When is a seasonal album not a seasonal album? When the artist who made the record, in this case, the Michael Falzarano Extended Family, illustrates how the sentiments permeating the music are worth savoring at times beyond the holiday proper. A bandleader in his own right as well as an erstwhile member of Hot Tuna and The New Riders of the Purple Sage, the guitarist/songwriter’s A Kaleidoscope Christmas is a natural and logical extension of his varied career.
Not surprisingly, both names and song titles recall Falzarano’s past and further certify the validity of this current work. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane and Tuna appear on various of these dozen tracks, perhaps most notably together on “Bethlehem Requiem For Diana,” a tribute to the bassist’s late wife. Likewise sentimental, but healthily so by dint of its uplifting coda, is “A Psychedelic Cowboy Christmas (In Memory of Buddy Cage),” which constitutes a homage to the long-time pedal steeler of NRPS. And in an overt act of faith and hope for the future, “You’re Still Standing” closes the album with a nod to the coming new year featuring that esteemed denizen of Woodstock, New York, Professor Louie, on Hammond B3 organ and clavinet.
The camaraderie in those numbers is sufficient to reinforce the meaning of this record’s title. Jason Crosby lends his piano skills to “4:20, 12/24,” thereby reinforcing its jaunty rhythm. The brilliant multi-instrumentalist then handles the fiddle with such panache on “The Eggnog Shuffle (Instrumental),” he elicits the bluegrass foundation of the tune so that it’s as authentic in its own way as the modified twelve-bar of “Christmas Blues”. Meanwhile, Klyph Black on bass and Dave Diamond on drums anchor a loose, spontaneous air throughout this roughly sixty minutes playing time: it’s reminiscent of nothing so much as a memorable holiday party—but one that turns into an amiable jam session.
As with “Ho Ho Ho,” none of these Falzarano compositions is likely to become as durable a chestnut the one cover here, “Jingle Bells.” But as with that perennial tune serving as the basis for a “Jingle Jam,” each original serves its purpose in helping crystallize a sense of community, not just among the musicians, but in the listeners; it’s a worthwhile bonding sensation to share in this difficult 2020, whether in the form of the high-spirits permeating “Boogie Woogie Christmas” or the contemplative air emanating from “The Tree Nobody Wanted.”
Michael Falzarano hardly hogs the spotlight here, but it’s clear he set the tone for these sessions with a distinct lack of artifice. In his singing and playing and, in recording and mixing the record as well, he displays that rare pragmatism of the musician who wants to make sure every participant’s contributions are heard to their fullest extent. And just as surely as that charitable attitude is deeply rooted in the spirit of Christmas—as are the donations of proceeds from this record–so it is in the wise pooling of talent that conjures the infectious spirit radiating from this recording.
It’s been said that holidays are a state of mind and sure enough, the Michael Falzarano Extended Family’s A Kaleidoscope Christmas represents that precept in action.