Lisa Biales – At Christmas | Album Review

Lisa Biales – At Christmas

Big Song Music – 2023

10 tracks; 33 minutes

Although there are a few great Christmas records in the blues (BB King and Roomful Of Blues are two favorites in our house!) it is always good to find a new addition to the selection, particularly when most of the material is original. Ohio’s Lisa Biales worked with producer Tony Braunagel in Los Angeles where they recorded at Johnny Lee Schell’s Ultratone Studio. Jeff Paris adds keys (plus harmonica and glockenspiel on one track) and either Chuck Berghofer or David J Carpenter are on bass to form the core band with Braunagel’s drums and Schell’s guitar. Richie ‘La Bamba’ Rosenberg scored the horn charts which are superbly delivered on three tracks by Mark Pender on trumpet, Jerry Vivino on sax and clarinet and Garrett Smith on trombone; sax is added to two further tracks by Vivino and Joe Sublett and strings appear on one cut courtesy of Doug Hamilton (violin) and Michael G Ronstadt (cello). The writing credits are three written just by Lisa, three written by Lisa and Tony Braunagel and two by Lisa, Tony and Jeff Paris; Johnny Lee Schell offers one song and there is one cover.

The title track opens with Braunagel’s marching drums and adds a New Orleans feel as Lisa sings warmly and seductively about the delights of the season and there are solo opportunities for sax, trombone and guitar. The sole cover is a Louis Prima song, “Shake Hands With Santa Claus” which swings like crazy in La Bamba’s brilliant horn arrangement, as does Schell’s “That’s What I Like About Christmas” with some fine guitar and Sublett’s sax solo topping off the tune. The pace drops for “When The Snowflakes Fall”, beautifully sung with poignant lyrics: “one snowy evening in the late December a bill collector hummed his haughty tune. Too bad she had to leave this place so soon”. The jaunty “The Boy I Met For Christmas” has an old fashioned feel with Jeff Paris’ chromatic harp sounding particularly Christmassy while Lisa celebrates a favorite pet in “Lulu Magoo”, reassuring Santa that she won’t bite; the clarinet and trumpet add a jazzy, retro feel to this one.

The lyrics of “Mary’s Little Baby Boy” contain many of the traditional Christmas elements but the music rocks out with Schell’s huge chords and slide, making it the heaviest track on the album. Back to a more traditional style musically, Lisa confesses that “I Like You Mister Claus”, though she is not entirely the innocent that she pretends: “Hey Santa, you’re getting kinda frisky, if we carry on things could get risky. Don’t you have more presents to deliver? Come back any time, I’ll make you shiver”. Lisa appears to have been worried about making this “Christmas Record”, asking “How do I get in the mood to sing a holiday song in September?”, the strings and piano accompaniment making this one of the traditional-sounding tracks. The band sets a Southern groove with Schell’s greasy slide as Lisa details what she defines as “Christmas Cheer”, including references to many traditional Christmas images, closing the album in festive mood.

If you are looking for an addition to your Christmas music collection this might just be what you are seeking.

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