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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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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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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Erik Koskinen "On Christmas Day"

Erik Koskinen “On Christmas Day” (2016)

Real Phonic Records
Buy: 7Digital | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Minnesota’s Erik Koskinen will be on tour supporting Low, and damn… that is a good pairing. Start the night off with some fantastic alt.country as you enjoy a few beers, then setting in the the majesty of a Low set. It is quite appropriate that Erik bust out a Christmas song when accompanying the godfathers of indie Christmas, and equally appropriate of him to make this song downright fantastic. “On Christmas Day” begins with a simple guitar, Erik’s voice, and a whisper of a drum. “It seemed like old times again, / like when the snow fell heavy and the maple burned. / Everyone was happy / and everyone was gay. / They came to me / on Christmas day.” Then the music turns up a notch, with new colors fluttering in like flames from a fire. “You came like an ocean / you came like a wave / you came like a dream / on Christmas day.” There are some truly beautiful turns of phrase here. The atmosphere is warm, the lyrics are beautiful, but it’s those touches he adds to the music that really make “On Christmas Day” something special. Do yourself a favor and listen early and often.

Bottom Line: A folk/country/alt.country highlight of the season, no doubt about it.

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Christmas for Cowboys

Christmas for Cowboys (2016)

Checkpoint Charlie Audio Productions (CCAP)
Buy: Stream | Amazon.de MP3

How about some country music from Norway? Because that makes total sense right? Everything makes sense right now! Well, actually Norway, Sweden and the like have long had a healthy Americana/Country scene. The folks over at Checkpoint Charlie Audio Productions (CCAP) gathered four Norwegian country bands (The Brigade, Helldorado, Flying Shoes and the Tramps), and each band chose two songs by prominent country and americana bands and songwriters. Songs featured on this release were originally recorded by the Handsome Family, Willie Nelson, John Denver, Jackson Browne, John Prine, The Band, Buck Owens, Chris Hillman and Glen Campbell. Those are some big names indeed, though my favorite is perhaps the smallest name (Handsome Family). That said, I am having a tough time singling out specific tracks to feature, because truly, the quality level is high enough on each of these tracks. The entire release is certainly worth your time. For extra credit, check out The Brigade’s Beyond Christmas Day EP from 2014.

Bottom Line: These Norwegians really love this country music, and it comes through.

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Venus and the Moon - Happy Xmas (War is Over)

Venus and the Moon “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I have to say… this isn’t easy. On so many levels, I don’t feel like entertaining anything that gives me pleasure. Nothing is funny. Laughter can feel like a betrayal. Smiling can feel futile. I mean… shit is dark. So… here’s a dark song. I know I said I didn’t know when I’d be able to post again, but this required very little effort and paid off quite spectacularly.

Venus and the Moon‘s special brand of “galactic country” has taken, what I often think of as an extremely boring and over-played song, and made it not only listenable, but beautiful. The slide guitar is so perfect that it makes me a little angry. I know, stupid reaction right? This is driven from a place where I just discovered this extremely easy and obvious answer that had eluded me for so long, and I feel really stupid that it took me so long – You know, that feeling. Don’t let me stop with the slide guitar, the vocals are also impeccable. The honest quality of the delivery takes a song that (for me) has lost all meaning, and you believe them. A wonderful early Christmas present for us all, at a time when we need it most.

Bottom Line: LA’s Venus and the Moon have helped me find meaning in “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” which is no easy task. Perhaps even more challenging, they prompted me to write when writing is the last thing I want to do.

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Joseph Bradshaw & Kyle Cox - Merry Christmas from Coast to Coast (2015)

Joseph Bradshaw & Kyle Cox – Merry Christmas from Coast to Coast (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Nashville’s Kyle Cox has a long history of Christmas tunes, just check out his Bandcamp page! This year, rather than a one-off single, Kyle got together with a fellow musician from Los Angeles, Joseph Bradshaw, and the two put their heads and songs together to create a 4-track Christmas EP,  appropriately titled Merry Christmas from Coast to Coast. Consisting of 2 covers, and 2 originals, I am going to focus on the originals… because they are wonderful.

Joseph Bradshaw’s “Christmas is Always” is an absolutely gorgeous old-time, uptempo country waltz. Joseph’s voice reminds me of Dave Wilson from Chatham County Line, which I would consider a high compliment. The lyrics are truly beautiful: “Christmas is always / it’s ever with you. / When your heart’s full and glad / then you’ll know that it’s true. / So always remember, / whatever you do, / that Christmas is always / it’s ever with you.” In my last post I decried the need some have for pro-Christmas songs… but I’ll tell ya, there has to be a balance, and this song’s pro-Christmas beauty will help sustain a season of dirges.

Kyle Cox’s “Don’t Make My Christmas Blue” begins, and immediately I began thinking – is this an Avett Brothers tune?? I mean that in the best of ways – I know there are some serious Avett detractors out there, but I pretty much adore everything from Emotionalism and earlier. Its simple arrangement, heartfelt vocals, and lovely production blend together beautifully. “I know this time of year can bring you down; / Everyone but you is floating on a cloud. / But it’s hard to feel it, / this Christmas spirit, / when every day you only say how much you really hate it. / I won’t say happy holidays to you / and you don’t have to act like you want me to / No, I won’t say happy holidays to you / if you don’t try to make my Christmas blue.” The Avetts should cover it… and make Kyle a boatload of money!

Bottom Line: The always-wonderful Mad Mackerel first hipped me to this release, and I’m quite glad they did. All four tracks are done quite well, most especially the pair of originals, which are some of the country/folk standouts of the season. Name your own price and send them a few bucks, why don’t you?

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Applennium “Just This Christmas” (2013) / “Is It Christmas” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream/Free

Buffalo’s Applennium have now released wonderful Christmas songs for two years in a row, and we can only hope there’s another coming in 2015. I’m getting antsy to write about the tracks… so here we go.

2013’s release, “Just this Christmas,” begins as the kind of song that my wife would roll her eyes at, as I have an affinity for a Christmas dirge, and she does not. “Santa, don’t bring me some silly toys / unless I can stomp on them. / No child could imagine the emptiness / of lack optimism.” Dark! But really beautiful. The music is a blend of indie rock, folk and alt country, pretty much hitting three favorites in 3:30. The song is not all dark clouds, though: “This holiday just made me believe / that there’s still hope in me.” Melancholy with a glimmer of hope? I’m hooked. (And its a free download on Soundcloud!)

2014’s effort, “Is It Christmas,” is nearly the polar opposite to “Just this Christmas.” “Tonight, begin to trust / begin to take less than you must / let go of sorrow / let in the good.” The music is soaring, echoing through the night and shimmering out of the speakers. As the track builds, the mandolin flutters into the background and the layered vocals float over the music, and you think, “Low would kill to have written this song.” Such wonderful production to a tremendous song. Loving it.

Bottom Line: These songs have grown on me over the past weeks or so, which is the mark of a winner. Everything about these songs, from the writing, to the music, to the production – truly exceptional. Check out their non-seasonal songs too – you won’t be disappointed. 5/5 (You readers seem to like the rating system.)

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The Legends of Country - Its' a Long Way Back from a Dream

Legends of Country – It’s A Long Way Back From A Dream (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

This little gem has popped up last year on Stubby’s, and I really wish I had noticed the subject matter of the release earlier than I did (I’m on their e-mail list!!). The Legends of Country are the indie-pop/country hybrid brainchild of Jof Owen from The Boy Least Likely To. Jof’s voice can make any country song sound indie-pop, so no amount of twang can take the indie-pop heart out of these tunes. Both tracks feature seasonal fare: the title track “It’s a Long Way Back from a Dream” is a twangy tale that spins the story of Richie Burnett, world champion darts player, as he heads to defend his title on New Years Eve. The imagery is sad & beautiful, and when the trumpet enters the mix, the instrumentation engulfs you. It’s pretty spectacular.

While the A-side takes us on a New Years journey, the B-side brings us back home to Christmas. “From St. George to Snowflake” is another beautiful story-song that tells of a Christmas Eve car ride. The lyrics present a modest and beautiful tale of love and Christmas. Its not hard to place yourself directly inside the verses, and the warmth it exudes is palpable. Finally, there is a wonderful guitar line that shimmers throughout this song… and it gave me goosebumps. Lovely.

Bottom Line: The indie-Christmas pedigree could not be ignored, and astoundingly, the Legends of Country have exceeded my already high expectations with these two incredible tales. 5/5

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Noise to the World 2

Noise to the World 2: Converse Rubber Tracks Holiday Music (2014)

Converse Rubber Tracks
Buy: Free!

Converse is at it again! Noise to the World 2 dropped, and while the Soundcloud play count suggests otherwise, they snuck by me once more! Well, for 2 days or so at least. This one is looking HOT! Four of the six tracks have dropped, with two more coming tomorrow (DUM DUM GIRLS with an ORIGINAL SONG!).

For starters. The GRMLN track, “Before December (You’re Alive)” has a great vibe that any self-respecting indie rock fan will enjoy (hi, I’m one of those folks). I love the programmed beats with the acoustic guitar. GRMLN’s got a new record out, as well as some great covers on their Youtube channel – check them out.

Deer Tick have written yet another Christmas tune, “White Havoc,” though the melody is crazy familiar. Fuzzy guitars, dark lyrics and instruments that sound as though they are battling for space – love it. When are they just going to bite the bullet and write an fuzz rock Christmas classic record?

I’ve got to say – These Rubber Tracks releases seem to seek out and find great rap Christmas tracks. The Michael Christmas track, “Pleasant Winter,” has a great backing track. I love the mix of nostalgia and getting some – there’s something real there. IamSu! Feat. HBK CJ & 1-O.A.K. bring us “Next Season,” while not terrible, is unfortunately not my vibe. The production, with the autotune and the tin-ny programmed beats are certainly a rap convention… but not one I tend to be attracted to.

The final two tracks are just about as different as you could get. Torreblanca & Iraida Noriega’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is the only non-original song on the release… and while its quite nice, the only part that I really got into was towards the very end. The vocals & the music swell in an unexpected way, which was quite nice. The Dum Dum Girls‘ electro-pop “On Christmas” strikes me as a natural progression from the sound of their last album, Too True. Synths dotted that album, lying just under the Jesus & Mary Chain guitars… they just went full-electro on this.

Bottom Line: An even stronger showing than laster year’s generally excellent Noise to the World. 4.6/5

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