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Christmas with a twist (and a twang and all that jazz)

Holiday music gets a long overdue update

Jane Lynch with Kate Flannery, and Tim Davis

Images provided by venues


Welcome back to the only month of the year that comes with its own playlist, to be enjoyed and/or endured in every concert hall, gin mill, and drug store in the nation. Most folks know exactly how they feel about “holiday music”—magical memory maker or nausea-inducing treacle. But between those two extremes an open-minded explorer can discover all sorts of unexpected treasures, including the following three promising-sounding events. As an additional service to anyone participating in either the Little Drummer Boy Challenge (you’re out the second you hear the opening notes of the ubiquitous song in question each year) or its more recent offspring, Whamageddon (same concept, but the tune to be avoided is “Last Christmas”), we’ve calculated your risk of exposure.


Amy Helms’s Rockin’ Twangy & Blue Holiday Bash

Sunday, December 8, at the Tralf (tralfmusichall.com)


Why you know the headliner: You may not recognize this Woodstock native by name, but Americana fans may be familiar with her alt-country/gospel/bluegrass-flavored band Ollabelle or her two solo albums, and just about everybody knows her father Levon’s voice and drumming with the Band. Her mother, Libby Titus, was part of the ’70s singer/songwriter explosion. (Fun fact: After Titus and Levon split when Amy was six, Titus began a relationship with Levon’s lifelong buddy Dr. John, who also played a role in Amy’s musical heritage.) Helm was a driving force behind both her dad’s late-life emergence as a solo artist and the legendary “Midnight Ramble” concert series in the family barn.


Why you should go: If you attended one of the Rambles, or caught Levon on tour—perhaps at UB’s Center for the Arts several years back—you already know that Amy is not one to coast on her famous last name. She’s a gritty, powerhouse vocalist and skilled multi-instrumentalist with compelling stage presence. And you just know she’s gonna have a hell of a backing band.


Who else is on the bill: Buffalo rocker Tony Tripi and bluesman Jony James open the evening.


“Little Drummer Boy” threat level: Medium to low. True, the profession runs in the family, but the song seems too solemn for the occasion.

“Last Christmas” threat level: Low, unless it’s a left-field choice reinvented as a blues.



Jane Lynch’s Swinging Little Christmas

Thursday and Friday, December 19 and 20, at the Bear’s Den, Niagara Falls (senecaniagaracasino.com)


Why you know the headliner: If you were a Glee fan, you know her as the lovably despicable cheerleading coach. Before that career-making role, she was part of Christopher Guest’s rep company in beloved improvised mockumentaries like Best in Show, followed by one-shot appearances in literally dozens of network TV series and animated comedies; these days she hosts Hollywood Game Night.


Why you should go: While you may not think of Lynch primarily as a singer, her time on Glee proved she had chops—and she played Miss Hannigan in the 2012 Broadway revival of Annie. She’s also bound to make a charming and quick-witted emcee.


Who else is on the bill: Joining Lynch onstage are longtime collaborator/sidekick Kate Flannery (Meredith on The Office, another role we don’t associate with singing, but she also did a stint with ’90s indie rockers Monopuff), Nashville singer and Glee vocal arranger Tim Davis, and Southern California jazz group the Tony Guerrero Quintet. 


“Little Drummer Boy” threat level: Moderate to low. It does have its campy appeal.

“Last Christmas” threat level: Moderate. Given the retro theme of the show, it would probably get the Postmodern Jukebox treatment.



The Buffalo Jazz Composers Workshop Ruins Christmas

Saturday, December 7, in the Taylor Theater at the Kenan Center, Lockport (kenancenter.org)


Why you know them: Both individually and collectively, Tim Clarke (trumpet), Kelly Bucheger (sax), Nelson Rivera (sax), Jared Tinkham (guitar), Alec Dube (vibraphone), Joe Goehle (bass), and John Bacon (drums) are staples of the WNY jazz scene.


Why you should go: Jazz musicians have been “ruining” Christmas—in the sense of covering holiday classics—since the era of Satchmo, Ella, and Lady Day. The practice is actually a terrific intro to the music for total newcomers, because you’ll be able to hear how skilled arrangers and improvisers like the BJCW can transform a song you know by heart into a jumping-off point for something delightfully different and unexpected.


“Little Drummer Boy” threat level: Defcon 10. How can they resist?

“Last Christmas” threat level: Extremely low, unless they truly are out to ruin Christmas.



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