Merry Axemas, Vol. 2

Various Artists

Epic Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/23/1998

Ah, nothing like the sounds of the holidays with two days to go before Christmas. The shoppers duking it out at Toys 'R' Us for the last Furby... the kids being traumatized during their yearly visit to Santa... the sound of electric guitar slaughtering what used to be a classic Christmas carol...

Whoa, Lumpy, back up there...

Drawing on the success of the first Merry Axemas volume, executive producer Steve Vai compiles, with the help of ten of today's hottest guitar players, a new collection of plugged-in Christmas songs on Merry Axemas, Vol. 2. And while I don't think this disc will be replacing Andy Williams on my stereo for holidays to come (gimme a break, I'm a child of the '70s), there are some interesting spins put on some of these numbers.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The guitar work falls into three distinct categories. First, you have the artists whose work has already been hailed as ground-breaking, and they do not fail to deliver the goods. Stu Hamm's bass guitar rendition of "Sleigh Ride" and ex-Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin's version of "O Come All Ye Faithful" stand out in this regard.

The second camp features artists whose work might not be as heralded, but this album helps to further their cause. The more I hear of Steve Stevens (who turned my thinking around last year as part of Bozzio Levin Stevens), the more I'm impressed (though I would have liked to have heard him stay with the acoustic vein on "Do You Hear What I Hear"), while ex-Ozzy Osbourne axeman Zakk Wylde turns in a phenomenal acoustic performance of "White Christmas. I'd even throw Robin Trower into this category with his version of "O Little Town Of Bethlehem."

Finally, you have "the also-rans"... those artists whose work was good, but just didn't stand out at the end. Ted Nugent ("Deck The Halls"), Steve Lukather ("The Christmas Song") and, surprisingly, Al Di Meola ("Carol Of The Bells") are examples of who I'd put in the third category.

Merry Axemas, Vol. 2 has a more difficult fight against it -- the uphill battle against tradition. Now, I know that Christmas carols come in all shapes and sizes, and I can appreciate and welcome a musical diversity. But it did take me a long time to feel comfortable with these rendidions, and I'm still not at the point where I'd recommend slipping this one in the office CD player as the hold music. Such is the difficult road that pioneers face.

Merry Axemas, Vol. 2 is really an album aimed more towards the adolescent who might be starting to think that Christmas carols are cornball. Hearing some of their musical idols shred the classics might just give them a fresh look at the classics -- and in this instance, that's not a bad thing. For the rest of us, once you've listened to it a few times, it starts to grow on you. Just be sure to give it a few listens -- otherwise, it will kill your spirit faster than getting the yearly ugly tie under the tree.

Rating: B-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.