Master dulcimer player releases perfect party classic, just in time for Christmas
Butch Ross, the hardest-working dulcimer player in show business, has an all-new holiday album just in time for…the holidays. The onomatopoetically titled album, Crash Bang Dulcimer Christmas, is a rousing collection of traditional tunes done in the way that’s pure Butch.
With so many holiday albums available, and more constantly on the way, it takes considerable skill and vision to do something that a) hasn’t been done already and b) is actually pleasing to hear. Butch knocks it out of the park on both accounts.
The opening track, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” has a jazzy drum track that adds an unexpected (and delightful) dimension to the classic piece. Speaking of drums, Butch’s rendition of “Little Drummer Boy” is done in 5/4 time, a la Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.”
“Good Wenceslas” makes expert use of a looper and Ross’s faithful dulcimer to create a wall of strings backed (surprisingly enough) by a beat lifted from Milli Vanilli. Odd as that may seem, it works beautifully and answers the age old question, “What if the Trans Siberian Orchestra was just one guy with a dulcimer?”
The next three tracks on the album were personal favorites of mine before I heard Butch’s rendition—so I admit, there was some trepidation in setting them to play. You just don’t mess with a man’s personal favorites and yet…once again, his reinterpretation of these classic songs is both respectful of the source material and yet innovative enough to make them new and wonderful.
“Trepak (The Russian Dance)” is a pedal-to-floor rendition that proves once and for all the dulcimer can be a rock-and-roll instrument. The jazz/funk version of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Faries” is about as cool and laid-back as any holiday tune can be. It’s become every bit as much a favorite as the original.
Rounding out the trio of “Marc’s Favorites” is the sweet and endearing “Waltz of the Flowers,” played here in a style that evokes a pastoral Tuscan scene. Languid, lazy and gorgeous, it is easily the best version of the song I know.
There are 13 tracks altogether, and every one is a winner, including such perennial favorites as “Christmastime is Here,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Every song is treated lovingly; every song is given some new take, some new breath of life, something that makes it a worthwhile addition to the holiday canon.
That last line is key, by the way.
All too often I hear musicians offer up “interpretations” of classics in which it seems the prime motivation is simply to “do it differently” for the sake of doing it differently without any regard as to whether the damn thing is listenable.
I can say without hesitation that Butch Ross has done right by these old standards.
If the holidays move you, you will want this album. It is available right now in a variety of formats at butchross.com
If I may make a final recommendation, buy a copy of this for your mother this Christmas. She’ll love it, I promise.