Critic's pick: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, 'It Feels Like Christmas Time'

Contributing Music WriterNovember 25, 2013 

Lexington began 2013 with the swing merchants of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy ushering in one of the first broadcasts of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at its new home in the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center. Now we start to wrap up the year with a full performance by the band and the fine new holiday recording it cooked up during the intervening months.

It Feels Like Christmas Time isn't the first foray that 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 when BBVD pianist, arranger and orchestrator Joshua Levy takes some broad liberties in the name of fun. Mostly, though, the music flows with the same mature 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, written by vocalist/frontman Scotty Morris) to glide 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 it feel as if 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. You can almost see the conga lines forming as the groove percolates, but the music is neatly tempered by Morris' conversational singing. 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 had been scheduled to perform Tuesday at the Lyric Theatre in Lexington, but that concert is being rescheduled for sometime next year. Call the Lyric at (859) 280-2218.

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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