Hellbent for Bethlehem (and Dallas)

Posted on 19 Oct 2009 at 6:22pm

It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas with two non-traditional (and kinda gay) holiday CDs


WINTER SONGS
3 out of 5 Stars
Halford
Metal God Records

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Head banging doesn’t come to mind as quickly during the holiday season as, say, getting sloshed on eggnog (which leads to an entirely different kind of head banging). That hasn’t stopped Rob Halford, legendary out frontman of Judas Priest, from going all heavy metal on Christmas carols with his newest release, Winter Songs. (Technically, it’s by the band Halford, but seriously, we know how these things work.)

The album, while never great, is not forgettable, either. And it could make your door-to-door caroling far more interesting.

On five traditional Christmas carols, Halford gives a metal touch with mixed results, translating these standards into rockers, complete with driving drums and blaring guitar solos, yet keeping them true to the traditional tune of each.

On "What Child is This," they do stay close to the original. It’s a courteous orchestration with subtle guitar work and delicate keyboards, and its hardness doesn’t bring the song down. Even the finale guitar solo is subdued, ending the song in a dreamlike fashion.

The band handles the metal sensibility rather beautifully on "Oh Holy Night" without venturing into the cheesiness of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. "We Three Kings" gives room for guitars to shred and drums to flex, playing more like a Gothic epic tone.

"Oh Come O Come Emanuel" is arguably the best of the traditional bunch. Its turbo-loving beat is sufficient for any metalhead, and despite the license taken with the chorus, it works. The weakest entry is an overly melodramatic "Come All Ye Faithful," which closes out the album disappointingly.

Oddly, the Achilles heel on all these songs is Rob Halford’s voice. Iconic in the heavy metal genre, it’s too rough to emotionally deliver the sentiments at their most effective; he just sounds angry the whole time ("Merry Christmas…! Now fuck off" seems to be the message.)

When covers don’t hold them back, the band tears it up and Halford-the-singer breaks free into his signature screech. The opening song, "Get Into the Spirit," is flat-out hard rock with no suggestion of doing what the title says. You’re being told to do it. Or else.

Even when the beat relaxes in "I Don’t Care" (about running late for Christmas), Halford sings with sexy grit. The song itself is flimsy, but it’s amusingly delivered.
 Two nice surprises add texture to the CD.  A cover of Sara Bareilles’ ethereal ballad "Winter Song" improves on the original. Halford’s hardened voice is tinged with beautiful pain. It’s as if this is the song he’s been waiting to sing and he captures the sadness and romance perfectly.

And "Christmas for Everyone" contains a merry attitude that sounds like something Josey and the Pussycats would have sung, only harder. It’s bouncy and rocky and could cater to any modern kiddie television special (if they still made them). It reveals Halford’s playful side.

Then again, the album itself is telling about rock’s best –known leather daddy.

Despite the skull rings, tattooed pate and mysterious stare behind those sunglasses, perhaps Mr. Halford and his crew are big softies. Just don’t tell them I said so; they could hurt me.


— Rich Lopez



HOLIDAZZLE 2009
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Various Artists
At theaters across the Metroplex

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Local theater critics like yours truly like to tout the talents of local artists as rivaling those in New York and other cultural destinations. The reality is nowhere more in evidence than on Holidazzle 2009, a new Christmas music album produced by five members of the North Texas LGBT community. Sales of CDs, which are available online and in the lobbies of most area theaters through the end of the year — benefit the children’s shelter Jonathan’s Place.

Doing something good with your music purchase could be reason enough to shell out some greenbacks for a CD, but in fact, the album is worth every penny. Yes, there is the comforting side effect of hearing your neighbors sing together on your iPod, but that was never enough to get me to buy a Jessica Simpson record.

No, the music itself is charming, the production solid and spirit-lifting.

The best of the early songs is Natalie King, pulling out all the Darlene Love stops on a Wall of Sound rendition of "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)." King soars and screeches and turns the holidays into a plaintive celebration of love.

Humor sparkles on the Marisa Diotalevi-Doug Miller duet "Baby, It’s Cold Outside" (light-hearted but musically nimble, especially from Diotalevi) and even on annoying ditties like Julie Johnson’s "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" ("He knows when you’re awake — that’s creepy" she ad-libs).


CAROLING, CAROLING | The Five Friends Foundation (all five gay) launched ‘Holidazzle,’ a Christmas album benefit recorded entirely with local talent.

Jenny Thurman sings a duet with herself — in the guises of Judy Garland and Patsy Cline — on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," written as a 1940s-era radio broadcast. (Her Garland impersonation is even better than her Cline, which she has performed countless times on local stages.)

The arrangement on Gary Floyd’s version of "O Holy Night" is unique and his voice resplendent with passion and Denise Lee’s "Someday at Christmas" is deeply beautiful.

But no track is better than Patty Breckenridge’s cover of "My Grown Up Christmas List." With Disney musical-like hummability and unadorned sentiment, it single-handedly put me in the spirit of the season easily a week earlier than usual. Thanks, Patty — and happy holidays to all. 

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 20, 2009.

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