Storied indie label Kill Rock Stars has released a compilation of holiday covers (and some originals), titled It’s Hard To Dance When It’s Cold And There’s No Music: Kill Rock Stars Winter Holiday Album Volume 2. It’s the label’s first holiday release since 2006 (with its epically droll title drawn from one of the Tom Waits covers therein). One look through the tracklist reveals some of the compilation’s wry pleasures and inspired deep-cut pairings: Bitch and John Cameron Mitchell playing Guster’s “Tiny Tree Christmas”; downtown NYC collective God Is My Co-Pilot AF covering John Prine’s “Christmas in Prison.” But the most captivating picks appear late in the running order — courtesy of recent KRS signee Shaylee and, in a duet, Johanna Samuels and Fruit Bats.
Portland-based Shaylee takes on Big Star’s “Jesus Christ,” infusing the off-beat tune with both a welcome darkness and homespun joy. While the original track feels gloriously vast and stagey, near Wall of Sound-esque, Shaylee brings it a bit more comfortably down-to-earth — skipping through the grimy slush of the Portland streets, singing fractured gospel on a lonely Christmas Day. Covering Big Star makes sense for Shaylee, a multi-instrumentalist and producer who seems to share some of Alex Chilton’s sharp perspective and restless creative energy. (Shaylee’s full-length debut on Kill Rock Stars, Short-Sighted Security, will be released this spring.)
Meanwhile, LA-via-NYC singer-songwriter Johanna Samuels takes on Tom Waits’ “Hold On,” with Fruit Bats in tow for the harmony vocals. Waits’ muted, woolly number is seemingly a holiday song in vibe only (some jingle bells could viably be layered atop the proceedings). But Samuels works wonders by bringing the song into focus, with clearer, airier production and a candid performance. “Hold On” feels familiar and heartfelt, but fortifying too in Samuels’ hands — an ideal track to carry through the holidays and into the new year.
Buy/stream the full Kill Rock Stars holiday compilation here.
Check out more Big Star covers here.
Check out more Tom Waits covers here.
Check out more covers by Shaylee here.
Check out more covers by Johanna Samuels here.
Check out more covers by Fruit Bats here.