Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmasongs: Auld Lang Syne

What a minute, you say! Isn’t “Auld Lang Syne” a New Year’s song? Technically, yes but it’s no secret that New Year’s songs always get lumped in with Christmas songs. This one even shows up in Elf. But Scottish poet Robert Burns’ ode to fondly looking back perfectly fits the New Year’s ideals of remembering the past and hoping for the future. Every New Year’s Eve party, television countdown special, gigantic inanimate object drop, and movie scene that takes place on December 31st uses “Auld Lang Syne” to immediately transport us to that place. Don’t believe me? Cue up the New Year’s scene from When Harry Met Sally and tell me it doesn’t get you. It usually only takes the first note or two to be swept up in the grandiose moment of one year giving way to the next. There’s probably a version for every imaginable genre, but here’s my two refined and rowdy favorites:

“Auld Lang Syne” – Guy Lombardo: For the nostalgic, romantic, 1930’s Big Band sound, Guy Lombardo is golden. The first minute is perfectly instrumental and begs to be danced to. Once the voices come in, the vintage feel is solidified and makes you wish for a few more verses. This is the version for your “just the two of us” New Year’s Eve party or for the family gathering where your grandparents have a few more years to look back on than everyone else.

"Auld Lang Syne" - Guy Lombardo

“Auld Lang Syne” – MxPx: However, if you’re headed to a friends’ party and want to have a really good time, MxPx has you covered. Loud, raucous, and as celebratory as they come, this is my idea of ringing in the new year. A word of caution though, this version could cause something in the house to get smashed. So hide your breakables, kiss your sweetheart at midnight and sing a long!

"Auld Lang Syne" - MxPx

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmasongs: 'Twas The Night Before Christmas

“A Visit From St. Nicholas,” or “'Twas The Night Before Christmas” as it is more commonly referred to, is a poem from the 1820’s that is usually ascribed to author Clement C. Moore. Our modern image of Santa Claus, the one found on wrapping paper and Coke packaging everywhere, draws almost exclusively from this poem. It’s hard to hear these classic verses and not get even a little holiday spark in your spirit. Growing up, one of our Christmas Eve traditions was to read this after we read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Bible. Wrapped up in some brand new pajamas we had just opened and sipping some hot apple cider my dad had just made, we would sit back and try to somehow keep our cool on in anticipation of the night of excited sleeplessness that lay ahead. I've still got the book my dad read from and you can bet I'll be reading from it one day too. Maybe that’s why this poem always stirs up something in me no matter who’s reading it. Besides, name me another poem or song that has been able to wrangle the following cast of interpreters:

“The Night Before Christmas” – Bob Dylan: For the Season One “Christmas & New Year’s” episode of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour show, Bob warmly read the poem over a nice acoustic guitar backdrop. His unique delivery and creaky voice fit the reading perfectly and he balances the festive reverence of the well-worn lines with a sly smirk in his voice. I could listen to this version a thousand times over.

"The Night Before Christmas" - Bob Dylan

“The Night Before Christmas“– Louis Armstrong: Satchmo’s infectiously jolly rendition makes you feel like it’s being read by Santa Claus himself. His booming voice, boisterous chuckle and playful inflections create a distinct version all his own. He almost sounds like he’s hearing it for the first time while he’s reading it and there’s no question that he’s thoroughly enjoying himself. Just like with Bob’s version, I never get tired of hearing this one either.

"The Night Before Christmas" - Louis Armstrong

“'Twas The Night Before Christmas” – Henry Rollins: Leave it to punk’s renaissance man Henry Rollins to whip up the most off-kilter arrangement. He kept the original lyrics but fashioned a backing track of air raid sirens, helicopter blades, gunshots and a bomb drop. It’s not quite as “yuletide fuzzy” as the other two, but for a teenager in the 90’s looking for all things irregular, unconventional, sarcastic and ironic, this one fit the bill like few else. This one is a matter of quality over quantity for me because eventhough I don’t listen to it as much as the other two, it hits me just the same.

"'Twas The Night Before Christmas" - Henry Rollins

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmasongs: Happy Hanukkah!

According to the Hebrew calendar, today is the 25th day of Kislev, more commonly observed as the kick off to Hanukkah. Don’t feel bad if the eight-day Festival of Lights snuck up on you again this year. Since Jewish holidays aren’t based on the internationalized Gregorian calendar, they seemingly fall on different days each year. Due to the differences in marking the passage of time and days, Hanukkah can actually be celebrated as early as late November or as late as the end of December. While Hanukkah in 2013 is set to be observed just a few days after Thanksgiving (November 27), this year’s celebration starts about as close to Christmas as you can hope for. So I say we all do our own part to demystify the aura of the menorah and I’ll start with a “Hanukkah Crash Course” and some awesome Hanukkah-inspired tunes.

While I’m no scholar, here’s goes… In 175 BCE, Greek ruler Antiochus IV invaded Judea, recaptured Jerusalem, outlawed Judaism and desecrated the Holy Temple. Not only could Jews no longer openly practice their beliefs and customs, but Antiochus IV went so far as to ransack the Holy Temple and to sacrifice pigs on the altar. This caused a giant backlash of uprising and guerilla warfare (commonly referred to as the Maccabean Revolt, “maccabean” being taken from the Jewish word for “hammer”) that allowed the Jewish people to reclaim the city and the Holy Temple. They had to repurify the temple by creating new holy vessels and by building a brand new altar. They were only able to find one undefiled container of oil for the temple’s menorah and it was only enough to last through one night’s burning. However, the oil burned for eight days straight, which was the exact time it took for the priests to prepare more oil for the menorah. Hanukkah was established to celebrate, among other things, the rededication of the temple and the miracle of the oil.

While there certainly aren’t a plethora of rocking songs about Hanukkah (punk covers of “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” nonwithstanding), there are a few out there that find themselves right at home in my annual holiday festivities. Here are a few of my favorites:

Adam Sandler first introduced “The Chanukah Song” in 1994 on Saturday Night Live during an episode of “Weekend Update.” They played it a ton on the radio stations where I lived and I learned the simple chords and lyrics to earn some cool points with my school and church friends. Adam’s currently released three different versions of the song with an ever-revolving cast of Jewish and non-Jewish celebrities. Although they are all hilarious, the first version will always hold a special place for it’s sheer out-of-nowhere awesomeness.
"The Chanukah Song" - Adam Sandler

Stephen Colbert released his holiday special, A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! in 2008 and it is filled with ridiculously funny songs and guest stars. Among them is the holiday invitational duet, “Can I Interest You In Hannukah?” sung with Jon Stewart. Much like Sandler’s song, this one is incredibly clever and the first few times you hear it you’re guaranteed to miss a line or two from laughter.
"Can I Interest You In Hannukah?" - Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart

Save Ferris was one of those third wave ska bands from the 90’s that I thought should’ve gotten more recognition. I loved their It Means Everything album from 1997 and it’s a shame that there was apparently only room for No Doubt in the “girl-fronted ska band” category. Save Ferris’ “Christmas Wrapping” is a fun take on The Waitresses’ song that changes all the lyrics by subbing in Hanukkah references.
"Christmas Wrapping" - Save Ferris

When members of Guster and The Zambonies got together to form The LeeVees, they had only one goal in mind; write an entire album’s worth of Hanukkah songs. They succeeded and Hanukkah Rocks was released in 2005. The album has a great sonic sound to it and songs titles like “Jewish Girls (at the Matzoh Ball)” and “Gelt Melts” should tell you all you need to know. May favorite song takes on the spelling dilemma that surrounds Hanukkah and is appropriately titled “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” to help confuse things even further.
"How Do You Spell Channukkahh?" - The LeeVees

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmasongs: Stink, Stank, Stunk!

For all the classic, engrained in our upbringing holiday television specials of yesteryear (i.e., before the 80’s), not many of them contain an actual villain. Sure, Hermey and Rudolph had to watch out for the Abominable Snow Monster and Frosty was always looking over his shoulder for the sun. But for the most part, everywhere was pretty peachy keen in Christmas cartoonland. Everywhere that is, except Whoville! How The Grinch Stole Christmas! was always fascinating to me as a kid because of the dread and terror from the Grinch that balanced out all the syrupy sweetness of the Whos. I mean the guy has yellow eyes and has termites running through his teeth! It’s no surprise that everything ends well for all parties involved, but the first two-thirds of the story is a one-man maniacal reign of terror that keeps me coming back year after year. Eventhough Dr. Suess wrote How The Grinch Stole Christmas! all the way back in 1957 and the televised special came out in 1966, the Grinch still seems as popular as ever. I believe it's because to be truly memorable, a villain needs a really good theme song and “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” fits the bill perfectly. The song was originally sung in the animated special, not by the narrator Boris Karloff as many believe, but by the equally gravelly-throated and equally devilishly-named Thurl Ravenscroft. It’s a 6-verse, no chorus, occasional speaking part romp of stink, stank, stunk goodness.

"You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” - Thurl Ravenscroft

Throughout the years, everyone from Mojo Nixon to RuPaul has tried their hand at covering “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” to varying degrees of success. Some really rock and some are pretty ho-hum, but here are a few of my most favorite versions:

"You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" - Whirling Dervishes

"You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" - Tracy Bonham

"You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" - Sixpence None The Richer

As a Grinch-related bonus, here’s a version of “Little Drummer Boy” by Jars of Clay dubbed the “Grinch Mix” from their 1995 EP, Little Drummer Boy. Colder and more abrasive than their straight version of “Little Drummer Boy” from the same EP, this one is definitely a 3 Decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce compared to the other one.

"Little Drummer Boy" (Grinch Mix) - Jars of Clay

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Music City Unsigned Family Christmas Volume 2 (Album Review)

If the same old Christmas music has you feeling like you don’t want to hear another thing from Bing or has you saying no mo’ to Como, then the fine folks at Music City Unsigned have got the holiday album for you! Following the success of last year’s Family Christmas release (which technically makes this a “tradition” now right?), Music City Unsigned has released Family Christmas Volume 2 to help you soundtrack your yuletide festivities. With 10 diverse tracks of Christmas covers and holiday-flavored originals, there’s a lot to love about Family Christmas Volume 2. Each song on the album has a unique tone and spirit to it, and the album also achieves an overall continuity that makes it great for just throwing it on and letting it spin. No matter if it’s a holiday party or your morning commute, Family Christmas Volume 2 will put you and yours into the Christmas spirit in no time! There are enough musical stylings and lyrical themes to pick from to please even the most pickiest of music fans on your shopping list as well. Looking for a nostalgic longing for home, a peaceful hymn or a bluesy carol? Check, check, check and much, much more.

Family Christmas Volume 2 opens with “Winter Dress” from Justin Wade Tam’s outfit Humming House. This bouncy, bluegrass-flavored tune overflows with guitars, ukelele and beautiful harmonies. It’s a really fun song and an interesting take on the personification of Winter. For more eggnog-swilling, upbeat numbers, Family Christmas Volume 2 also features “Away In A Manger” from Carolina Story, “I’m Coming Home” from Robert Kelly and a Sufjan-inspired “Once In Royal David’s City” from The Vespers. If you’re looking for a little cozier vibe to snuggle up with, check out the slow burn blues of “Ain’t No Christmas Blues” from Jeffrey James or the gorgeous piano-cello duet of “Home” from Marie Hines. However, if mistletoe is the last thing on your mind right now, Emily DeLoach’s fantastic “If I Can’t Have You” is one of the best holiday “missing you” songs this side of “Blue Christmas.” This wistful, acoustic folk song is backed with some sparse piano and some of the saddest sounding “fa la la’s” you’ll ever hear. On an album of great songs, this one and Robert Kelly’s “I’m Coming Home” are definitely the standouts for me. Also sprinkled throughout the album are a super calming “Silent Night” from The CO, a surprisingly emotional “Jingle Bells” from Andrew Ripp and album closer “O Holy Night” from Jessica Breanne & The Electric Hearts. This organ-fueled, vintage R&B throwback features Jessica doing her best Janis Joplin and The Electric Hearts channeling Booker T. and The M.G.’s to stunning results. With a $10 price for the physical CD (only $5.99 digital), not only are you getting more than your money’s worth for Family Christmas Volume 2, but you’re also helping to support the awesome work that Music City Unsigned does for independent artists and musicians. It’s a great album, for a great price, representing a great collective and it’s definitely worth your time and money to pick it up.

You can order physical or digital copies of Family Christmas Volume 2 or a combo pack that includes Family Christmas Volume One directly from Music City Unsigned HERE.

"If I Can't Have You" - Emily DeLoach

"I'm Coming Home" - Robert Kelly

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmasongs: A Totally Rad 80's Christmas

Can we all agree that there seemed to be something extra special about the Christmases of the 1980’s? Whether it was due to my age (born in 1980), the special marketing relationship between TV and toys, the rise of video game systems, the plethora of McDonald’s holiday commercials or the awesome toys that were created under the Cold War climate (G.I. Joe, Rambo, Hulk Hogan vs. Nikolai Volkoff action figures), it seemed to always be a ‘roided out version of Christmas, at least for us kids. Luckily there was also some great music to go along with all of the Cabbage Patch Kid stampedes and claymation California Raisins. A bunch of 80’s Christmas songs have appeared in my previous “Christmasongs” posts and they are more to come after this, but here's a nice chunk of goods ones to mention. Let’s jump in the DeLorean and take a trip shall we…

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – Band Aid: You can’t talk about Christmas music from the 80’s without starting here. In 1984, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure gathered together a huge collection of some the biggest musical acts of the time to record a single that would raise money for the Ethiopian Famine. Leading the way for other charitable efforts like Live Aid and the “We Are The World” single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” serves as an important milestone in the ongoing relationship between music and relief efforts. Watching the video for this one is like a “Where’s Waldo” of the musical landscape of the 80’s.

"Do They Know It's Christmas?" - Band Aid

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – U2: It’s hard to believe that only one of the A Very Special Christmas compilations were released in the 80’s, but it was at least a really good one. Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Run DMC, Madonna and Bon Jovi all appeared on it and U2 performed one of the best loved covers of Darlene Love’s classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” It was recorded during a soundcheck on one of the stops on The Joshua Tree tour, so it has that iconic mid-80’s U2 sound. This one shows up every year on radio playlists and retail store overhead speaker, but for very good reason.

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" - U2

“Thanks For Christmas” – XTC: Under the moniker “The Three Wise Men,” XTC released “Thanks For Christmas” as a non-album holiday single in 1983. XTC has always been one of the better bands to emerge from the New Wave/Alternative genre and it speaks a lot about them that they can even pump out an original Christmas tune as well. This one feels super upbeat and festive and I really love the overall musical tone of the song. As a side note, the appearance of this song (along with “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses) in the first season Christmas episode of Gilmore Girls helped Amanda get me hooked on the show. I’m totally down with any show the exhibits such incredible musical taste. I’ve said too much…

"Thanks For Christmas" - The Three Wise Men (XTC)

“All I Want For Christmas” – Timbuk 3: Timbuk 3 is a unique band that is mostly categorized as a one-hit wonder for their irony laced “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” single. However, my favorite song of theirs is “All I Want For Christmas” from 1987. Written as somewhat of a protest song against the vast array of “war toys” that were available to kids, the chorus of “All I want for Christmas is world peace” sums up the song pretty well. The verses name drop a lot of toys like Transformers, G.I. Joes, Rambo and Thundercats and there’s also a reference to Stars Wars 1, 2, and 3 and VCRs. Add in a drum machine and a “We Three Kings” harmonica solo and you’ve got one decidedly 80’s socio-political Cold War Christmas song.

"All I Want For Christmas" - Timbuk 3

“Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You’re A Lovely Guy)” – Max Headroom: 80’s icon and “New Coke” spokesman Max Headroom’s voice causes an instant flashback for folks like me. His humor, sarcasm, electronic voice and stuttering delivery brought an erratic vibe to everything he was involved in. Hearing him sing this song takes me right back to a childhood Christmas playing Super Mario Brothers in my Karate Kid-esque pajamas that oddly enough had a Ghostbusters logo on them.

"Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You're A Lovely Guy) - Max Headroom

“Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You” – Billy Squier: Man, this pop-rock holiday gem from 1981 is so over the top cheesy that I can’t decide if it’s genius or just ironic. Either way it’s a guaranteed spirit lifter and it’s pretty much impossible not to sing along with a goofy grin on your face. I’ve got such a special spot for this one and I have no idea why. If you really want the full affect of this song though, you’ve got to watch the studio video from MTV’s first Christmas on the air. All 5 original VJs can be seen and the clothing and haircuts are priceless!

"Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You" - Billy Squier

Bonus: UK post-punk band The Futureheads seem to agree with me that there was something special going on with the Christmases during the Reagan Administration. They’ve just released “Christmas Was Better In The 80’s” as a holiday single and I love it! While there aren’t any lyrical references to anything specific to the 80’s, I absolutely agree with the sentiment and the music is awesome. They came up with some pretty killer artwork too!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Zach Williams and The Bellow - A Little Christmas Cheer [EP]

(Here's a piece I recently wrote for NoiseTrade.)

If you’re not a fan of Christmas music, this is probably going to be a tough month for you around these parts. This time of year, Christmas music floods our senses from every imaginable angle. TV commercials, stores, restaurants, movie trailers, that certain co-worker’s crappy desk radio and at least 85% of the cars on the road are bubbling over with peace on earth, goodwill to men and far too many creepy covers of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Therefore, NoiseTrade would like to help out by sifting through all the lousy socks and underwear for you and help you find your very own Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time. You can trust us. We’re certified Christmas music professionals here and we’ve got all the classics, all the Advent hymns, all the A Very Special Christmas compilations and Christmas In The Stars: A Star Wars Christmas Album to prove it. We promise to do our best not to lead you astray. However, if we recommend something you don’t end up liking, as always we’ll refund your mouse click, no questions asked. So, let’s kick off the “Christmas at NoiseTrade” season right, shall we?

NoiseTrade favorites Zach Williams and The Bellow have just released a great holiday EP called A Little Christmas Cheer. Zach’s powerful voice and The Bellow’s unique brand of Brooklyn country combine to create a really cool vibe throughout the 4 tracks. For a Christmas album, their song selection is refreshingly varied as well. They kick things off with the cheerful shuffle of “Marshmallow World.” This song’s been around since the 1940’s, but most folks know the Darlene Love version from A Christmas Gift for You from Phillies Records (or from Phil Spector, depending on who you ask). Zach’s easy, folksy take on it will have your toes tapping in no time. Their holiday hoedown covers of Red Simpson’s “Trucking Trees For Christmas” and the Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers duet “I Believe In Santa Claus” show that these guys are serious about the country side of Brooklyn country. Acoustic guitar, banjo and three part harmonies create a sound that just begs you to sing along. They also have a gorgeous version of the hymn “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” with Kanene Pipkin taking the lead. Kanene’s smoky vocal blends with a smooth pedal steel in a way that really captures the peaceful mood of the lyrics perfectly. A Little Christmas Cheer is fun, festive and reflective and it will definitely nudge you into the Christmas spirit if you’re not there already.

"Trucking Trees For Christmas" - Zach Williams and The Bellow

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmasongs: Merry Punksmas!

For me, Christmas and punk music are a combination straight from heaven. Mixing together two of my all-time favorite ingredients, punk rock Christmas songs get me in the spirit as much as A Christmas Story and a real tree do. Being that they hold such an important place, I’m pretty discerning of which ones I hold in high regard. There are some definite duds out there, but there are plenty of amped up chestnuts that float to the top of the holiday punch bowl. It’s always fun to hear an old classic sped up and shouted out, but I really like the originals the most. Here are a few of the keepers:

“Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” – Ramones: You can’t talk about Christmas punk rock without starting here. Opening with Joey’s nasally snarl and immediately kicking into that iconic Ramones sound, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” is so awesome on so many levels. Johnny’s down-stroked guitar leads the holiday charge and Joey’s somewhat confident/somewhat pleading vocals ring out over Dee Dee’s bass and Marky’s drums. This song was released at the end of the 80’s and if VH1’s “Pop-Up Video” is to be believed, a young Liv Tyler appears in the music video for it.

"Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)" - Ramones

“Punk Rawk Christmas” - MxPx: Last year MxPx compiled all of their fan club Christmas singles and added a few new tracks to release the incredibly awesome Punk Rawk Christmas. The title track was a new recording and perfectly captures the desire to have a good Christmas in the midst of whatever issues, financial or otherwise, that may be going on. One of my favorite bands plus my favorite holiday equals an album that pumps even more yuletide awesomeness into the season.

"Punk Rawk Christmas" - MxPx

“It’s Always Christmas At My House” – Huntingtons: It’s no secret that the Huntingtons are deeply in love with, and are masters at paying homage to, the Ramones. They were even lucky enough to be Joey Ramone’s backing band for a couple of shows at CBGB’s before he passed away. They wrote “It’s Always Christmas At My House” for Tooth and Nail Records’ first Happy Christmas compilation and it’s definitely a crowd pleaser. The lyrics playfully reference National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and describe that crazy Christmas over-the-topness in all of us. Okay, most of us…some of us…just a few of us? Well, at least we have an anthem!

"It's Always Christmas At My House" - Huntingtons

“Christmas Eve (She Got Up And Left Me)” – Rancid: After wearing out my copy of …And Out Come The Wolves my sophomore year of high school, I’ve always had a soft spot for Rancid. Their unique mixture of punk, reggae and ska has always stood out to me and they always get me moving. The Christmas part of this song pretty much boils down to just being the date the girl left, but I still count it as a Christmas song.

"Christmas Eve (She Got Up And Left Me)" - Rancid

“This Time Of Year” – The Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Great punk rock usually carries a message right? With “This Time Of Year,” The Mighty Mighty Bosstones remind us that all the “stuff” associated with Christmas is nice, but the real meaningful things are spending time with friends and family and letting all the peace and goodwill towards men come out in your attitude. I love, love, love this song and the bouncy rhythm and lyrical focus always put a huge smile on my face.

"This Time Of Year" - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

“Oi To The World” - No Doubt: I included The Vandals’ original version of “Oi To The World” in my personal favorites post and I really like No Doubt’s cover too. Gwen does a good job handling such a rowdy vocal and I love the dancehall “Frosty The Snowman” breakdown in the middle as well. Besides adding that and a few horns, they keep it pretty much the same. Why mess with a good thing right?

"Oi To The World" - No Doubt

“Santa Claus Is Thumbing To Town” – Relient K: I first heard this song on Tooth and Nail Records’ Happy Christmas Volume 3, but it can also be found on Relient K’s two Christmas releases, Deck The Halls, Bruise Your Hand and Let It Snow Baby…Let It Reindeer. I love the humor and chaos in the lyrics and the image of Santa trying to hitchhike after his sleigh breaks down is great. Funny, boisterous and still so festive, it should be on as many Christmas albums as it can.

"Santa Claus Is Thumbing To Town" - Relient K

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mindy Smith @ 3rd & Lindsley (Concert Review)

There are all types of Christmas songs, but there’s something special about a sad Christmas song done really well. Nashville singer/songwriter Mindy Smith knows exactly how to strike the balance between merriment and melancholy, as proven first with her 2007 release My Holiday and more recently with “ A Holiday Evening with Mindy Smith” last Friday night at 3rd and Lindsley. Showing there’s more holiday sentiments than just warm and fuzzy, Mindy and her band (cleverly dubbed the Wisemen for this show) played a gorgeous set of songs that was relaxed, wistful and yes, even sad at moments. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of laughs and some upbeat songs as well. Not to mention Mindy’s hilarious monologues between almost every song. But she’s at her absolute best when she’s channeling an ache that spills over into every note she sings. She strikes that emotional chord with an honesty and musicality that many artists can never seem to find. It’s a perfect mixture of pain for the heart and pleasure for the ears.
To compliment the feel of her full band set, Mindy chose an excellent opener in kindred spirit Kate York. Even though she only played six songs, Kate’s set was jammed packed with stunning songs and special guests. For her reflective brand of balladering, Kate quietly strummed an acoustic and was tastefully backed by Ian Fitchuk on keys. She opened with an original, “For You,” and was joined by Daniel Tashian on back-up bgv’s. She then bravely played two brand new songs, “I’ll Wait For Your Love” and “Nothing In This World Will Ever Break My Heart Again.” (Being new songs, I’m totally guessing on those names.) Next, she played a couple of covers, including an amazing version of Courtney Jaye’s “Don’t Tell A Girl” with Thad Cockrell and a piano only version of Marc Cohn’s “True Companion.” Kate closed her set out right with a heavenly duet of “Eternal Gifts” with Leigh Nash. Between the excellent song selection and the top shelf guest singers, Kate set the room up perfectly.
When Mindy hit the stage, you could genuinely feel the excitement and anticipation in the room. Her crystal clear voice and engaging stage presence were on display all night, tugging heartstrings and cracking jokes. She started off with a strong four song set from her Christmas album, My Holiday, that included “Come Around,” “My Holiday,” “Follow The Shepherd Home” and “Santa Will Find You.” She returned to My Holiday a few times throughout the night with “The Christmas Song,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and my personal favorite moment of the night, “I Know The Reason” with Thad Cockrell. Thad also joined her for a heartbreaking “Fall For Nothing” that really shined. Speaking of guest vocalists, she also brought up Daniel Tashian for the bouncy duet, “Taking You With Me.” Both of their voices blended perfectly on this folksy love song and the enthusiastic applause from the crowd made it one of the many highlights of the night. For most of the set, Mindy was backed by a tight band that featured Casey Pollock on guitar, Ian Fitchuk on drums, Michael Rinne on bass and John Deaderick on keys. Apart from creating the sheer festiveness of the Christmas songs, they also really showed up really well on Mindy’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and on a powerful “Come To Jesus.” The guys played incredibly well and added a nice sonic depth to Mindy’s songs when they joined her. She did play a few songs solo or with only one or two band members though and for an artist like Mindy, these are the moments that make you a lifetime fan. “Tennessee,” “Raggedy Ann” and a touching “One Moment More” were somehow heartbreaking and soul filling at the same when filtered through just her voice and her guitar. To close the show out, Mindy called up Leigh Nash and they traded off verses for a tender take on “Away In A Manger.” Ending with this beautifully appropriate Christmas carol put a nice little bow on the night and sent everyone back out into the cold with a little more warmth in our hearts. My fingers are crossed that we’ll be hearing some new music from Mindy next year, but her awesome Christmas show was more than enough to get the season kicked off right and to tide me over until then!
- Come Around

- My Holiday
- Follow the Shepherd Home
- Santa Will Find You
- Tennessee
- Taking You With Me

- The Christmas Song
- I Know The Reason
- Fall For Nothing
- I’ll Be Home For Christmas
- Come To Jesus

- Jolene
-One Moment More
- Raggedy Ann
- Away In A Manger

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmasongs: Personal Favorites

It's that time of year again, Christmasongs is back! I'm a bit of a freakshow when it comes to Christmas music, so I’m devoting the next couple of weeks to all the holly, jolly, ho ho hoing songs of the season. Whether it be tried and true classics, songs that just came out this year, rap, rock, punk or hymns, we are an equal opportunity Christmas jukebox here. There is a metric ton of good Christmas music out there and only having a month or so to celebrate seems too short! Hopefully the upcoming posts will include some of your favorites, remind you of some good ones you’ve forgotten and introduce you to some you didn’t know existed. Instead of just posting random musical chunks everyday, I’m going to have them somewhat themed to keep it interesting and to satisfy my aimless organizational needs. As an introduction, I thought I’d start off with some of my personal favorites. This list is by no means a desert island or top ten list (especially since there's eleven tracks), but it’s a good sampling of my own musical melting pot.
“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” – John Lennon: I’ll stop just shy of calling this my favorite Christmas song (because who can really quantify such a definitive label anyway), but you combine John Lennon with Christmas and truthful lyrics that actually say something and you’ve got my undivided attention. Where do you begin with such greatness? The sound; the whimsy of the whispered intro, the moving tone of his unaccompanied voice for the first line, the elevated shift from acoustic sing-a-long to sleigh bells and children’s choir, all sheer perfection. The lyrics; from gripping opener “So this is Christmas and what have you done?” to the simplisticly huge refrain of “War is over if you want it” this song is packed with substance. Every musician takes a shot at covering it and no one comes close to the original. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t stop shy of calling this my favorite Christmas song.
"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" - John Lennon
“Christmas In Hollis” – Run DMC: If there’s a song that has a fighting chance against John Lennon for my Christmas #1, it’s this one. “Christmas In Hollis” by Run DMC will forever and always be my kick-off to the Christmas season every year. I was seven when the song came out and I remember getting the first A Very Special Christmas cassette and playing/stopping/rewinding this song to learn all the lyrics. Darryl’s verse has always been my favorite due to how smooth his voice and rhythm sound and because “It’s Christmas time in Hollis, Queens, Mom’s cookin’ chicken and collard greens” is as much a classic line to me as “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way” is. I’ll never forget the rush of performing it at my 2nd grade Christmas party and instantly transforming from the pudgy, white kid with glasses to the pudgy, white kid with glasses who can rap. I still try to bust it out each year at any opportunity I get because it’s fun to be the pudgy, white adult with glasses who can rap. As a bonus, “Christmas In Hollis” also has a gloriously cheesy music video that would be cool to see on TV this time of year…if only there was a channel that played music videos….

"Christmas In Hollis" - Run DMC

“Labor of Love” – Andrew Peterson: Andrew Peterson is a singer/songwriter based in Nashville that knows how to pack a punch in practically every lyric. Instead of just writing a good Christmas song, he wrote an entire conceptual Christmas album called Behold the Lamb of God that is just stunning from beginning to end. “Labor of Love” tells the story of Jesus’ birth in a manner that’s more in line with what was actually going on at the time. “Away In A Manger” is a beautiful song and all, but the inherent sweetness of it can cloud the reality of a young girl delivering a baby in a barn full of animals on a cold night with only Joseph there to help her. The fact that Jesus’ birth was instrumental in Him living as entirely human and entirely God is a cornerstone of the Christian faith and “Labor of Love” really helps you understand what that birth entailed. This song is raw and gorgeous and destroys me every time I hear it. "Labor Of Love" is beautifully sung by fellow Nashville singer/songwriter Jill Phillips.
"Labor Of Love" - Andrew Peterson
“What Can You Get A Wookiee For Christmas (When He Already Owns A Comb?)” – Meco: Yes Virginia, there is a Star Wars Christmas album and it is as glorious as it sounds. Christmas In The Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album was released in 1980 and features C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca and a host of other characters ringing in the intergalactic holidays as only they can. Like all kid’s programs in the 80’s, there are lessons to be learned and they aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions like “What Can You Get A Wookiee For Christmas (When He Already Owns A Comb?)” While the song gives a few options, the perfect gift they decide on isn’t revealed until later in the album on the song “Merry, Merry Christmas.” You don’t get that kind of plot development and story resolution from just any old space-based holiday album. Christmas In The Stars is a treasure for sure and it should be added to everyone’s collection.
"What Can You Get A Wookiee For Christmas (When He Already Owns A Comb?)" - Meco
"Christmas Day" - MxPx: Along with other cool bands like R.E.M. and Pearl Jam, MxPx records a single every Christmas for their fan club. “Christmas Day” was released for Christmas of 1998 and it’s still one of my favorites out of their batch of holiday releases. It’s got a great punk vibe and is easy to sing a long with at the top of your lungs. I recommend listening to it while decorating the house or driving around during the dark winter nights. In fact, it could make any experience better this time of year, so just keep it cued up. “Christmas Day” can also be found on Tooth and Nail Records’ Happy Christmas, Volume 2 and MxPx’s Punk Rawk Christmas.

"Christmas Day" - MxPx
“Christmas Wrapping” – The Waitresses: I know, I know…people either love the 80’s New Wavey awesomeness of this song or they hate that it’s played so much. I am absolutely in the former camp because this song is really, really good and it’s possibly the only Christmas song to reference one time grocery giant A&P. The song is super festive and relays a bunch of missed connections that tie together nicely in the end. I love the sound of this song and the late Patty Donahue had one of the coolest and most distinctive voices in the New Wave genre. Special thanks to Steve Craig, radio DJ hero of my teens, for cementing this song in my holiday heart by spinning it a few times every year during his "House Of Retro Pleasure" Christmas shows. I can't thank that guy enough for all the great music over the years!
"Christmas Wrapping" - The Waitresses

“The Christmas Song” – The Raveonettes: One of my favorite Christmas compilations is the Maybe This Christmas series from Nettwerk Records. Although they’ve sadly only released three of them, each one is packed with great tracks, including “The Christmas Song” by The Raveonettes from the third one. Man, when I first heard this song it instantly became my go-to Christmas date night song. Something about the way Sune and Sharin’s voices blend together with the mellow bounce of the guitars make this track audible mistletoe. If you could actually describe a song as “cozy,” this would be the one. It’s physically impossible to listen to this song without getting closer. So if you find yourself alone in Wal-Mart and this song starts playing, you’ve been warned.
"The Christmas Song" - The Raveonettes
“Oi To The World” – The Vandals: While No Doubt had some mainstream success with their cover of “Oi To The World” via A Very Merry Christmas 3, the song was originally recorded by Huntington Beach punk band The Vandals. I really like both versions, but there’s a certain charm to The Vandals’ raw and reckless approach. The song addresses racial tensions and the eventual mutual respect that can be found. “Oi To The World” is really awesome and the question of “Where’s the Oi I gave to the world” sadly still seems pretty relevant.
"Oi To The World" - The Vandals
“Must Be Santa” – Bob Dylan: This song is from the 60’s but Bob Dylan based his 2009 cover on a version by “polka plus” band Brave Combo. Rowdy, fun and totally overflowing with yuletide frothiness, “Must Be Santa” is perfect for oom-pahing around the Christmas tree. The video is really fun to watch too as it depicts a packed out Christmas party that delves into some unruly shenanigans. Bob wouldn’t be Bob if he didn’t mess with the song a little bit and he Dylanizes “Must Be Santa” by replacing the reindeer names with President’s names. In regards to the effect Bob has had on the political landscape of the last 40 or 50 years, he can get away with it. “Must Be Santa” is an instant party, just try not to spill your eggnog all over the place.
"Must Be Santa" - Bob Dylan
“Come On Ring Those Bells” – Phantasmic: I’m a junkie for the plethora of 90’s Christian alternative bands that came and went with only a release or two under their belt. Many of them played a huge role in my middle school and high school years. Tess Wiley spent some time in Sixpence None The Richer in the mid-90’s, but eventually left to pursue some solo projects. She fronted Phantasmic for a short period of time and the lo-fi outfit contributed a wonderfully unpolished cover of Evie’s “Come On Ring Those Bells” for Christmas In Heaven. The relaxed, folky romp sounds like it was loosely recorded in someone’s living room during a Christmas party. As a kid, I was exposed to the original song for years, including a yearly production at a local church that involved the choir disguised as a human Christmas tree with only hand bells and faces exposed. Although that image is still simultaneously hilarious and haunting, I seriously can’t get enough of this version.
"Come On Ring Those Bells" - Phantasmic
“Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year” – Rosie Thomas: If you find yourself in need of an instant jolt of festive Christmas spirit, look no further. I first heard this song on a Paste Magazine sampler and when I popped the cd in, I’m pretty sure it caused eggnog to flow out of my speakers and mistletoe to grow from my rear view mirror. It’s a really fun song and the party vibe is driven home by all of the energetic instrumentation and the background voices. “Christmas Is My Favorite Time Of Year” can be found on Rosie’s 2008 album, A Very Rosie Christmas.
"Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year?" - Rosie Thomas