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November 28, 2020
 

More Than Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees

Tom Mason: offering a fine option with which to make Christmas merry and bright, in a year when we really need it to be so…

 

By David McGee

 

 

UNDER A MISTLETOE SKY

Tom Mason

www.tommason.net

 

No stranger to holiday music, Tom Mason returns to the fold with his third long playing entry, Under a Mistletoe Sky, a delightful addition to his seasonal catalogue, which began in 2003 with A Slide Guitar Christmas and continued in 2013 with A Pirate’s Christmas. Apparently, this album came about in early 2020 when the pandemic wiped out a UK tour with his band The Blue Buccaneers followed by the collapse of bookings here and abroad through the summer. What better way to pass the time, then, than to write and record some original songs for the coming Yuletide? Indeed, as a writer Mason blesses us with more than holly leaves and Christmas trees, as a few songs slip in overt references to social and cultural issues relevant to the national conversation of late. He keeps it jolly by keeping it edgy musically, bringing fierce energy to the original tunes via blues-rock, rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly templates. His husky vocals seal the deal by drawing you to his messages via a multi-pronged attack of forceful conviction, unalloyed swinging when appropriate, inspired musicianship supporting him and his outstanding new tunes.

‘Under a Mistletoe Sky,’ Tom Mason, the title track from his new Christmas album

‘Little Elvis, King of the Elves,’ Tom Mason, from Under the Mistletoe (Official Video)

The man who gave us A Slide Guitar Christmas returns with a slide guitar howling the opening bars of “O Holy Night” at the beginning of (and midway through, in a guitar solo) a sledgehammer rocker, “Under A Mistletoe Sky” (a song with sly commentary about global warming, by the way). A clever reversal, this, from the Ventures’ approach on the latter’s classic Christmas album by opening with a familiar carol that morphs into a traditional-styled holiday tune, in contrast to the Ventures kicking off each of its familiar seasonal classics with a few bars of a rock ‘n’ roll hit of the day (“the day” being the mid-‘60s) before making a seamless segue into the likes of “Jingle Bells” et al. Continuing in a topical vein, the slinky, funky, Latin-tinged “Christmas Boogaloo,” with Mason’s earnest vocal shadowed by Fawn Larson’s sensuous backup (Ms. Larson’s harmony singing is a joy throughout the album), sounds for all the world like an homage to early Santana, in style as well as in the texture and tone of Mason’s tasty guitar solos, whereas the lyrics make mention of “every race across the land celebrating the brown-skinned man born in the town of Bethlehem—that’s right!” Mason goes on to muse, “The Prince of Peace had a perfect plan/a world of love, every woman and man/Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Jew/we can make that dream come true—that’s right!” A rocking pep talk to Saint Nick to get down to business (“Do it for the cause”), “Come On Mr. Claus,” takes off from and later interpolates the melody of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” in a searing guitar solo leaping out from this, one of the album’s more incendiary moments. You won’t have time to catch your breath before Mason and company tear into a raucous tribute of another kind in “Little Elvis, King of the Elves,” this being the tale of a 3’3” elf “in a white jump suit that says TCC” (for the uninitiated, TCB—Taking Care of Business—was Elvis’s logo in the ‘70s; TCC surely stands for Taking Care of Claus), who serves as Kris Kringle’s right hand little man and “surely has a tale to tell.” Mason gives it his best Elvis-style vocal along with a wailing guitar solo in the Scotty Moore vein, as the backup vocalists work their own variation on the “uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh” responses as crafted by the Jordanaires in response to Elvis on “Good Luck Charm.” Piano man Michael Webb stands out repeatedly during the proceedings, but especially so in channeling Jerry Lee Lewis to the max as the driving force behind Mason’s most fervent Christmas wish in “Gift Wrapped Girl,” a self-explanatory title if ever there was one. For that matter, all the participants deserve a tip of the hat for their solid contributions to this effort: Mason, Webb, Ms. Larson, Sheila Lawrence (for her righteous vocalizing on “Under a Mistletoe Sky”), Pete Pulkrabek (drums, percussion and backup vocals), drummer Josh McEwen (on “Come On Mr. Claus”) and bassist Jeff Thorneycroft, who appears on four numbers and boasts a surname right out of Dickens.

‘Christmas Boogaloo,’ Tom Mason, from Under a Mistletoe Sky

‘Come On Mr. Claus,’ Tom Mason, from Under a Mistletoe Sky

‘Christmas in Love,’ Tom Mason, from Under a Mistletoe Sky

The album begins down Louisiana way with “Crazy for Christmas,” a midtempo Crescent City blues gumbo spiced with Mason’s easygoing vocal chronicling his gal’s affection for the Yuletide, humorous responsive backup vocals (listen close) and terrific idiomatic solos from Webb and, on resonator guitar, Mason himself. It’s a warm way to get into the festivities here, just as the closing tune, “Christmas in Love,” a loping ballad conjured with a western flavor, closes out the proceedings by offering a warm celebration of love and happiness at Yuletide. “This is what memories are made of,” Mason sings, “it’s Christmastime/and I’m in love.” Put a bow on that and you have one fine option with which to make Christmas merry and bright, in a year when we really need it to be so.

Under a Mistletoe Sky is available at Amazon, at www.tommason.net and at https://tommason1.bandcamp.com/album/under-a-mistletoe-sky.