With a dash of mistletoe and marijuana, Michael Falzarano has created a Christmas album that transcends the cliches of the pop holiday music genre.
Asked what he was intending to do with the 12-song release, the New Jersey guitarist and vocalist says, “I was pretty much intending to make this album.”
“I only do what I do,” says Falzarano, who leads the Englishtown Project, is a member of New Riders of the Purple Sage and was a long-time player in Hot Tuna. “It’s kind of a funny, cliche thing to say, but on all my albums I play like I play, and I write songs like I write them. On all these songs, that’s country, Americana, blues jam-band stuff.”
“A Kaleidoscope Christmas” is made up of 11 original songs and just one cover, “Jingle Bells.” One of the more unique songs is “4:20, 12/24,” which opens with the unlikely yuletide greeting, “Well, it’s Christmas Eve and I smoked more weed than I should have.”
“I had been writing songs for the album, and knowing that I was going to come in and record, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my wife, and she said, ‘You should write a 4:20 song,’ and it just sort of came to me, ‘like 4:20 12/24’? Pretty much once I had the chorus, it came to me pretty quickly.”
In the humorous song, the singer can’t find the door — or the floor — and swears his Christmas tree is looking at him.
“The Tree Nobody Wanted” is quite different.
Falzarano said the phrase that became the title came to him after he dozed off while his wife was driving them from his New Jersey house to his New York apartment. The album was almost finished, but he just had to add this song.
“While she was driving I was writing it in my head. How would I tell this story?” he says. “In the 20-minute ride that was left, I pretty much formulated the whole thing in my head.”
He cites Scott Guberman’s “great organ parts” and Clare Maloney’s and Nate DeBrine’s backing vocals as tying the tune together.
“It’s my Hallmark song,” he says with a laugh. “It could be a Sunday night Hallmark movie. I gotta say that a lot of people love that tune, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s one of those things that didn’t exist, and now it exists and it’s on an album.”
The record ends on an optimistic note with “You’re Still Standing,” which says good riddance to 2020 — “what’s done is done, that race is run” — and counts down to the new year.
The roots of Falzarano’s Christmas album go back to the 1996 Jorma Kaukonen record, “Christmas,” which he co-produced, co-wrote and performed on. He says he had some leftover songs and wrote some others over the years in hopes of recording a follow-up album, but they couldn’t make it work with their schedules.
However, Kaukonen and Jack Casady, both of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna fame, are on “A Kaleidoscope Christmas,” as are a number of standouts from the jam and Americana rock scene, including Pete Sears, Professor Louie and Miss Marie, Jason Crosby, and Falzarano’s Englishtown Project bandmates Tom Circosta, Klyph Black, Dave Diamond, Rob Wolfson and Maloney. Kaukonen’s contributions include his guitar work on the album’s two memorable instrumentals, “The Eggnog Shuffle” and the haunting “Bethlehem Requiem for Diana.”
“It was really a labor of love,” Falzarano says of the camaraderie with his guest musicians. “I got to play with some of my oldest friends. Jorma and Jack I’ve known for 43 years, I think; Pete Sears, 25; the rest of the guys in the same 25-30-year range. It’s really nice to call on them, and with all of those guys on that record, they were in from minute number one. There was never, ‘I don’t know, I don’t have the time,’ or ‘How much are you going to pay me?’ That was really great and really heartwarming.”