FAME Review: The Sweetback Sisters - Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular
The Sweetback Sisters - Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular

Country Christmas
Singalong Spectacular

The Sweetback Sisters

Signature Sounds - SIG2052

Available from Signature Sounds.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

I'm a sucker for holiday discs, a fetish that matches my love of songwriter tribute slabs, so, when it comes to Christmas music, some of my favorites include Gary Hoey's rockin' several releases over the years, the Crash Test Dummies' Jingle All the Way (Brad Roberts is a dead-ringer-singer for Nick Cave), the Ghostly Trio's Christmas with the Ghostly Trio, Transiberian Orchestra's—er, how many have they put out so far? 85?—holiday albums, and so on. But I also love swing, am still developing a taste for outright country, and have discovered that swing Xmas discs are few and far between, so the Sweetback Sisters' (emphasis on the 'schweeeet'!) Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular has come along to cure all my and your holiday blues by marrying a predominantly swing bottom line with a barn-raisin' country savor that's absolutely irresistible. 'Member Bob Wills? Well, Sonny Jim, he'll be boot-scootin' up in that there hog heaven in the clouds and like nobody's business once the refrains of this collection float up to his ears.

Zara Bode and Emily Miller really are sweet, their voices like meadowlarks winging from fence to fence, sometimes jumping excitedly from branch to branch, other times warbling happily in the daylight, and they boast a crack outfit behind 'em, anchored by a guy who's astonishing on guitar (you won't hear too much of that here, chiefly just well played chords and leads appropos to the oeuvre, but catch the band on YouTube and, lord, can Ray Bellenoit twang them six strings!, so much so that the guy could join a crack progrock or just plain rockin' rollin' unit tomorrow). The combination of all that results in a zesty, spirited, and sometimes backwoods reverential disc that's also just plain fun. Look at Country Christmas as though it were the LP Dan Hicks, the Andrews Sisters, and Dolly Parton never teamed up to put out.

The CD's suitable for kids and adults alike, and if'n ya trot it on over to Longhorn Scrooge's cabin in the North 40, you'll be putting a grin on the ol' geezer's face and a twinkle in his step from now until summer. When the band tackles It's Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas, it comes away quite similar to something the aforementioned Hoey might come up with, Bellenoit giving it a zinging do-up replete with humor and pine tree effervescence, but I'm tellin' ya: catch a live YouTube performance of the band: he and they will set your hair on fire! I suspect where Steve Howe learned Chet Atkins' techniques, Bellenoit was studying Roy Clark. In fact, why am I just writing about it? Here, take a look-see at their Walkin' in my Sleep reel, where yer first treated to Jesse Milnes' violin virtuosity and then Bellenoit's machine-gun country fire as well as the Sisters charging up everyone's batteries:

Then catch their take on Patsy Cline's version of Love Me Honey Do from the famed Woodsongs show:

…and you'll readily see why this is a band on the ascendent and why I'm bein' kind of a drooling hound howling at their moon. My favorite cut on the CD? Well, it's the most charming of the pack: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Just drop dead beautiful. Man, those voices! Sweet sweet sweet, cubed and squared.

Track List:

  • The Christmas Boogie (Cy Coben)
  • Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (Coots / Gillespie)
  • Walking in a Winter Wonderland (Bernard / Smith)
  • Nine Days of Christmas (Jesse Milnes)
  • Beautiful Star of Bethlehem (A. L. Phipps)
  • Silver Bells (Livingston / Evans)
  • Rocking Around the Christmas Tree (J. Marks)
  • Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (traditional)
  • It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (Meredith Wilson)
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas (traditional)
  • Christmas Island (L. Moraine)
  • Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (Loretta Lynn)
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Blane / Martin)
  • Must Be Santa (Moore / Fredericks)
  • Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney (Hardy / Moore Jr.)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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