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My Favorite Christmas Recordings #5 Reverend Horton Heat: We Three Kings

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

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You step from hard city night into the welcoming, familiar warmth of spilled beer and cigarette smoke.  The tender, washing pint glasses behind the bar, nods acknowledgement.  The waitress smiles, eyes like coal sparkling beneath a tangle of crow black hair, reflecting a the light of a half dozen bare bulbs. Peanut shells crack beneath your boots on the warm, wide plank hardwood floor.  You pick the obvious stool, throw one massive leg over the seat, and take off your gloves, loosen the buttons on your coat.

You don’t even need to reach for it.  Two fingers of Yellow Rose Straight Rye in a highball glass, an inch from your right hand.  In the beat of a heart you throw it down, a double, warm and crisp.  Say what they want about Yanks, they know their way around whiskey–you’ve had more than enough of those fucking Laps and their fucking vodka. Just as quickly, the glass is full again–half a glass with two ice cubes.

“Hey, Big Man.” She’s found you–just a matter of time: febrile fingers on your hunched, knotted shoulder, she leans in, kisses you on the cheek. Her breasts press against your bicep.  “You’re early, this year.  Good weather?”

You nod, take another drink. Her scent is like anise over a vale of vanilla–you could breathe it like pure oxygen and be sustained.  In another world, another lifetime…maybe. No. You’ve known a hundred girls like her, so young, intoxicated by the magic. You find your pipe, pack the bowl, and light it.  The clean, aromatic smoke drifts around your head like a wreath

“We could–” She whispers.

“No, Ivy. Not this year.”

The rooms like flicker out, the stage left glowing as the band struts out on stage, road-worn and weary.  Guitar, stand-up bass, a simple drum kit and piano.  They pause to check tuning then turn to the crowd and go straight to their work…dum, dum, dum…three bass beats and the rock-a-billy guitar kicks in, the music swirling like a wild hurricane….

The Reverend Horton Heat owns Rock-A-Billy and has since long before hipster clones crowded seedy bars to hear them roar, and this Christmas album is a treasure as well as a standard of how a band can honor the traditions of the season while not just raising the bar but changing the approach to the bar.  From the first note of the first song, a rollicking ride with Frosty The Snowman, there is no disappointment to be found.  It’s a perfect album and shouldn’t be missed.

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