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It’s always been a challenge to categorize the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The North Carolina outfit’s previous three albums—The Inevitable (1995), Hot (1996) and Perennial Favorites (1998)—offer a frogmore stew of genres, from flavor-of-the-month swing to Talking Heads avant-gardism, from bouncy klezmer to They Might Be Giants absurdism. (Tracks sung by Katharine Whalen, especially, range from hammy Broadway belters to striking, if necrophiliac, facsimiles of Billie Holiday.) No surprise, then, that the Zippers’ new release, Christmas Caravan, breaks the toasty, Santacentric mold typical of Christmas albums. Three ballads on Caravan—”My Evergreen,” “I’m Coming Home for Christmas,” and the Appalachian homage “Gift of the Magi”—are so downbeat that one must assume band members Jim Mathus and Tom Maxwell were deep in the throes of seasonal affective disorder when they wrote them. And unless I’m missing some crucial irony, the catchy tune “Indian Giver” is patently offensive to Native Americans. More pleasing cuts include two new adaptations of obscure Christmas tunes (“Winter Weather” and “Hanging Up My Stockings”), the understated blues “A Johnny Ace Christmas,” the jazzy “Hot Christmas,” and a rollicking instrumental version of the seasonal standard “Sleigh Ride.” See the Zippers in full seasonal glory with the Violent Femmes and the Pietasters at the WHFS 99.1 FM New Year’s party at 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 31, at George Mason University’s Patriot Center, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax. $52.50. (202) 393-0930. (Louis Jacobson)
Feel the need to attend an expensive New Year’s Eve bash? Top 10 hits station Z104 is presenting one headlined not by a young, teen dance-pop group, but by 51 year-old Buckwheat Zydeco. Born Stanley Dural, the accordionist kkown as Buckwheat has been savvy enough with his R&B-drenched brand of Creole sounds to get himself a Grammy award, an opening slot on an Eric Clapton tour, and appearances on both the Super Bowl halftime show and the Olympics closing night. Once a keyboard player in a band playing Earth Wind & Fire covers, Buckwheat began playing organ for the late Clifton Chenier in the mid-“70s. By ’79 he had decided to teach himself the accordion and lead his own band. Buckwheat’s latest, Trouble was originally released in ’97 but because of label problems was hard to find. Scheduled to be re-released on another label in January, it’s being promoted as Buckwheat’s return to an accordion and rubboard-led roots sound. While that’s true in part, Buckwheat couldn’t resist adding his usual slick production and prominent hornwork on several originals and the disc’s lone cover, Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.” Also performing are the re-formed C & C Music Factory, ska band Fighting Gravity, and swing combo Blue Steele at 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 31, at the Grand Hyatt Washington, 1000 H. St. NW. $115. (301) 652-7712. (Steve Kiviat)