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Michael Cerveris and Loose Cattle release an offbeat Christmas album 

The band celebrates Dec. 19 at Chickie Wah Wah'

click to enlarge Michael Cerveris and Kimberly Kaye lead the country band Loose Cattle.

Photo by Michael Alford

Michael Cerveris and Kimberly Kaye lead the country band Loose Cattle.

A glance at the track list on Loose Cattle's December release Seasonal Affective Disorder offers a tipoff to the project's concept. There are covers of Tom Waits' "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" and John Denver's "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)."

  But there aren't just covers of offbeat Christmas wishes and less rosy holiday traditions. Bandleader Michael Cerveris also co-wrote a tune with the Lost Bayou Ramblers: "Don't Make Your Mama Cry on Christmas Day."

  Cerveris and Loose Cattle vocalist Kimberly Kaye had just formed the country and Americana band in 2011 when they recorded their first holiday song, a cover of Big Star's "Jesus Christ."

  "(The recording session) was just meant to be a hang with the band," Cerveris says.

  They wanted to record a song and post it on the internet in one day. "Jesus Christ" split the difference in their feelings about the project.

  "I am not a huge Christmas fan," Kaye says. "But I am not a Grinch who wants to rain on other people's Christmases. (We) picked a less than Christmassy Christmas song."

  Loose Cattle's tone on the song gives it a workable ambiguity.

  "For (Kaye), it's a rock song," Cerveris says. "But you could play it in a Baptist church. We are a pretty inclusive bunch. We like that you could have two people standing in the audience with one person thinking it's an ironic masterpiece and the other person thinking it's a Christian tune. We like the idea those people would be at a bar together at our show."

  Cerveris and Kaye split time between homes in New York and New Orleans, and at their album-release party at Chickie Wah Wah Dec. 19, they'll have plenty of guests who worked on the album, including the Lost Bayou Ramblers, pianist Tom McDermott, a horn section led by Craig Klein, fiddler Rurik Nunan of The Whiskey Gentry, vocalist John Boutte and others. Loose Cattle bassist Lorenzo Wolff and percussionist Eddy Zweiback also will be in New Orleans for the show.

  Cerveris is best known for his work on the Broadway stage, having won Tony Awards for best actor as John Wilkes Booth in Assassins and Bruce Bechdel in Fun Home. He also has played guitar for a long time, and in the early 1990s, he toured with Bob Mould and punk and alternative rock band Husker Du. Cerveris recently starred in recurring roles on TV's The Tick and Gotham.

  Though she sings for Loose Cattle, Kaye played trumpet for 15 years and says her musical roots are in soul and blues. Loose Cattle is more of a country band with folk and Americana strains. Cerveris and Kaye co-wrote "Shepherds in a Parking Lot," and there's a honky-tonk vibe on much of the album. There also are some songs with New Orleans-style horn parts. The album includes "The Day It Snows on Christmas," recorded by Allen Toussaint.

  Seasonal Affective Disorder also has songs written by Willie Nelson ("Pretty Paper") and Merle Haggard ("If We Make It Through December"). There's a nod to more contemporary country and offbeat holiday tunes in a cover of Texan Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas From the Family."

  For anyone interested in another round of naughty and nice Christmas tunes, Cerveris joins comedian Harry Shearer and singer Judith Owen Dec. 22 at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre for an installment of their annual benefit show, Christmas Without Tears.

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