Thursday, November 18, 2010

Music City Unsigned Family Christmas (Album Review)

Music City Unsigned is an awesome group of guys here in Nashville that work really hard to support local, independent musicians and build a community where good music can be created and promoted. They’re not a label, they’re not a management company and they’re not a PR firm. They’re just that rare breed of organization that exists to help foster creativity and help advance the careers of those that create in a grassroots, hands on way. The amazing part is they do it really well without asking for anything in return from the artists. For the Christmas season, they pulled together some of their favorites to produce Music City Unsigned Family Christmas, a 10 song collection of old and new holiday songs intimately recorded to analog tape. Instead of some overproduced, slickly polished Christmas album of standards, Family Christmas contains refreshingly uncluttered acoustic arrangements with just one or two instruments accompanying the vocals. It’s the kind of album that’s made for a cold, December morning at the coffee shop or a relaxed, holiday evening with friends by the fire. It’s warm, inviting and festive enough that each song will either get you or keep you in the Christmas spirit. The casual way these songs were recorded lend a lot to the feel of the music as well. There’s enough ambiance and space in the recording that you almost feel like you’re in the room with the artists. You can hear chairs squeak, throats cleared and even a stray note or two, which all add to the comfortable, laid back vibe created by choosing to record live to analog tape over digitally processed, overdubbed sessions.

The majority of the songs on Family Christmas consist of just an acoustic guitar or two and a couple of voices. My immediate favorite would have to be Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb doing “This Is The Christ” from her recent album, In Feast or Fallow. Sandra’s modern hymn combines Martin Luther’s lyrics with a melody all her own to create a beautiful Advent hymn that shines out through their voices and guitars. These two have had a stranglehold on my musical heart for years and this track is enough evidence to see why. Another featured artist I’ve listened to for more than 10 years is Andy Osenga and he delivers a great holiday love song entitled “This Year.” Take note guys, play this song for your own Mrs. Claus and you’ll have no problem finding your way to the mistletoe. There’s a few other songs on the album to accompany your holiday hand holding like Amy Stroup’s bouncy “You Make The Cold Disappear” and Aron Wright’s sentimental “When Christmas Is On The Heart.” I’m a sucker for a good acoustic Christmas hymn, so I’m also thoroughly enjoying the guitar-cello duet “Silent Night” by Elenowen, “O Holy Night” by Angel Snow and “Love Came Down At Christmas” by Jenny and Tyler. To spice things up there’s a couple piano numbers sprinkled in as well, including Daniel Ellsworth and Alva Leigh’s pleading “It’s Christmas, I Love You” and Heather Bond and Brandon Ingle’s faithful “Angels We Have Heard On High.” However, the song that garners the most bonus points for bubbling merriment and impeccable usage of sleigh bells is the infectious “I’m Coming Home” from Holley Maher. Family Christmas does a stellar job of both celebrating Christmas and highlighting some independent artists that you may or may not be familiar with. By picking up Family Christmas, you’ll be contributing to the great work that Music City Unsigned does and you’ll be helping the artists who they support. Plus, you’ll be getting some cool, new music to enhance your holiday season.

Music City Unsigned Family Christmas can be purchased via immediate digital download or physical CD (shipped around December 1st) through the following link:

"This Is The Christ" - Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb (Music City Unsigned Family Christmas)

"I'm Coming Home" - Holley Maher (Music City Unsigned Family Christmas)

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