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Yule Fuel

A discussion of non-Christmas Christmas music

Rick Mitchell, author, teacher and former Houston Chronicle music critic: "My in-laws have a small lodge on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, where the extended family meets most Christmases. When the skiers return from a full day on the slopes to sit around the fireplace, compare aches and pains and sip adult beverages, the artist of choice is, inevitably, Frank Sinatra.

"Sometimes somebody will slip on a little Sammy or Dino, but Frank rules the roost. Albums by other artists, other than Christmas music, don't seem to stay long on the boombox.

"I don't really know why this is, other than that it is now a family tradition, and we all want to please my mother-in-law, whose musical taste is pretty spotty once you get past Frank. My late father-in-law's favorite song was 'New York, New York.' He liked it so much it was played at his funeral.

"The Sinatra/Tahoe connection may also have something to do with Frank's spiritual home at the Cal-Neva, a North Shore hotel/casino not far from the family crib where the Rat Pack used to run wild back in the day. It sits on the California/Nevada border, hence the name. Out back is the private guest lodge where Frank supposedly hooked a brother named Jack up with Marilyn Monroe.

"My wife was raised on this music. She sometimes puts on a Frank album in April, or August. I rarely do. Frank is my main man for Christmas, and only Christmas. I grew up a rocker who got into blues, jazz and world music. It wasn't until I reached adulthood that I learned to look past Frank's personality and politics to appreciate his true artistry. (Although back when I was in college, I knew a girl who claimed to have snorted cocaine on an elevator with Frank. Later, I knew some jazz musicians in Portland, Oregon, who routinely referred to cocaine as 'frank,' as in 'Frank Sinostril.' Get it? Never mind.)

"Anyway, we now have quite a collection of Frank on vinyl and CD, some of which we take with us to Tahoe every year. I know this is not supposed to be about Christmas music, but I have to mention my favorite Sinatra Christmas recording. It is actually not by Frank himself, but by an imitator named Bob Francis, who billed himself as 'the poor man's Frank Sinatra Jr.' The song is called 'That Swingin' Manger,' and it appears on the album Blame It On Christmas!, which came out on some small label in 1995. The lyrics imagine 'that little cat Jesus asleep in the…haaayyyyyy!' "

Scuttlebutt Caboose

It's Christmas Eve and there's nothing to do. Wrong! Incomparable New Orleans exiles the New Birth Brass Band are doing a Christmas-themed show over at Dan Electro's and, and, and…well, that's about all I can find. But that's all you need -- if you love funky beats or hot brass and you haven't seen them yet, you are a foo'. Meanwhile, on the big day, after you've torn open all your presents, gorged yourself on ham, turkey, lamb or turducken, knocked back a few flutes of champagne (or Styrofoam cups of vodka and Red Bull) and wept over all those sickly-sweet TV specials, what's to do? Go check out a local band. Many of the city's top draws are playing Christmas Day shows. 30footFALL will be tearing up Fitz'sagain for the first time in quite a while (Hell City Kings, Last Few Days, Boweland Slippin' Mickeys bring the raunch downstairs); Tody Castillo and the Scattered Pages are putting on a top-notch double bill at Rudz; the Fatal Flying Guilloteens will be slicing through the Proletariat; and the Handsomes will be packing the Continental will their usual full complement of hotties. Satin Hooks are playing one of them-there hip warehouse-type shows at Benner Studios (2324 Commerce); and Super Happy Fun Land's Ho Ho Holly Day party features CJ Boyd, A Fluff Christmas, the Gomez X-Spearmint, the High Elves Christmas and the Krinkles, not to mention a midnight screening of Slump's feature film debut, Wizard of Oz, which stars "37 local jackasses."

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