Squirrel Nut Zippers
Normally, my tolerance for theme albums, especially ones that just go on about a holiday such as Christmas, is very low. I don’t mean to sound like Scrooge, but there’s usually only so much one can take of songs about Christmas trees, Santa Claus, sleigh bells, and all kinds of snow activities that seem to be only a myth when living somewhere in the South. But somehow, the Squirrel Nut Zippers managed to put out a Christmas album that is actually tolerable all year ’round. It might be that they’re just so musically entertaining, or that not every song is just drilling home the fact that Christmas exists, but this is one Christmas album that I actually enjoy owning.
The best song off Christmas Caravan, as far as I’m concerned, is “Indian Giver,” a rock-blues song about people who give presents and then take them right back. Rock-blues, you say? More than on any other album, the Squirrel Nut Zippers become a musically diverse band, straying from the swing/Charleston route for something a little more bluesy and laid-back. Tracks like “A Johnny Ace Christmas” give you that feeling of walking into a smoky jazz club as a few weathered musicians jam onstage. That, of course, accompanied by the beautiful voice of Katharine Whalen, brings the song right back to the high quality music fans of the band have come to expect. There’s even an acoustic folkesque song called “I’m Coming Home for Christmas.”
The album definitely has its swing moments, though. “Christmas Carolina” (with lines like “Grandma’s got the fiddle, and Grandpa’s got the bass / When it’s Christmas in Carolina, it’s Christmas all over the place”) and the instrumental “Hot Christmas” keep to normal Squirrel Nut Zipper fashion, with their high energy swinging beats. Three covers of classic Christmas tunes also make their way onto the album, and the inclusion of baby pictures of the band members in the booklet is a pretty cute little touch.
The album is definitely in the spirit of things, but not so much that it gets painfully redundant to hear about the same holiday for ten songs in a row. Fans of the band should enjoy hearing the diversity they can produce, but if you’re looking for an album that’ll purely swing and not knock home the holidays, you might want to pass on this one. Christmas Caravan is definitely a cute and fun album, but the majority of the songs are written for sitting around the Christmas tree with some kind of steaming beverage. If you want to twirl and spin the tree, you might want to pick up one of their first four records first. Mammoth Records, The Broadstreet Building, 101 B Street, Carrboro, NC 27510-1834