Nikki Lane, "FaLaLaLaLove Ya," (New West Records). It's good to toss on hot Christmas songs early in the season, before repetition burns off their energy. Add to the proverbial fire the wonderful "FaLaLaLaLove Ya," a new potential standard by Nashville singer Nikki Lane. A torch song among many gems found on the new collection "An Americana Christmas," "FaLaLa ..." is as smoothly delivered as polished chrome. "If I had my way there'd be mistletoes every day," sings Lane as a tom-tom beat echoes behind her and a pedal steel guitar moans. Who's to argue?
A song about the first rushes of love that floats like that giddy feeling itself, Lane's newly penned song is one of many smart works on "An Americana Christmas." Expert North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson injects brass and pedal steel into a twang-boogie version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"; Bob Dylan goes absolutely nuts through the previously released polka version of Brave Combo's "Must Be Santa!" The rising Memphis chanteuse Valerie June upends and reinvents "Winter Wonderland." The collection also features new and lesser known songs by Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Corb Lund, the Old 97's, Dwight Yoakam and others.
The Heliocentrics and Melvin Van Peebles, "The Last Transmission" (Now-Again Records). "The Last Transmission" is a strange funk-jazz trip that teams the lauded writer-director Melvin Van Peebles with British collective the Heliocentrics. Described by the group as "an interplanetary space/love odyssey told in 12 chapters," the album is centered on afro-futurist writings from Van Peebles, best known for his 1971 film "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," a string of strange funk-soul albums and a handful of novels.
Woven through is the music of the Heliocentrics, whose work connects soul, African funk, Sun Ra-heavy jazz and hip-hop to create psychedelic, stoned grooves. The band, which earned praise for "Inspiration Information," its 2009 collaboration with Ethiopian jazz composer Mulatu Astatke, has never sounded so comfortable, as evidenced both on the Van Peebles-heavy first disc and the sublime instrumental dub version.