LISTEN: Top 10 Christmas songs by LGBT artists

Yes, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole will likely make appearances today singing their famous Christmas tunes, but queer artists have their signature contributions as well. I mean, Fred Schneider’s ridiculous humor may not compare with traditional carols, but he proves we need a little disco year round. And Pink Martini can croon just like the best of them.

Here’s a rundown of my top queer Christmas tunes for the day to add your to mix. Bing and Nat won’t mind the company.

10.  The Superions — “Christmas Disco” This album is a pure exercise in the absurd, but Fred Schneider’s side project turns the reverent holiday into a flat out house party.

—  Rich Lopez

Have a heavy metal holiday with Halford at House of Blues

Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford makes one stop in Dallas

Last year, some of us (OK, one of us) were excited about Rob Halford’s eponymous-named band releasing a holiday album. Metal and Christmas? And with the lead singer from Judas Priest? It was gonna be awesome. But since then, Halford has released the album, Made for Metal, and the tour makes one stop in the whole state of Texas — and it’s here. The band stops at House of Blues tonight with Philm supporting. We’re hoping since it is December, the gay metal icon will whip out some Christmas carols as only he can. At the very least, we know he should be rocking the leather daddy look. We’re hoping anyway.

DEETS: House of Blues, 2200 N. Lamar St. 8 p.m. $20–$35. HouseOfBlues.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Cocktails and Christmas

Pink Martini serves up deliciousness with their holiday album ‘Joy to the World’

RICH LOPEZ  | lopez@dallasvoice.com

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PINK CHRISTMAS | Pink Martini delivers an unexpected but welcome Christmas gift by giving holiday songs that classic movie feel.

4.5 Stars
JOY TO THE WORLD

Pink Martini
Heinz Records

This season, you may find yourself dreaming of a pink Christmas more than a white one, thanks to eclectic jazz band Pink Martini. They bring their classic sound to a handful of carols in Joy to the World — and boy is it. Martini will make you feel like you’re stepping into the world of any classic Christmas movie, and you may not want to leave.

The CD is a hefty 14 tracks, mostly of familiar carols and songs. Pink Martini doesn’t stray too much out of the box, but when they do, it’s dreamy. They start as classic as you can get. In the two-part opener of “White Christmas,” they set the mood with lush arrangements. Saori Yuki sings on part 2 and adds a delightful delicacy. Gay frontman Thomas Lauderdale leads the band with such patience, that the languid feeling is akin to the comfort of a Snuggie.

“Shchedryk (Ukranian Bell Carol)” translates into the more popularly named “Carol of the Bells.” The layering of voices and crescendo to a breathtaking high in this third track finish off a trio of beautiful opening carols.

People may get me on this, but Madonna’s “Santa Baby” sticks out as the best version, though China Forbes gives her heavy competition without relying on quirk. She sings it straight and lets the music do the bibbity-bopping. Forbes still winks, but you listen closer to what she wants more than brushing it off as a cute seasonal song.

While nothing is overly wrong with the next few songs, the approach gets slightly weaker on “Little Drummer Boy” and “We Three Kings.” They stick with the original compositions and add their flairs, but “Drummer” is a little too slow even with its underlying “Bolero” beat. The song never takes off with the pride that’s behind the lyrics.

“Kings” is rendered beautifully, but Forbes and Lauderdale keep the same patience as before with it and it loses some of its epic flavor. The punctuating trumpet almost turns it into something darker. The guitar keeps it afloat but when the song trails off, it ends up a bit weak.

music-2-2Martini goes original with “A Snow Globe Christmas,” which is one of the best attempts in a long time. Most artists try too hard to create that new Christmas song. Without the pressures of mainstream play, Lauderdale and company nailed it. They composed a throwback that could fit into any MGM musical. Every instrument creates the aura of innocent Technicolor romance and Forbes is the ideal leading lady looking out her frosted window onto the snow. Pink Martini is that good in creating an ambience in this album.

The one staple everyone looks for is “Silent Night” and Pink Martini includes it here. As they do with other tracks, they mix languages through the verses. Here, “Night” is sung in German, Arabic and English. This might put off some who need a good old-fashioned version of it, but the lullaby is just as delightful. Initially, we hear Forbes’ voice, but the final English verse is the one we all know and is sung by the Pacific Youth Choir, giving the end nice sweetness.

Pin Martini finishes off with a samba-esque “Auld Lang Syne” featuring the percussion of the Lions of Batucada. It is sung in English, Arabic and French (clearly, their thing), and I challenge you not to smile during this rendition. The fun energy is your best option for ringing in the New Year, if not just to put you in a good mood.

Pink Martini may have released the least expected Christmas album, but they might have also released the best one.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Christmas jukebox

Indigo Girls, Fred Schneider queer up the holidays, but Annie Lennox transforms them with carolful CDs

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

3.5 stars
HAPPY HOLLY DAYS

Indigo Girls
Vanguard

It took decades in the music business before the famed lesbian duo Indigo Girls got around to releasing their first holiday album. Holly Happy Days puts Amy Ray and Emily Saliers in country mode with hoe-down ready songs and a star-studded roster. They could have very well created a lesbian music lover’s wet dream in disc format.

They giddy-up quick with “I Feel the Christmas Spirit,” a ramblin’ tune that leaves out any jingling bells. The fiddle and banjo are the stars in this happy song that doesn’t sound anything like holiday fare —unless you’re in A Very Special Deliverance Christmas.

That same approach makes the traditional carols interesting at least. Neither sings that kind of vocal stretch you’ve come to expect hearing on “O Holy Night” … and thank goodness. There’s no vanity here — “Night” may come off underwhelming, but its Celtic undertones add welcome texture.

Because they respect the carols’ original structures, there aren’t many surprises. That’s made forgivable with easy-to-sing-along numbers like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Who doesn’t want that? The organ backdrop, though, on “Angels We Have Heard On High” feels like you walked in on an old hillbilly church with a two-voice chorus. There’s a charming majesty in the tune along with the layered instrumentation.

Not to discriminate, the Girls cover Woody Guthrie’s “Happy Joyous Hanukah” which almost had me run out to buy a dreidel. The bluegrass influence here is adorable, and despite its minority status, it fits right into the rest of the album. Mary Gaultier and Janis Ian even provide gorgeous background vocals.

They go pop with “It Really Is (A Wonderful Life),” a bouncy song penned by Chely Wright. You almost expect to hear it as a commercial jingle or sitcom theme, but it charms in a way you don’t expect.

For die-hards, Happy Holly Days is Indigo Girls doing what they do best: Acoustic folk (although revved up) and lush harmonies. The non-fan might initially be put off by the woodsy flavor and lack of fuzzy feelings, but with time, their simple approach is refreshing and they prove that less can be more. Besides, the Indigo Girls offer three ornaments in the packaging. Score!
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1.5 stars
DESTINATION … CHRISTMAS!

The Superions
Fanatic

When Fred Schneider branches out from The B-52’s with his side project The Superions to take on Christmas, well, you might as well throw any possible idea you have about holiday music out the window. Schneider and company don’t hold back from turning Christmas on its ear and into a hilarious party on Destination…Christmas! Just try singing these door-to-door without being chased by angry villagers carrying pitchforks.

They get the party started with “Santa’s Disco,” an over-synthesized dance dittie about all the revelry at the North Pole. Christmas Carol cuts loose / Crazy as a goose / It’s so insane / What she does with a candy cane. This alone should paint all the picture you need to see the band’s approach to the season. The “Santa’s Disco” chant gets a little much, but seriously, this is fun stuff.

When the first line is “Whatchu makin? / Fruitcake” in, um, “Fruitcake,” you expect hilarity to ensue. Instead, it’s basically the recipe set to music and as the second track, missteps already   show on the album. The techno beat is engaging, but this song proves early on that this shtick could get old fast.

TROUBLESOME TRIO | Fred Schneider, center, and his side project The Superions should expect a lot of coal for their ‘Destination … Christmas!’ album

It does. The same mistakes happen on “Chillin’ at Christmas” and “Teddy and Betty Yeti.” Schneider opts to talk over great beats, but the stories are not even ridiculous, just, well, stupid. I’m not really sure what he’s trying to do here: Fun is one thing, funny is another, but either he’s trying too hard to be “out there” … or maybe he just doesn’t know what he’s doing. Maybe I just don’t get it, but maybe there’s nothing to get.

There is some redemption in the “Christmas Conga (Jungle Bells).” The ju-ju-ju-jungle bells lyrics and the conga beat are irresistible, with more of Schneider’s talk-singing. The goofiness here is what he should have been doing all over the album.

The production puts Schneider’s voice front and center, which isn’t a good thing. I don’t think I ever realized how bad a singer he is; perhaps neither does he. He’s much better doing the outlandish vocals as he perfected on “Rock Lobster” and “Love Shack.” Side projects can allow for artists to change up their sound, but Schneider is so bad here, you start feeling sorry for the rest of the band having to endure it.

And yet somehow, it ends on a high note with “Santa Je T’aime.” An orgasmic fan moans for Santa Claus as he bellows ho ho ho. Think the holiday version of Lil Louis’ “French Kiss” with that climaxing groan.

Even for fans of quirky and out of the box, Destination…Christmas! remains an unworthy purchase. You’re better off selecting the songs you like and buying individually online.

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4.5 stars
A CHRISTMAS CORNUCOPIA

Annie Lennox
Decca

On the opposite end of the spectrum from The Superions is Annie Lennox’s holiday release. Filled with sophistication and heart, A Christmas Cornucopia could be the holiday album this season. With carols most everyone has heard to those she sang as a child, the CD is crisp and festive.

Where we seem to have gotten a softer, kinder Lennox in her solo career, her intensity here actually reminds of how powerful the Eurythmics were in the beginning. “Angels We Have Heard On High” is a beautiful choral piece that bursts with glorious force. Where the Indigo Girls are intimate on this carol, Lennox pushes her voice with abundant strength. She continues that on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman;” both solidly open the album.

ELEGANT HOLIDAY | Annie Lennox makes Santa’s nice list with her gorgeous CD ‘A Christmas Cornucopia.’

Lennox mixes Middle Eastern, European and African influences with ease. She may not sound completely genuine with the French carol “Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant,” but her earnestness comes across sweetly. Her Middle Eastern touch on “Gentleman” only kicks the carol into a higher gear without stripping away its originality.

Lennox worked with the African Children’s Choir on “Lullay Lullay (Coventry Carol),” a song about the Nativity that is the album’s darkest moment. She compares the song’s message about King Herod’s slaughter of the first-born son to the plight of children in Africa. The tone turns into a borderline buzzkill but she refrains from going too heavy. Still, it’s a shift.

She includes one original song. “Universal Child” finishes the album off with a heartfelt ribbon that ties it up well, though is not especially Christmasy. The advocate work she’s done with children and women in Africa comes out in song here and it’s a gentle touch. (Proceeds from the song go to her foundation to help those communities.)

Lennox delivers wonderfully and producer Mike Stevens succeeds in showcasing both her voice and the different flavors of music and instrumentation. Like the present that’s well wrapped and heavy when you pick it up, A Christmas Cornucopia is a worthwhile one to open.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens