Indianapolis is home to many holiday traditions the lighting of the Monument, the arrival of the cherub, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's "Yuletide Celebration," just to name a few.
But there's another long-standing holiday tradition that doesn't get the media attention it deserves. I'm talking about the release of the annual winter Bob and Tom CD set, this year called "As Big as a Hat."
Bob and Tom a simplified way of saying "Bob Kevoian, Tom Griswold, Chick McGee, Kristi Lee, Dean Metcalf, Steve Allee and many more talented folks" don't appeal to everyone. If you have a limited tolerance for naughty jokes and scatological humor, you're better off steering clear of both the show and the CDs. But you already knew that.
But fans of the Bob & Tom Show know that the appeal goes beyond the prurient. And that the self-deprecating crew is almost obsessive about generating material.
That spills out into the discs. Bob and Tom could easily release a single disc of the year's funniest bits each year and listeners would have no business complaining. But "As Big as a Hat" not only features two compilation CDs, it also offers a third disc focused on segments with comedian Jimmy Pardo. Plus a "making of" DVD. Nicely packaged, the set sells at www.bobandtom.com for $29.95 with an older double CD thrown in for good measure. (And a portion going to charity.)
That same not-cutting-corners approach applies to the musicianship on the discs' original songs. As any open-mic-night attendee knows, song parodies are easy. Bob and Tom, though, go the extra mile and create original music with a firm grasp of many musical styles. Even if you are not a fan of the dirty-joke-laden lyrics of "The MILF Next Door," you can appreciate its British-invasion-influenced sound. The jazzy sound of "Naked Guy" and the novelty-number tunesmithing of "Hang Up Your Cell Phone" transcend their one-joke concepts. And the latter has a swinging horn section.
The musical highlight is a bit called "Amazing Bass," featuring bass-guitar-only versions of Christmas classics. Only a gang that truly loves music could come up with a concept like this and execute it so well.
The song "Hang Up Your Cell Phone" includes a vocal appearance by one of Bob and Tom's best recent creations: Kenny Tarmac. Voiced by Ron Sexton, Tarmac is that guy who always seems to be in the same airplane row as you the salesman who has to get on his cell phone immediately after touchdown. Tarmac turns up a number of times on "As Big as a Hat" and is welcome at each stop. And while I'm less of a fan of Sexton's popular Donnie Baker character, his rambling Floyd Tucker earns big laughs in a bit called "Stand-Up Trucker."
Another key element, on the air and on disc, is the guest appearances by a core of visiting comedians. Here, there's hilarious work from Scott Dunn who specializes in historical bits, giving his take on William Henry Harrison's lengthy inauguration speech. Dunn also shines on "The Santa Roast," mining humor from an area that seemed tapped out long ago.
Turning over the third disc largely to conversations with comic Jimmy Pardo could have been just an extended inside joke the joke being Pardo's beef about never appearing on a Bob and Tom CD. But part of the pleasure of Bob and Tom is that they bring listeners in on the inside jokes. And disc 3 proves the most consistently entertaining of the set.
I'll confess, I haven't watched the DVD yet; that's tough to do while driving. And that's when I enjoy these discs the most on long car rides when the kids are asleep and I know that laughter will help keep me from losing my mind on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. As long as I stand at the ready to hit the skip button, just in case.
American Cabaret Theatre's "Country Christmas Cabaret" (through Dec. 21) features some terrific vocalists in a mishmash of a show. Contemporary country anthems such as "Gone Country," "I Got Friends in Low Places" and "Alcohol," (which seems particularly out of place here), share the stage with the likes of Coventry Carol and "Jolly Old St. Nicholas," often creating the sensation of attending a Nashville theme-park staging of a holiday "Lawrence Welk Show."
Questions arise. What reason can there possibly be for including such dreck as "Islands in the Stream" and "Delta Dawn" when there are plenty of good country and/or holiday songs to choose from? And what implications are we to draw from the inexplicable placing of the wrenching non-country/non-holiday "Because of You" directly after "O Holy Night"?
But just when it seems like your eyes are going to be perpetually rolling, along comes an outstanding singer performing a worthy song. Dave Ruark gets the cracked-hands wistfulness of Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman." The ensemble offers up a lovely "Carol of the Bells." Whitney Thetford nails LeAnn Rimes' "Blue." And Claire Wilcher not only walks a nice line between impression and interpretation with Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," but she also mines Garth Brooks' "The River" so cleanly and beautifully that I couldn't think of much at intermission besides all the musicals Indy would benefit from seeing her in.
Let's start with "Funny Girl." To heck with Streisand, Wilcher can clearly hold her own.