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The Xmas-Men

Santa Is Real – 2014 (Rosetta)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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The Xmas-Men is actually Robert Earl Keen's backing band, and "Santa Is Real" is a (mostly) instrumental Christmas album. It's a four-piece act, and the album was executive produced by Keen. Guitarist Rich Brotherton is the only one that takes vocal lead when necessary (which only happens briefly, as on "Merry Xmas from the Family)."

Although much of this album takes on an upbeat, western swing feel, the quartet quiets it down significantly for an acoustic, bluegrass-leaning "The Xmas Song." "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" also has a bluegrass vibe, due to its banjo part. One of the most fun songs is mash-up of "The Little Drummer Boy" along with "Linus & Lucy," which swings gently and melodically. Another treat is "Merry Xmas from the Family" featuring Floyd Domino on honky tonk piano. The Xmas-Men return to the Peanuts gang for the jazzy and lovely "Xmas Time Is Here." It's also worth noting that the album cover and title is a direct reference to the old The Louvin Brothers album, "Satan Is Real."

"Santa Is Real" is not the kind of album that's going to reach out and grab you by the collar. Rather, it's a fairly laidback, well played softly swinging take on some old familiar holiday tunes. Think of it as Christmas chill music.