Down Christmas Layne

Down Christmas LaneAustin cabaret act Hedda Layne gives one of the nicest gifts of all. On her website, she’s offering a free album download of holiday music. With an electronica approach, Layne and producer/husband Troy Lee come out of left field to drop a whimsical package of carols to add to your collection.

Without going overboard, Layne offers nine familiar tunes, but starts with Lee’s remix of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” Lee keeps it simple, but turns the instrumental into a great techno-lite opener.

The beat hits when “Santa Baby” goes into a high energy beat that works almost too well. Layne’s voice has an appropriately vintage Betty Boop-ness to it which the song needs. The dance tone never pulls away from the song’s spirit, but instead enhances it with some punch. They delve into some robotic voice enhancement that could have gone majorly awry, but instead, Layne and Lee smartly just add in a pinch of it. The formula continues to work in the dance-floor-ready “Winter Wonderland.”

Layne stays true to traditionals “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “What Are You Doing for New Years Eve,” which balance out the the energetic numbers. Her “Silent Night” rendition, though, is a bit hit and miss. Layne has beautiful control over her voice, reaching sublime high notes, but at times she gets a little too dramatic and that feels more like she’s showing off.
She teams up with Girl Scout Troop 1149  for two songs which have a lot of heart, but are also a bit awkward.

Remember, this is not a girl’s choir, but a scout troop. Layne singing on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” works fine, but the kids are all over the place. You can sense what she’s trying to do here, but the intended cuteness factor wears thin.

The medley of “Jingle Bells/We Wish You a Merry Christmas” works far better. The girls are reigned in as they sing the chorus and the downtempo dubstep beat gives a consistent groove. Layne sometimes derails on her vocal runs, but the track finishes with surprising sophistication.

— Rich Lopez

Three stars.
To download the free tracks, visit HeddaLayne.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Cocktails and Christmas

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

RICH LOPEZ  | lopez@dallasvoice.com

music-2-1
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

Quite possibly the best pitch to listen to one gay singer’s Christmas tunes

This pitch by out singer Darren Stewart-Jones was one of the best things we saw all week. He’s in a bit of a quandary with his two new Christmas releases. As it turns out, they are the same two songs that are going to be  released by a singer with a much higher profile. So he offered the reasons why LGBT Christmas music lovers should pick his tracks over (or maybe along with) a certain pop star’s.

Subject: Kylie or me…

So, I decide to officially release two Christmas tracks on iTunes this year. A week later, international gay icon Kylie Minogue does the same. And by the same, I mean the exact same two Xmas carols, out of all of the fucking Christmas songs out there. Anyway, I took the liberty of doing some comparison shopping for you. Happy Holidays!

“Santa Baby”
Why you should buy my version…
1.       My version is gay. I mean, the song has always been a little gay but my version is sung by me, a gay man, to Santa, a kind of gay daddy bear, if you will. If you sing along, you don’t have to pretend to be a girl.

2.       Inspired by the It Gets Better project, proceeds from my version go to Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans youth charities, including the LGBT Youth Line here in Canada.

3.       My home-made video on YouTube features naked guys and is really hot!

Why you shouldn’t buy hers…
1.        She is already rich.

2.       Plenty of people will download her version even if you don’t.

3.       She can really grate on your nerves sometimes. Admit it.

“Let It Snow”
Why you should buy my version…
1.       I won’t be making any money from Santa Baby because it is all going to charity so if you download Let It Snow, I actually get some cash.

2.       You really feel a need to support independent, gay artists.

3.       I grew up in Canada so when I sing about snow, I know what I am talking about.

Why you shouldn’t buy hers…
1.       She is already rich.

2.       Plenty of people will download her version even if you don’t.

3.       She is from Australia. What the fuck does she know about snow?

Happy Holidays from Darren Stewart-Jones

Baby Gumm Productions

His cursing isn’t very Christmas spirit-like though. After sampling his music snippets on iTunes, you can compare with these clips of Minogue singing her versions here and find more information about her Dec. 7 holiday release.

—  Rich Lopez