Big Harp George Does Christmas
Blue Mountain Records
Publicity: Blind Raccoon
By Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro © October 2023
This is a first for both Big Harp George and me. For George, it’s his first ever Christmas release, and in twenty plus years of doing reviews, it is my first ever review of a Christmas release. Furthermore, Big Harp George Does Christmas is George’s sixth release, and the second within six months.
Unlike any other Christmas album you’ve heard in the last hundred or so years, Big Harp George Does Christmas contains eleven all original songs by George Bisharat, or as we know him, Big Harp George. How refreshing! However, with that said, George himself is even shocked about it. Here, in his own words, are his thoughts:
“No one in their right mind sets out to record an album of Christmas originals. Neither did I. People often want to hear the standards, and the listening window for a holiday album is barely more than a month each year. But sometimes we yield to creative urges whether they make sense or not… Our goal in recording these decidedly non-standard tunes was to make good music that people would be tempted to listen to all year-round. Hopefully we achieved that goal… Please don’t let me do this again. It’s been a strain on my mental health and hell on my wallet.”
For this project, Big Harp George – on lead vocals and harmonica – is joined by: Aaron Lington and Doug Rowan on baritone saxophone; Alexander Petterson and June Core on drums; Ben Torres on flute; Chris Burns, the album’s producer, on keyboards: Derrick D’Mar Martin on drums and percussion; Ed Morrison on trumpet; Joe Kyle Jr. on bass; Kid Andersen on guitar, bass and horn arrangements; Little Charlie Baty on guitar; Michael Peloquin on tenor and baritone saxophone, and horn arrangements; Mike Rinta on trombone and horn arrangements; James, Dwayne and Walter Morgan – aka Sons Of the Soul Revivers – on backing vocals; and Tia Carroll on lead vocals.
The opening track is titled “Bad Santa” and it sheds some light on Santa’s ulterior motives for sneaking around people’s homes. As George tells it, he believes Mrs. Claus has cut Santa off and that he’s hoping to find someone willing to give him a bit more than some milk and cookies during his wee morning hour visits to their homes. Musically, with the whole horn and rhythm section in full action, the track has a wonderful big band feel.
Having had to Google the word Carioca, I now know that “Carioca Christmas” is related to celebrating Christmas in Rio de Janeiro. According to George, “If you want a white Christmas, stay away from here” but on the other hand “You just might see Mrs. Claus in a thong”. Yikes! As if a child seeing his/her mommy kissing Santa Claus isn’t enough trauma. With the band in a smokin’ rumba groove, the track is highlighted by strong harmonica and flute leads by George and Ben; and the Sons Of The Soul Revivers adding a fabulous old-school Doo-Wop vibe to the vocals.
As with any other organization with a large staff, that Amazon location at the North Pole has its share of disgruntled employees. Although the scab elves are still busy at work, it appears there are “Reindeer On Strike”. According to Rudolph and the herd, they just don’t get enough credit for “making a sleigh fly that’s loaded with presents and a real hefty guy”. As for Santa “Down in the mall he’s making nice, but up in the sky the dude is as cold as ice.” Musically, while repeatedly hitting those high-end Jimmy Reed notes, the track features some of George’s best harmonica work; fiery and thunderous rhythm from the horn and rhythm sections; and comical backing vocals from the disgruntled reindeer – aka the Sons Of the Soul Revivers.
If you’ve ever heard a Christmas song that was an instrumental, it was obviously a standard being performed by an orchestra without any use of vocals. Still, the chances are very good that you were still able to sing-a-long with it. That said, I now present you with this question: Is an original Christmas instrumental really a Christmas song if no one knows the words? My take, after hearing “Snow Shuffle”, is yes. Give it a listen and decide for yourselves. This foot tappin’, knee slapper features Joe laying down some of the disc’s most profound bass lines; Chris at disc’s best on piano leads; and the guy with the big harp performing magic on his melodic runs.
This song was George’s first Christmas song and it appeared on a 2018 release of his that featured the late, great “Little Charlie” Baty. Lyrically, it tells the melancholy tale of a down and out George – who has no parents, a family that’s turned their backs on him, uncaring friends, and a girlfriend whose family won’t accept him – wondering “Where’ll I Be For Christmas?”; and musically, between Charlie’s patented guitar licks and George’s smoking harmonica leads, it’s by far the best blues Christmas song these ears have ever heard.
If frankincense, myrrh and gold don’t impress you, then you’ve got the wrong three kings bringing you gifts. On the other hand, if straight up, ass kickin’, string bending blues is what floats your boat, “Thee Three Kings” you want stopping by your manger are Freddie, Albert and B. B. On this very cleverly written track, just by the mention of those three Kings you’ve got to know this one is all about the blues guitar, and as George mentions each one, Kid nails all of their styles. Bye-bye “Little Drummer Boy”, this just became my favorite Christmas song.
Style wise, “That Grinch Is Me” is my favorite track of the lot. It oozes old school, fifties style R&B – the kind of number that immediately upon its start, sends all the slow dancers out onto the dance floor. Although the lyrics aren’t very self-flattering, George is at disc’s best singing them. Using lines like: “You see pretty presents wrapped in ribbons and bows. I see recycling and the landfill where it goes”; and “Kids whine for decorations, who am I to say no. Come time to pack them up, I’ll be alone out in the snow”; George has no problem owning up to being a Grinch.
Other tracks on what could very well become a cult type Christmas album include: “War On Christmas”; “Coquito Girl”; “Fireside Waltz” (a second instrumental); and “It’s New Years Eve.”
Should like to find out more about Big Harp George, just go to – www.bigharpgeorge.com. Remember, wherever you go and whomever you speak with, please tell them their friend the Blewzzman sent you.
“The Blues Is My Passion And Therapy”
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro
Blues Editor @ www.Mary4Music.com
2011 “Keeping The Blues Alive” Award Recipient