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Old 97's

Love the Holidays – 2018 (New West)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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"Love the Holidays" may read like one of those old timey Christmas album titles. You know, those sanitized, safe for the whole family song sets. Granted, there's nothing particularly family unfriendly on this seasonal collection; however, it's still a fairly typical Old 97's album. Vocalist Rhett Miller is just too angsty to ever make completely overjoyed, celebratory music. This album is typical Old 97's music, in the best sense of the term.

"Christmas Is Coming" is a holiday tune only a musician could truly love. "Christmas is coming," Miller sings, "But I ain't got no dough to buy you a present." His solution? "I'll write you a Christmas song." The album is broken into two sections, of sorts. The first nine songs (including "Christmas Is Coming") are Old 97's originals, while the last five are familiar covers, including the hymns "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

One of the fun songs is "Gotta Love Being A Kid." It finds Miller recalling how wonderful Christmas looked through the eyes of a child. These memories are put atop a Ramones-esque rocking groove. "Rudolph Was Blue" continues the story of the red-nosed one with a soulful, brass horn arrangement. Dan Bern also helped the band write this Rudolph revisit. Although Miller voices the most of these songs, bassist Murry Hammond takes a turn with "Hobo Christmas Song." It's a surprisingly happy tune, despite its homeless-related title and finds Hammond doing some credible yodeling in a few sections. "Christmas is for everyone/Every boy's a mother's son," Hammond reminds us.

As for the covers, Old 97's transform "Angels We Have Heard on High" into a hot-stepping country dance tune, while "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is performed with a touch of surf rock guitar. The album closes with "Blue Christmas," which fits Miller's (many times) sad sack musical personality quite well.

The best thing one can say about Old 97's "Love the Holidays," is that the band is just being itself throughout. It's not a quartet putting on Santa hats and attempting to be something it's not - for the holidays. "Love the Holidays" is just one more reason to love Old 97's.