always in season

Santa Is A Bluesman (Rollin' & Tumblin')
Various Artists

By Michael Campbell

Reviewing an album with a Christmas theme at this point in the year is not unlike revealing the results of the presidential election on Christmas day. I've rationalized two good reasons for doing this: one is that I didn't receive my review copy till after the deadline for the Christmas issue; the other is that Scott Mullins' latest production has remained on my tape deck ever since.

This is not some procrastination over Christmas tree disposal, nor taking down the lights and decorations. It is simply one fine blues anthology that improves with repeated listening.

Oh sure, there's lots of Christmas references on it, but in most cases, it's not the pervading spirit of the song, just a context for the blues. Among the many winners is "Christmas Celebration," teaming the classy Sam Myers with the Homewreckers. Da Mudcats are well represented by "Jolly Fat Man" and "Merry Christmas Baby." This latter track finds Jim Rosen in fine form on harp and gargling-ground-glass vocals.

Other gems include the tasty bottleneck slide of Pen Bogert's "Santa Bring Her Back," and the Chernobel-style rendition of "Blue Christmas" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins & the Dippity Do's. Curtis & the Kicks chime in with a silky smooth "Winter Wonderland," the first Christmas instrumental I've heard with a 3 a.m. feel. Rick DeBow bestows a real Christmas gift with a dignified yet soulful version of "Silent Night."

I saved my favorite for last. If any song truly reflects Christmas in the economic basket case of America, in a personal, painful perspective that's unique to the blues, it is Nick Stump's "Where's Santa Claus When We Need Him." The song itself, and the Metro Blues All Stars' reading of it, is a landmark for both the band and contemporary blues.

So go ahead. You can listen to this one year round and not feel guilty. I will.