Christmas is a time for gentle reflection on good times past--and perhaps even the wiping away of a nostalgic tear, so the cover of Honkey-Tonk Holidays (Christmas in Deep Noellum) is particularly poignant: now-passed nightspot Naomi's, all aglow with Christmas lights, early-'50s Chevy truck parked in front.
Issuing label Big Iron is practically a case study in how cruel local band hell can be: BI put out the first Old 97's album, Hitchhike to Rhome, in 1993, and followed that with the Cartwrights' Ponderosa Fabuloso--two feats that seemed to portend the label's career as local trendsetter. Things didn't quite work out that way: The 97's went on to Chicago's Bloodshot label, and the Cartwrights--with a second album in the can--finally came apart under the stress of having too many headstrong creative personalities in one band (the second Cartwrights album has never been released).
These problems--combined with the stress of his day job practicing law--had a disheartening effect on Big Iron owner Mike Mattocks, who pretty much withdrew from the record biz, letting the label's fields lay fallow. Until now.
Mattocks is out there again, promoting Honkey-Tonk Holidays, a delightful seasonal offering. Although it's two years old, it's never gotten much--if any--sort of promotional push or pro distribution, selling slowly and almost by accident. The music on the disc, however, is still fresh: Most of the bands on it are still around.
The Sutcliffes give a woozy, boozy reading of their "Alcoholidays" ("We pop a top of Shiner Bock/And flock the Christmas tree"). Local bluegrass whiz Andy Owens--playing with partner of opportunity Czech band Druha Trava (the band was passing through Dallas on a two-week tour and accepted Owens' invitation to record together)--does a nice woodsy version of "Little Drummer Boy." Cowboys and Indians show that they could give Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel a run for their money--even two years ago--with two swinging cuts: "Santa, Santa" and "Merry Christmas, Miss Molly." Donny Ray Ford and Liberty Valence rip up Buck Owens' "Santa Looked a lot Like Daddy." The Old 97's tackle I'll be Home for Christmas" and "Holly Jolly Christmas," and listening to them here is proof of how much these local favorites have grown and matured in the intervening time.
The most, um, striking tune, however, is the Mutineers' "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Lead singer Barry Kooda starts the tune off sweetly enough, but soon descends into a minor-key fright-fest that almost seems a Halloween tune: Voices moan and gibber in the background, Kooda sings in a Karloffian bass cackling sinisterly, and the song closes with the "oh-wee-oh" march from The Wizard of Oz.
"Man, that song used to scare the shit out of me when I was a kid!" Kooda confides, his eyes widening at the childhood memory of an omnipotent Santa marching like Godzilla through the neighborhood, dispensing justice like some vengeful desert god. It may be unexpected, but the Mutineers' version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is the best anti-Christmas song since "You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch."
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Mattocks' return to the local music scene is welcome. "I was a beginner," Mattocks says of his savage introduction to the vicissitudes of the music biz. "I made some mistakes that I wouldn't necessarily make again--that I'm not going to make again." Mattocks--energized in part by his moving into the Deep Ellum neighborhood--is busying himself pushing Honkey-Tonk Holidays to various radio stations and record stores. The first pressing of the album is almost sold out; when that happens, Mattocks--who is also thinking about other ways in which to reintroduce Big Iron to the local music scene--will press a thousand more. Meanwhile, he's indulging in that most seasonal of emotions: hope for the future.
A truck belonging to the Old 97's was burglarized a few weeks back; chief among the losses were six guitars. "It was over in Highland Park, sitting out in the open with plenty of lighting," manager Mike Schwedler moans. The group needs your help in keeping an eye peeled for the contraband. To get a description of the plundered goods, check out the 97's Web site (www.old97s.com)...
Wipe away a tear and wave goodbye: UFOFU's last show will be Saturday, December 20, at the Galaxy Club...Look for Slowpoke's Geffen release sometime in March...Blue Cat Blues has announced that Thursdays will be the home of its "Blues Plate Special" through January. Featured on the bill will be Kirby Kelley, the Shawn Pittman Blues Band, and Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat. Five bucks gets you in the door, and proceeds will go to charity...
Granted, there are some neighborhoods where running around screaming "Ho! Ho! Ho!" would be less than appropriate, but such seasonal cheer--along with your e-mail tips, feedback, and help--will always have a place at Matt_Weitz.dallasobserver.com.