Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part Two

I’m generally in support of the vinyl renaissance, though ongoing trends in catalog releases give me pause. Basically, the recording industry has rediscovered a means of fleecing its customers, who didn’t need Forrest Gump: The Soundtrack when it was a two-disc CD set, let alone a three-LP reissue on red, white, and blue vinyl. For a vinyl reissue to catch my attention, the songs need to be ones that I can’t hear on any given classic-rock station at any given time of the day—and that’s why I recently put back half an armful of used records in order to purchase a new, double-LP copy of Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part Two. A chimera of two retro fads—the Cocktail Nation craze of the ’90s and renewed interest in LPs and turntables—Cocktail Christmas is making my December. These are Christmas carols in which Santa’s rosy cheeks are actually gin blossoms, musical attempts to square Space Age, pre-rock-’n’-roll notions of cool with centuries old traditions and sounds imported from then-hot vacation destinations. (How’d you like to spend Christmas with “Christmas Island”?) Part one hogs most of the prime cuts—like Kay Starr’s swinging “(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With The Bag” and Billy May’s “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” mambo—but part two has an ace in its deck in the form of Nancy Wilson’s take on “The Christmas Waltz.” I might keep Christmas Cocktails on the shelf for 11 months out of the year, but it’s an LP worth having in my collection because hi-fi heart-melters like “The Christmas Waltz” deserve to be pressed in vinyl. (Even if they were digitally remastered before they were returned to their original analog state.) [Erik Adams]


Mustache Cultivation Kit

I don’t shave my face, but taking home the mustache cultivation kit from Nick Offerman’s woodshop made me wish for some beard hair to ritualistically remove from my chin with the beautifully crafted razor and lather brush. The full kit includes a stand that holds the razor and brush, all handsomely crafted from the wood of fallen trees in Northern California. Mustache connoisseurs have the option of buying individual items, and the opportunity to customize the stand with initials. The kit really makes the bathroom countertop pop, transforming a mundane setup into one that speaks of refinery, sophistication, and the rustic sort of warmth that comes from smooth, sturdy wooden objects. My husband tested out the goods, attaching a replacement metal razor cartridge he already had stocked at home (the Offerman Woodshop hasn’t found a domestic manufacturer for the hardware, but the website says they “remain ever vigilant for such a source”). The day I bought the cultivation kit home he had a several-day stubble, likely the by-product of using drug-store products lacking in any aesthetic pleasurableness. He reported that the act of shaving made him feel like a lumberjack Ron Swanson type, feeling very much like the Parks And Recreation star while using the products—until he finished, revealing baby-faced smoothness as a result of the shave. Oh well. Maybe with the kit he’ll grow a mustache worthy of the kit’s maker. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]


Yusuf/Cat Stevens Live


Three months ago to the day, I Staff Picked one of my top-five favorite artists, Cat Stevens. I had no idea then that just two days later he would announce his first U.S. tour in 38 years. I had long filed him the category of artists I would never have the chance to experience live. It wasn’t until the day before his Chicago show that I received my ticket confirmation. The entire trajectory was overwhelming to say the least, and I found myself in a blissed out haze as I walked into the Chicago Theater. The man sitting next to me attempted to make small talk and the most I could muster were some incoherent beeps and boops with the occasional, “I’m so excited.” I had scoped out previous set lists though, and was happy to see he’d been opening with “The Wind.” I felt almost prepared. I wasn’t at all. The opening notes alone made my eyes tear up. Who am I kidding? I full-on cried, as it became crystal clear I was having what for me might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, if he does tour again, GO! I’m saying this from as objective a standpoint as I can muster—he’s still got it. Regardless of a 38-year touring hiatus, Yusuf still sounds good. I’ve seen other popular artists past their prime perform, like Bob Dylan, who I was unable to understand, or B.B. King, who sort of just scooted and scatted around, playing a few things here and there while his band carried the real weight. Yusuf on the other hand still has his voice (see above video) and is willing to play upward of 25 songs and showcases them without distraction, making the show well worth the ticket price. [Becca James]