Sounds Local: Dreaming of a twangy Christmas
Columnist Sheryl Hunter
It’s time for rockin’ around the Christmas tree and decking the halls and if you are dreaming of a twangy Christmas this year, the Signature Sounds recording artists of The Sweetback Sisters are ready to grant your Christmas wish.
For the past three years, Emily Miller and Zara Bode (not actually sisters) have presented Christmas sing-along concerts throughout the East Coast. These shows feature the sisters’ honky-tonkin’ take on holiday favorites in addition to some country-flavored yuletide fare. But what sets these shows apart from all the other Christmas shows is the audience actually participates by singing along. Lyric sheets are even handed out at the shows to make sure that everyone joins in on the fun.
The Sweetback Sisters will continue its country sing-along tradition with shows at the Iron Horse Music Hall, 20 Center St. in Northampton on Sunday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. The band will also appear at the National Youth Theater at 100 Flat St. in Brattleboro, Vt., on Sunday, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m.
Sweetback sister Emily Miller first got the idea to host a sing-along when she participated in a charity event in Chicago called “Songs of Good Cheer.”
“I was so moved hearing an entire audience sing that I knew I wanted to recreate it with the Sweetback Sisters,” Miller said.
The first Country Christmas Singalong was held in 2009 at the Jalopy Theater in Brooklyn, the band’s home base. It was such a success that it led to more shows.
These shows have been so popular that the Sweetback Sisters recently released a companion CD called “The Sweetback Sisters’ Country Christmas Singlong Spectacular” (Signature Sounds), which is a collection of some of the material they have sung at these shows.
There is a flood of new Christmas music out every season (Rod Stewart and Cee-Lo Green seem to be leading the pack this year), but if you are looking for Christmas music with a distinct twist, than the Sweetback Sisters’ disc is the one for you.
“The Sweetback Sisters’ Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular” opens with the rollicking “Christmas Boogie,” a song that was originally performed by the Davis Sisters, who are a major inspiration of the Sweetback Sisters. The song is a retelling of the Night Before Christmas, complete with some spunky harmonies from the sisters and some hot licks from guitarist Ross Bellenoit.
Old favorites like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” take on a new flavor with the addition of fiddle and boogie-woogie piano. Bode offers up a nice bluesy rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and, while the old songs sound good, it is the more obscure material that makes this a holiday disc worth adding to your collection.
The a cappella “Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney” brings a sense of silliness to this disc and the ladies do Loretta Lynn proud on their cover of her “Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”
Miller and Bode have wonderful voices that sweetly blend together, but we can’t ignore the contributions of the band. Drummer Stefan Amidon handles vocals on the tropical-flavored “Christmas Island,” a song originally made popular by the Andrews Sisters, and fiddler Jesse Milnes contributes “Nine Days of Christmas,” the only original composition here. On this song, about a man nursing a broken heart over the holidays, Milnes sings “I’m cookin’ up a cocktail for Christmas/And opening up packages for two,” giving the tune the feel of an old country heartbreak classic.
This is a disc that will be enjoyed by listeners of all ages and will provide the perfect soundtrack for holiday gatherings. It would also make a nice gift for the Christmas music fan on your list. You also might want to pick up the disc before the show to practice your singing. “The Sweetback Sisters’ Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular” can be purchased at www.signaturesounds.com or at the Signature Sounds holiday store, which is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. before Christmas. It is located at its office at 32 Masonic St. in Northampton. The CD will also be sold at the shows.
Tickets for the Iron Horse show are $12. 50 in advance and $15 at the door. Advance tickets can be purchased at the Northampton Box Office at 76 Main St. in Northampton, online at www.iheg.com or charge by phone at 413-586-8686.
Tickets for the New England Youth Theater show are general admission and are $15. They can be purchased at www.brattleborotix.com
If you are looking for some holiday cheer you won’t want to miss these shows
Girl Howdy at Arts Block Dec. 15
Another honky-tonk outfit, Girl Howdy, plans to transform The Arts Block at 289 Main St. in Greenfield, into a rockin’ roadhouse when it hosts the Holiday Ho Ho Hoe-Down show on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 8 p.m. Local favorites, Girl Howdy feature core members Betsy-Dawn Williams (guitar,vocals) and Paula Bradley (piano,vocals) and promise lots of two-stepping and swing dancing, along with a heavy dose of holiday cheer. Holiday attire is strongly encouraged, so get out your tinsel covered cowboy boots for this one. Advance tickets are $7 and are available at
www.theartsblock.com and are $10 at the door.
The Rendezvous holiday Christmas party Dec. 16, preceded by a surprise Dec. 13
The Rendezvous, 78 3rd St. in Turners Falls, will host its annual Christmas spectacular on Sunday, Dec. 16, at 7 p.m. This is a variety show of sorts with a little bit of everything to get you in the holiday spirit. There will be singers, dancing and a reading of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” There is no charge for admission. The ‘Voo has also announced that it will host a special secret holiday show on Thursday, Dec. 13. The performers will not be announced until Monday, Dec. 10, via the ‘Voos Facebook page and by email to those on its mailing list. For more information, visit www.rendezvoustfma.com or call 413-863-2866.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at