The Boxmasters

Christmas Cheer

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Most bands would issue a couple of albums before releasing a Christmas recording. But then most bands wouldn't be the Boxmasters -- the band issued a double CD as its debut, and this title followed a mere five months after. Billy Bob Thornton, who goes by W.R. "Bud" Thornton, plays drums, shakes tambourines, and sings lead with the band; he's accompanied by J.D. Andrew on bass, guitars, and harmony vocals, with Michael Wayne Butler on lap steel, Dobro, and lead guitars. Additional members for this date include Ted Andreadis on organ and accordion and Brad Davis on mandolin and electric guitar. While the band's debut concentrated on a nightmarish fusion of hillbilly rock and British Invasion pop, this holiday set concentrates more on the former with some straight-up Bakersfield country thrown into the mix for good measure. Clocking in at just under 33 minutes, this is a mercifully short set. Along with standards such as "Silver Bells" (where Thornton does his best Buck Owens and doesn't hold a candle to the master), "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "The Christmas Song," and "Blue Christmas" are some novel inclusions such as a cover of John Prine's "Christmas in Prison," which is done in Bakersfield style but fails to match the humorous irony of the original. There's also a closing honky tonk read of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)," where Thornton sounds like a cross between Bob Dylan with a cold and his character in the film Bad Santa. Faring far better are the genuinely humorous -- and mean-spirited -- originals like the popping cut-time opener "My Dreams of Christmas," whose words echo the nightmares of many rural youngsters. The half rockabilly, half honky tonk mix is perfect. "Slower Than Christmas" is a straight-up country tune (with shimmering mandolins) whose words sum up the holiday "spirit" in a "unique" -- read: hilarious -- manner (example: "Dysfunctional belles/Dysfunctional balls/The folks in my family/They just beat all/They put me through hell/When they deck the halls/They even send Santa Claus/Climbin' up the walls...."). It deserves a video and to be a hit on GAC. There's also a downright sad prison ballad called "I Won't Be Home for Christmas" that -- ironically -- might be the best thing on the record. This set is an acquired taste or for fans of the Boxmasters' rather obvious sense of irony.

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