plays up the lullaby angle enough to make it a little dangerous for late-night parties where people are already well into the nog. Add a woodstove and people will be dreaming of mistletoe.
When Lester and Davis come together on the classic "O Christmas Tree" duet, their back-and-forth is like the Drapers in A Very Mad Men Christmas.
The closing "Jingle Bells," though, is the attention grabber. It's possibly too quick to catch on with holiday parties, but its legitimately breakneck pace is impressive. Lester crams words into spaces that hardly exist over straight percussion and when the horns jump in it's a drop worthy of Skrillex (that may be an exaggeration).