Phoebe Bridgers Christmas

Phoebe Bridgers “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (2017)

Dead Oceans
Buy: Bandcamp

I have loved Phoebe Bridgers from the moment I picked up her Killer 7″, and her new album Stranger in the Alps is on my list of “gotta pick up” albums. So, when The Line of Best Fit premiered her haunting rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” I knew I would have to say SOMETHING about it, rather than just retweet it. The ringing guitar notes and soft percussion frame her voice beautifully, as she takes a well-known, sentimental song and makes it personal. Beautiful.

Bottom Line: Phoebe makes this song her own, and that is really all you can ask from a cover. Wouldn’t change a thing.

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Blackwatch Christmas VII

UPCOMING: Fowler VW Presents A Blackwatch Christmas Volume 7 (2017)

Fowler VW/Blackwatch Studios
Buy: Coming Soon!

It is that time of year… and Fowler VW has been hinting about their upcoming Christmas record on Twitter, much to my delight. There are few Christmas releases that have such a high level of quality, and each year that they keep the tradition alive, is a year that the entire alternative Christmas music community can give thanks. Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Breakup are given the honor of being the first track out to the public, and it is fantastic. The electro-pop jam about being together at Christmas has the kind of slinky groove that just might take your office Christmas party off the rails. Eyes meeting over the punchbowl, we all knew Jim and Pam were meant to be together, they just needed “Be With You” to seal the deal. Want to know the rest of the tracklist? Go to NewsOK and give them the clicks!

The entire album will be available for stream/download on Black Friday, or better yet, #BlackwatchFriday, and for those lucky enough to live in the Norman, OK area, there is a big, free party on Dec. 8 at Stash, where the first 200 attendees get a free copy of it on VINYL. Yes, there are copies out there on vinyl… I am the proud owner of 2014’s “The Naughty List,” but these things are tough to come by. They have never sold them online – you gotta grab them from local Norman, OK venues like Fowler Volkswagen, Guestroom Records, The Social Club, STASH, and Tree & Leaf Clothing.

Finally, isn’t it great that these albums are free? And if the generosity of Fowler VW and Blackwatch Studios makes you so very happy… then, as you download this year’s new record, why not throw them a few bucks toward Norman Public Schools elementary music programs, because that is where 100% of donations go!

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Laurence Made Me Cry

Laurence Made Me Cry “It’s Not You, It’s Christmas” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Glasgow’s Laurence Made Me Cry (aka Jo Whitby) bought some sleigh bells, and now we all have a great new Christmas song! Which gives me an idea… who should I send sleigh bells to? I’m creating a list… OK, back to the review. This track is a “song for when you’d rather be alone at Christmas,” which I think we can all relate to at some points during the season. The music somehow tickles my late 90s-early 2000’s indie rock funny bone, as the lyrical guitar lines suggest Pavement-meets-Pinkerton-era Weezer? Am I crazy? But truly, it’s Jo’s voice that seals the deal for me. Love it. If you need any more convincing, all proceeds go to Community Christmas, “who believe that no elderly person in the UK should be alone on Christmas Day unless they want to be.”

Bottom Line: I’m sure happy Jo bought some sleigh bells, and that she shook them for charity!

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UPCOMING: “Indie for the Holidays, An Amazon Original Playlist,” “Acoustic Christmas,” and “Christmas Soul” (2017)

Amazon
Buy: Coming soon

Well, it looks like Amazon is continuing their tradition of providing high-profile indie Christmas tunes to the masses via their popular Indie for the Holidays and Acoustic Christmas playlists. Likely, the new tracks will just be tacked on to the already existing playlist, so they shouldn’t be too hard to find. In addition to these two returning playlists, be on the lookout for Christmas Soul, also being released on Nov. 24 via Amazon Music Unlimited and Prime Music.

Some highlights to look forward to…

Indie for the Holidays has so far announced contributions by Kevin Morby, Lemon Twigs, Best Coast, JEFF the Brotherhood, Albert Hammond Jr. and Jessica Lea Mayfield.

Acoustic Christmas teased out a song on Brooklyn Vegan today, “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” a cover by Courtney Marie Andrews, as well as listing off a few more contributors: Josh Ritter, Nicki Bluhm, Sera Cahoone and Lori McKenna.

There is much more info out there about Christmas Soul, as a few tracks have been released (linked below), as well as a large roster of participating artists: Tamir, Dawn Richard, JC Brooks, Joey Dosik, Buscabulla, Spacebomb House Band feat. Andy Jenkins, Blu and Exile, Ural Thomas & the Pain, Demo Taped, The Texas Gentlemen, Jacquie, Jungle Fire, Diane Coffee (!), Major, Robert Finley, Nicole Atkins, Marc Broussard, Ruth B, Davie, Open Mike EagleGemma (feat. Adrian Younge), Taliwhoah, Liz Brasher, The Soul Rebels and Don Bryant.

BOTTOM LINE: I’ve got my eyes on a few of those names, but still too early to get this grumpy gus too too excited 🙂 Amazon keeps their stuff so close to the vest (and aren’t my favorite people – I’ve got a history…. ever notice that I push Bandcamp and 7Digital whenever I can?)

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Four Eyes – 3XMAS EP (2013)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Athens’ Four Eyes already has my heart. I mean, come on. Her song from last year was phenomenal, and her songs from 2013… well, they are too. It all comes down to her voice. Four Eyes (Erin Lovett)’s voice is just beautiful. I think she could sing me a phone book and I’d happily sit there eating my Thai leftovers. These tracks from 2013 are stripped down, vocals and acoustic guitar, and they are perfect that way. The first track “Believe (In What Sounds Beautiful)” has her wondering if it is Christmas or family that has her feeling so wonderful… I mean COME ON. That is some damn poignant beautiful stuff. The second song, “I Don’t Remember (Christmas Eve)” has Four Eyes’ apologizing for a drunk Christmas Eve… which, is rather adorable. That, and I love a good Christmas drinking song, and rarely do those contain apologies. The last song, “In a Diner,” is a beautiful story of an interaction in a diner: “Her laugh reminds you of someone / who showed you to believe / in what you cannot see.” This song, when listened to after 2 gimlets on a Tuesday night… makes you nostalgic for an experience you never had.

Bottom line: Simple, short, beautiful songs. What else is there to say?

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Make Like Monkeys

Make Like Monkeys “Christmas Doesn’t Last” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Free!

HELL YEAH! Make Like Monkeys, whose back catalogue of Christmas tunes is vast, has made what I consider to be… his best Christmas song yet! This power pop jam of a boozy Christmas has a complex levity that I truly appreciate at this particular moment. “So screw the bills, the mortgage and the cat / you gotta grab it now, cause Christmas doesn’t last.” There is screaming along to Christmas songs, drunken joy and close friends, but also a reminder of those credit card bills waiting for you on the other side. You know, reality. But I FEEL that sentiment… you gotta grab it now, cause Christmas (hell, everything) doesn’t last.

Bottom Line: Make Like Monkeys has upped his game even higher. Truly pleased Mark reached out today. (Of note, I find this song best listened to loud… louder than your computer speakers might let you. Just gives it that extra bit of oomph.)

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John Ralston - Jesus Christ

John Ralston – Jesus Christ / A Marigny Christmas (2010)

24 Hour Service Station
Buy: Vinyl | 7Digital MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Wow. Stumbled upon this amazing release from way back in 2010… and I honestly have no clue how it eluded me for so long. John Ralston, a member of the indefinitely on-hiatus Legends of the Rodeo, has been releasing solo work since the band took a break back in 2004 . I’ve been dipping into his other releases, such as this 2017 LP, IV, and they are all pretty fantastic. But let’s get on track… we’re talking about Christmas tunes. The A-side, “Jesus Christ” is not really a Christmas song… and while it does have what sounds like faint sleigh bells in the background at times, the lyrical context is just not there to consider it a Christmas song. However, it is still a great psych-folk song worth your time to listen to, and I do like the lyric, “I’m always know / I’m coming home / but I never know / for how long.” The B-side, “A Marigny Christmas,” is really where we really need to focus, because this song is fantastic. This alt.country story of lost love is the kind of song that gives me chills. Its understated delivery of aching emotion is so spot on. From the wonderful use of country organ to the Beach Boys-inspired leadout… this song deserves attention. Please listen.

Bottom Line: Why don’t you send $7 John’s way, buy the vinyl and receive not only one of 150 red or 150 white copies… but also digital downloads with a demo version of “A Marigny Christmas.” If that bonus is not a reason to go directly to the source… I don’t know what is.

EDIT: Please note that I have updated the “buy vinyl” links to John’s Bandcamp page, as he has kindly provided a new link. If you ordered through the earlier link, I recently heard from the folks at the label and it does appear that they can fill the orders (and they emailed me mp3s!). There was just a delay, as they are setting up a new online shop.

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Al Riggs - Hell House

Al Riggs “Christmas Parade” (2017)

Bull City Records Presents
Buy: Bandcamp

Durham, North Carolina’s Al Riggs is one of the most prolific singer/songwriters I’ve come across on Bandcamp. You know those links that let you buy entire discographies? I can only imagine how much it would cost… because you would be about 70 releases! The record I want to highlight now is his latest, Hell House. Included on this warm recording of sad songs is the beautiful “Christmas Parade.” The song is a vignette of a moment right before Christmas, where just being with a friend means more than whatever you might be doing with them – “Neither of us like the Christmas parade / but it means a lot. / but it means a lot / ….” Al’s voice is not terribly pretty, it is genuine –  exactly how I like my singers (e.g. David Berman, Mark Eitzel, etc). This really is a beautiful song, the production matches the sentiment perfectly… wouldn’t change a thing. (Again – thanks Ned!)

Bottom Line: Al is not a stranger to Christmas tunes (When the Saints Go Stag, Good Reasons to Freeze to Death,Yulemen), and while I have only scratched the surface, I think you may dig what you find underneath.

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UPCOMING: The Minus 5 – Dear December (2017)

Yep Roc
Buy: Record Store Day (LP) | Amazon.fr (LP)?

The Minus 5 is essentially Scott McCaughey and his band of merry, quite famous and somewhat famous friends rocking out and taking names. I presently have his Down with Wilco on my shelf, which, you can imagine, features members of Wilco. My friend Ned just hipped me to the fact that Scott also likes to hang with friends… and record CHRISTMAS SONGS. Dear December features M. Ward, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service), Peter Buck (R.E.M. – duh), Mike Mills (ditto), Colin Meloy (Decemberists), Chuck Prophet, Tammy Ealom (Dressy Bessy), The Posies, Kelly Hogan (The Flat Five/Neko Case), Nora O’Connor (The Flat Five/solo badass) and more. That’s a rather impressive lineup, as most of the Minus 5 albums are… which obviously raises my expectations. The first single, “When Christmas Hurts You This Way,” does not disappoint. It is a downer with a Wilco AM vibe: “When the last one your remember / is the last one you deserve / you look back at all the mistakes you make / that somehow made much worse.” DARK! Love it! This is not a safe leadoff single, and that is what make this a great leadoff single. Hell, I love Nick Lowe, but I’d much rather listen to this than “Christmas in the Airport” – it is just so much darker and interesting to me! (No offense Yep Roc, you continually release Chatham County Line records, so you’ve got my love.) McCaughey can write a great song, and he obviously is respected enough by some stellar artists to lend their name to the project; Thus, if the rest of the songs are as good as this… well hot damn.

Dear December will be a Record Store Day release on vinyl, with an advent calendar-inspired gatefold sleeve on colored vinyl, limited to 1500 copies. It will also be released on December 1 on CD, as well as on your favorite digital retailers (7Digital??? Bandcamp??? They have FLACs!!!)

Bottom Line: Looks damn promising. Yep Roc – hook me up! I want it early! (In a curious twist of fate, most of the stuff I get sent is not Christmas-related at all… not gonna happen.)

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The Just Joans – The Just Joans’ Seasonal Greet (2010/2016)

WeePOP! Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Way back in 2010, the wonderful Scottish band The Just Joans released The Just Joans’ Seasonal Greet, a limited mini CDr Christmas EP, on the wonderfully-titled WeePOP! Records. And it looks like just about every holiday season, they would pop a track out here or there, released on Soundcloud or as a live recording on Youtube. However, it appears that in December 2016, the whole EP became readily-available again via their Bandcamp page! This is a wonderful turn of events, as there are some excellent tunes on here for those who like a melancholy, slow-tempo Christmas. “Card from a Multipack” is (for me) the strongest of the bunch, as the approach is interesting and the delivery feels genuine – there is some pain in this track. My second favorite would be the vaguely indie-folk rendition of the classic “Last Christmas,” where their Scottish brogue and gently strummed banjo give this stale song a fresh feel. Certainly worth your time and money.

Bottom Line: The Just Joans are due for another Christmas EP… just throwing it out there 🙂 But until they do, I’m happy to have “Seasonal Greet” to tide me over.

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