Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
If you wanted a dose of retro, organic, rockabilly glitz with your holiday cheer, there was really only one choice. Brian Setzer pretty much locked that market up for the past 15 years. That has now changed.
JD McPherson bursts out of the gate with his debut Christmas offering, penning or co-writing all 11 tracks in a frenzy of twanging guitars, ringing reverb and honking sax. McPherson crafts these tunes with the same care he applies to his non-seasonal fare. And, as he proudly declares in the promotional material, he didn’t sling this out as a simple cash grab or stop-gap release, but as a full-fledged addition to his catalog, his fourth official album.
The lyrics are witty, humorous and entertaining, poking fun at holiday attire (“Ugly Sweater Blues”), rocking out with Mr. and Mrs. Claus headed for a divorce (“Claus vs. Claus,” a duet with Lucie Silvas playing the part of Claus’ wife) and the bummer of a kid opening lousy presents (the title track, “Socks”). There’s even a song that encourages acting like it’s Christmas every day in the twisting opening “All the Gifts I Need.”
Things get finger-popping lounge on “What’s that Sound?” with walking bass and pounding piano and on “Santa’s Got a Mean Machine,” a boogie woogie about Santa trading his sled for something more in the hot-rod variety (“Red bucket seats, Santa go, go, go/ The wide whites keep him rollin’ low and slow”). McPherson warns Santa to get into shape — that is, gain weight — to prepare for the season on the New Orleans jazzy “Hey Skinny Santa,” where he sings “Fill him up with beignets and a box of pralines/ We’ll get his red britches bursting at the seams.”
Just try to get through this 33-minute disc without a goofy smile. Can’t be done, which is McPherson’s intent. No need digging out those Setzer albums this Christmas for your hep-cat and kitty party needs. There’s a new rockabilly rebel mixing it up, and if McPherson’s first wildly successful foray into swinging holiday cheer is any indication, this might be the start of something big.