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Adventures in Gift Giving: Tiki tunes meet 'O Tannenbaum'

December 16, 2008 |  3:58 pm

Among the holiday traditions my wife and I look forward to every year is adding a new album to our growing collection of Christmas music. It's amazing how many different and thoroughly enjoyable versions there are of the seasonal favorites. (Although, in all honesty, I never truly understood howRage_tiki2 unseemly the song "Baby It's Cold Outside" was until I heard it crooned by Dean Martin on "Christmas with the Rat Pack.")

The first two on the iPod playlist every season are  "Reggae Christmas from Studio One" (nothing gets you in the mood to fire up the Yule log like "Christmas Stylee" by Johnny Osbourne & the Family Group) and "A Creole Christmas" (ditto for the version of "Jingle Bells" by Rockin' Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters).

But this year I think I may have found a new candidate to get first spin -- "Luau in December" from King Kukulele and the Friki Tikis, an album backing  Christmas-time-meets-tiki-tinged tunes with vibraphone, lap steel guitar and the ukelele.
I met the self-anointed ukele-playing king while immersing myself in tiki culture at Tiki-Ti, where he impressed me with his ability to sing the establishment's entire drink menu (no mean feat since it's got more than 70 concoctions on it). I left with the group's first two albums in my hand and a spring in my step, and they have been in heavy rotation ever since.

In addition to fun takes on "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" and  "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the disc's title track should become the anthem for tropical Christmas celebrations everywhere with lines such as:  "We'll trade the eggnog for mai tais/the tannenbaum for palms/the mistletoe for flower leis." "Santa's Menehune" links the elves of the North Pole to the mythical little people of the Hawaiin Isles.

But the most endearing song on the disc is "Tappy Claus," which features 100-year-old ukelele player Bill "Tappy" Tapia strumming and recounting his long history with St. Nick. "In 1922, you know what that old bugger do/he gave me not a pair, but one right shoe/In 1938, do you believe that ingrate/He gave me onions, two bushels and a crate."

King Kukulele (who goes by the name Denny Moynahan when he's not wearing his paper crown and grass skirt) was hard-pressed to pick a favorite tune, but said working with the centenarian ukelele legend made him "giddy." "It goes beyond music for me," Moynahan said. "Because he's this guy who has been around forever and he has all these great stories and people don't realize it. This song is a way to tell his unique story."

And at the top of the king's Christmas wish list? Moynahan hopes the album will help get Tappy (who will turn 101 on Jan. 1) and his storied career their just due. "I'm trying to get him on some early-morning or late-night talk shows, but I'm not having much luck yet," he said.

-- Adam Tschorn

Image: Luau in December (yes, that's cover art by Shag!) by King Kukulele and the Friki Tikis, $15 via PayPal to kingkukulele@hotmail.com. He promises to ship all orders within 24 hours, so you'll have it before Christmas if you order now! Listen to samples at CD Baby.

Order “Luau In December” by credit card a

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