critic’s pick 306: big bad voodoo daddy, ‘it feels like christmas time’

big bad voodoo daddyIt Feels Like Christmas Time isn’t the first foray Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has taken into holiday music. But it is, in many ways, the most appealing. Unlike many Christmas recordings that treat seasonal music as a ripe target for any novelty style that can be hammered into place, It Feels Like Christmas Time is unusually streamlined. There are a few instances where BBVD pianist, arranger and orchestrator Joshua Levy takes some broad liberties in the name of fun. Mostly, though, the music flows with the same matured ensemble swing that has adorned several of the band’s recent recordings.

With the ‘90s swing revival long in the past, BBVD has chilled its sound somewhat, allowing familiar holiday fare like Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and the album’s title tune (the record’s lone original song, penned by vocalist/frontman Scotty Morris) to glide with along with the kind of big band elegance that shines just as brightly off the dance floor as on it.

That’s not to say there isn’t a sense of invention about the record. Run Rudolph Run deviates from its ingrained Chuck Berry flight pattern for a sense of R&B exuberance. The wind-up of the horns almost makes you feel Morris and the band are going to rip into the Otis Redding rave-up I Can’t Turn You Loose. We Three Kings, however, slides into reverential cool that steers briefly into piano trio swing and brass ensemble elegance.

The big deviation from holiday norm is Winter Wonderland, which becomes a rumba flavored party piece. While you can almost see the conga lines forming as the groove percolates, the music is neatly tempered by Morris’ conversational singing. But the brass steals the show, parading on as the record fades to black. It’s exhilarating proof that there is no better way to end a party than to exit swinging.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s Dec. 3 concert at the Lyric Theatre had been postponed. A new date in 2014 is to  be announced.

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