Holiday cd’s with all original holiday music by the Ohio City Singers

Review 1

Snow Days no sophomore slump for OCS

By: pmroche@msn.com on 10 December 2014 20:59  What began several years ago as a young songwriter’s holiday gift to his father has become something of a Cleveland tradition that keeps on giving.

When George Allen asked son Chris to write a song commemorating the season, the ex-Rosavelt troubadour got by with a little help from his friends. The single song became the occasion for a house party thrown by Chris and his sister, Molly. The party then became a jam session—a Christmas craic during which several other candy cane-and-cocoa flavored tunes were work-shopped. Additional sessions yielded an entire disc’s worth of merriment, a look-what-we-did holiday musical memento the gang promptly distributed to friends and family.

Named for Allen’s then-neighborhood (he lived near the house from A Christmas Story house on W. 11th), the Ohio City Singers roster reads like a list of Cleveland musical All-Stars. An established solo artist with a handful of releases notched on his Telecaster, Allen also plays guitar in Lonesome Stars and Boys From the County Hell, a popular Pogues tribute act. Doug McKean (who assumes the Shane MacGowan role in that group) serves as OCS’s banjo and mandolin picker—and foil to Allen’s straight-laced front man. The Boys’ bassist (Tom Prebish) and accordionist (Nick Stipanovich) were also drafted for Allen’s annual holiday project. Bluesman Austin “Walkin’ Cane” Charanghat lends his distinctive gravelly voice to OCS, in addition to his tasty electric slide chops and bluesy string bends. Multi-instrumentalist Brent Kirby (who performs regularly in Gram Parsons tribute New Soft shoe) swaps his guitar for drums while moonlighting in OCS. Matt Sobol and Kelly Wright likewise contribute guitar, vocals, and assorted percussion to the mirthful mix.

Encouraged by peers as well as the regular old townsfolk who frequented their gigs , The Singers cut an “official” OCS album in 2008 to get their stuff to a wider audience; until then only a few insiders had copies of their home-brewed demo CDs. Produced by Don Dixon (REM, Smithereens) Love and Hope contains several of OCS’s already-established musical chestnuts, including “White Cleveland Christmas,” “Eggg Nogg,” “Real Good Christmas Time,” and “Holiday Hop.” The band showcased those originals and more at concerts throughout the holiday season, delighting kids with their playful spin on television “hits” from How The Grinch Stole Christmas (“You’re a Mean One”) and Rankin-Bass special The Year Without a Santa Claus (“Snow & Heat Miser Song”). A couple local radio stations inserted tracks from Love and Hope into their holiday rotation, and WKYC-TV even teamed with the band’s Coats for Kids charity campaign.

Now OCS are keeping the spirit of the season alive with another collection of self-penned classics celebrating all things Christmas on the Erie shore. Emphasizing the group’s ability to see the magic of the holidays through a child’s eyes, Snow Days is an upbeat batch of alt-country / Americana-influenced rock that doesn’t really let up until solemn, forgiveness-inspired swansong “Christmas All Over the World.”

“OCS Fight Song” reignites the party with some feisty chanting by the band’s makeshift choir. The opener also serves to introduce the players and plug their bands: The lyrics find The Boys From the County Hell “guarding the beer” and Kirby’s Jack Fords “working the grill” out back. Rustbelt rocker / WNCX personality Michael Stanley is the celebrity disc jock announcing school closings on the inclement title cut, whereon Allen and McKean make life fifth graders granted reprieve from an afternoon of arithmetic and social studies. “Holiday Heartbreaker” is a sleigh bell-adorned ditty about St. Nick bringing Allen’s narrator not a bicycle—but a girl as cold as an icicle.

Matt Sobol takes lead vocals on “Down My Chimney Tonight,” a piano and acoustic guitar-driven fantasy of the I-Woke-Up-and-Saw-Santa-Claus-in-the-Living-Room variety. The dreamy “Make Believe” continues the peace-on-Earth motif started by OCS with Love and Hope’s “Suspension of Disbelief. Echoey reverb guitar and wistful squeezebox mingle with the group’s Mamas & Papas-styled bah-bah-bahs to create a shimmery atmosphere where imagination runs amok—and everyday can be like Christmas.

On “One Day Closer,” Walkin’ Cane pledges not to make his sister sad in an effort to make Santa’s good list. It’s a cheery reminder that Christmas is right around the corner—and serves notice to tots that a certain jolly old fellow may have them under surveillance. Decorated by Dixon’s plaintive trombone, “Snow Angel” harkens back to holiday songs of yore—those romantic Bing Crosby / Burl Ives staples in which lovers take shelter from the cold, only to venture back out, spread their wings, and leave their history imprinted on the frigid frosty white. “Haven’t Said Goodbye to Christmas” has McKean hearing the holidays long after December 25th— in the birdsong of spring. Santa Claus recruits OCS members as elves on The Pogues-ish “Up and Away,” whose ho-ho-ho refrains again capture the inimitable pipes of Allen’s enthusiastic (and indubitably well-liquored) OSC basement choir.

The premise of “All I Want for Christmas Is a Happy New Year” seems obvious, but apparently hasn’t been put to song until now. Copping 1950’s rockabilly guitar licks (a la Chuck Berry and Scotty Moore) Walkin’ Cane surfs his way through a laundry list of things he doesn’t need this Christmas before cutting to the chase: I don’t need a brand new car or a shiny new ring / I don’t want a trip to Oklahoma / I only want one thing / I don’t want none of your Monopoly money / It only brought one thing—tears! “This Is Christmas” is a picture postcard of an idyllic holiday morn set to music, with vignettes tracing the course of the wonder-filled day—starting with children waking their parents at the crack of dawn.

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