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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Canned Heat: Christmas Album


1) Deck The Halls; 2) The Christmas Song; 3) Christmas Blues; 4) Santa Claus Is Coming To Town; 5) I Won't Be Home For Christmas; 6) Christmas Boogie; 7) Santa Claus Is Back In Town; 8) Jingle Bells; 9) Christmas Blues; 10) Boogie Boy (Little Drummer Boy); 11) Christmas Blues (live).

And so we end (or at least I really hope so) this long, strange journey — on our strangest note yet, as the final flourish of Canned Heat in the recording business seems to have been this special Christmas album, just exactly the kind of thing that billions of Canned Heat fans around the world had been fighting for ever since, way back when, Bob Hite did a joint number with Alvin and the Chipmunks that forever changed the course of humanity. That number (ʽThe Christmas Songʼ), already available as a bonus track on the CD release of Future Blues, is reproduced here in all its glory, as well as an old version of ʽChristmas Bluesʼ from around the same time, mixed in with a bunch of completely new recordings so that you all may see Canned Heat just the way they are: «protecting the old ways from being abused».

At least they have Robert Lucas back in the band, playing, singing, and having one last good time before expiring from a drug overdose about one year later — another solid Canned Heat tradition, you might say, but the irony is certainly mixed with sadness, since of all things that happened to this headless band since 1980, Robert Lucas was arguably the very best one. It is only because of him that one or two tracks on this Christmas Album approach the overall fun level of Boogie 2000, even if in terms of singing Christmas carols he isn't exactly a prime time Santa Claus; but in terms of playing, he can effortlessly transform ʽDeck The Hallsʼ and ʽJingle Bellsʼ into up­lifting jazz-blues grooves that replace the generic party spirit with genuine appreciation of a good musical spirit.

I mean, what could be the point of a classic blues-rock band doing a Christmas album? Only if the Christmas songs suit the tastes of a seasoned blues-rocker, and I'm pretty sure that seasoned blues-rockers with wide-reaching tastes will be all too happy to have a record like this for a sound­track to their Christmas dinner. Be it the completely instrumental ʽSanta Claus Is Coming To Townʼ, with a pretty-clean guitar solo (one third jazz, one third folk, and one third... surf?), or the reworking of the classic Heat / Hooker / ZZ Top ʽBoogie Chillenʼ line as ʽChristmas Boogieʼ (which almost explicitly suggests that Christmas might be the best time of the year for some wild carnal fantasies and Holy Spirit-assisted procreation activities), or the album-closing third version of ʽChristmas Bluesʼ, recorded in front of a live audience with special guest Eric Clapton on guitar, it's all part of a harmless fun send-up of the predictable Christmas spirit.

One lonesome odd surprise on the record is the band's reinterpretation of ʽLittle Drummer Boyʼ: although the song is retitled as ʽBoogie Boyʼ, it is not at all a boogie, but rather an «art-folk» mood piece with echo-laden guitars and a «deep rumble» effect on vocals that preach the virtues and efficiencies of The Boogie. It's a mildly hypnotic piece that contrasts sharply with the general upbeat tone of the record and, in the light of both Lucas' death the following year and the fact that we have not seen a new Canned Heat album since then, could be interpreted as an unintentional musical testament to the greatest force that kept the band afloat and kicking for such a ridiculous­ly long time — indeed, you could say that all this time they were the dutiful keepers of the boogie flame, and if there was one thing at which they truly excelled on the precious A-level, it was how to generate genuine sonic heat around that bearly one-chord vamp. And even if this record is merely a last minute curio / trifle, it is still somewhat reassuring to see them loyally sticking to that spirit even at Christmastime — with The Bear himself rising out of the grave to join his younger colleagues in one last celebration of The Boogie...

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