Chase Kerby “Angels in the Snow” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (FREE!)

Hot tip. Just follow a bunch of folks from Oklahoma City, and you’ll find some great Christmas music. The latest, courtesy of Beau Jennings’ (who has his own great xmas record) twitter account, is Chase Kirby’s “Angels in the Snow.” There is so much going for this song: Chase’s voice has an authentic quality (which makes all the difference in folk music), and his songwriting is damn clever. “The little drummer boy is clocking out at six / he’s got to make it in time to pick up his kid / oh the wise men have been stuck in traffic for days / it would be nice if they saw a star on the way.” You are just going to have to listen to it, because I’m busy trying to finish my mix today. Hell, I’m 100% positive that this is going to end up on someone’s mix, because it is most certainly mix-worthy.

Bottom Line: Oklahoma City, with Beau Jennings, Chase Kirby and the Fowler/Blackwatch Christmas comp (FULL REVIEW COMING SOON) is the epicenter of excellent Christmas music. There is no rival this year.

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Johnathan Rice and Courtney Marie Andrews “We Won’t Be Lonely This Christmas” (2018)

Johnathan Rice and Courtney Marie Andrews - We Won't Be Lonely This Christmas

Mano Walker Recordings
Buy: Apple Music | Google Play | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

There is no perfect release schedule when it comes to Christmas music. SO MUCH comes out in such a SMALL AMOUNT OF TIME, that no artist can be sure that their song will have the time to break through the flurry of competing songs. Last year’s fantastic track by Johnathan Rice and Courtney Marie Andrews is a prime example of this problem. Here we have two notable artists collaborating on a fantastic song, and I didn’t hear a peep about it until stumbling upon it a few months ago. The song tells the story of immigrants trying to make a better life, but instead, get caught up in Trump’s child jails. You know, the kind of track to put next to “Santa Baby” on your mix.

Johnathan gave some context to the writing of this song on his Facebook page last December. You would think that after a year passed, things would be looking better… but alas, this story could have been written yesterday:

This song is a story I wrote with Jason Boesel and Courtney Marie Andrews. It’s about a child and his mother trying to make it to the other side of the border. Reasons beyond their control intervene, and they don’t make it. This song is my way of calling attention to the current humanitarian crisis taking place at our border with Mexico. Like many of you, I was devastated by the images in the press of mothers being gassed, of little children in cages sleeping on foil blankets. Believe me – as bad as those images are – the worst is yet to come if we do not act immediately.

A few months ago I traveled down to the U.S.-Mexico border with a group of like-minded people to learn more about the situation, and hear about how to help. I started writing this song on the bus ride home. It was recorded in LA a few weeks ago.

Johnathan finished his post with a pitch to donate to Al Otro Lado, whose border rights program “hosts know-your-rights training and legal orientation workshops in migrant shelters in Tijuana, Mexico, and provides direct legal representation to detained asylum seekers in Southern California.” So, if you are so inclined, you can donate here.

Bottom Line: The story is moving and Johnathan and Courtney’s voices blend beautifully. Should you want to add a little bit of humanity to a normally sugary-sweet holiday mix, look no further than this song.

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Invisible Music “When the Lights” (2012)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

John Ralston, the frontman of Invisible Music, has previously been featured on this blog with his brilliant Jesus Christ/A Marigny Christmas 7″, as well as on my 2017 Christmas mix, Snow Man. Today, we round out his seasonal selections with the emotional “When the Lights,” from their 2012 self-titled album. This is an alt.country ballad about how the holidays can amplify how much you miss someone; a sentiment that, for most people, is quite relatable. The lyrics are quite beautiful:

When the lights start spinning / hold on tight, it’s just the beginning
I’ve been there before / my face on the floor / passed over and frozen in time / I loved you much more before you started to read me my rights

Christmas lights all shining / down on us with their good tidings / there’s a chill in the air / I forgot my coat there / on the hotel room chair by the door / I’m just not that sure that it’s possible to miss you much more

The song is simple, poignant, and relatable – super solid stuff. For you vinyl folks (like me!), you may be interested to know that you can pick up the entire record (limited to 300) for only $12. Even a miser a like Scrooge can’t complain about that price. (Hoping they might make it available as a single-track download, for now, it is part of the whole album. The record sounds great though!)

Bottom Line: John’s got a touch for these emotional Christmas songs. If you’re reading my blog, you likely appreciate that. Hope you enjoy.

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Dearnley “Christmas in a Strip Club” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

David W. Dearnley has managed to take a provocative title, which many a song relies on exclusively, and surprises the hell out of me. The song does not just being and end with that title – it is the little details that make this song so damn special. However, this song  would not be possible with David’s voice, which has a quality that can’t be denied. It is one of those voices that sounds lived in, one with a patina that grows more beautiful under bar lights. Stubby wrote about this record earlier in December, and he rightly loved this track as well. He loved the twist as much as I… that the protagonist is recapturing childhood memories at the strip club, the one “where the Stuckey’s used to be.” You’ll have to listen to the whole thing to get it, and even when you know the reveal is coming, it is still so very worth it. “Christmas in a Strip Club” is a dirty, sad, thoughtful, beautiful song that is worth your money… so bring a stack of singles.

Bottom Line: This song reminds me of a Raymond Carver short story – dark, personal, and fascinating. Highly recommended.

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Traveller “Christmas Eve at Kroger” (2018)

Traveller - Western Movies

Refuge Foundation for the Arts
Buy: Vinyl & CD | iTunes | Google Play MP3 | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Traveller, the Americana supergroup comprised of Robert Ellis, Cory Chisel and Jonny Fritz, may have taken three years to follow up the release of their first track, “Western Movies,” but I would contend… this is most certainly worth the wait. Robert Ellis has released four solo records, including his latest self-titled album, Robert Ellis, in 2016. Cory Chisel has toured for years with Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, releasing seven records since 2004. Jonny Fritz (AKA Jonny Corndawg) first came to my attention with a gift from a friend, a glow-in-the-dark LP copy of the endlessly entertaining Dad Country. So when you put all three of these already-accomplished alt.country/country/Americana artists together for a proper full-length (also called Western Movies), you are likely going to get something pretty special. And to my surprise, there is the added bonus of an absolutely stellar Christmas song on there – “Christmas Eve at Kroger.” I’ve been listening to this track for a few months now, and the first time my wife heard it – she began to tear up. I certainly wasn’t surprised; This song has a bunch of these little, deceptively-powerful moments. The lyrics are so simple and real, that they feel as though they could have come right out of your own mind. I was hooked upon hearing them name-check Cracklin’ Oat Bran and “watching Die Hard with my mom.” While I would not have watched Die Hard, I most certainly ate that cereal and snuggled with my mom as a kid on many, many occasions. Cracklin’ Oat Bran was that little indulgence that my mom would give herself back when my family was young, and I remember those days like it was yesterday. I may be a bit of a humbug at times, and I know I find interest in the bitterness of the holiday, but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t also secretly (and sometimes openly) love Christmas – and you can tell these guys do too.

Bottom Line: The heart found in the lyrics compliment the warmth of the recording, as all three singer-songwriters trade off verses in this beautifully delicious song.

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Susto “R.I.P. Santa” (2017)

Susto - Casual Christmas

Missing Piece Records
Buy: 7″ Vinyl | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

I know I’m partial to synthesizers, depressing tunes and the Swedish, but I came across a great, domestic, alt.country song about the season that pairs well with a glass of spiked eggnog, and I thought I’d gather around the digital fire and tell you about it. Charleston, SC’s Susto’s alt.country, drinking song about the death of Santa Claus is yet another excellent approach to what can be a very predictable genre. I’m just loving some of these lyrics: “That jolly old mister was a north pole drifter. / I ran into him once or twice. / He’d say “Hey ain’t the weather / nice this time of year, / as long as you don’t slip on the ice…” / I met him at a diner, / he said he was a miner. / I could tell by the twinkle in his eye, / he was telling me a righteous lie. / That man was a saint.” The imagery at the diner is pretty damn fantastic; there is a spark of story in that small moment that I want to hear more about. The track itself has a great alt.country vibe, lots of nice piano lines and Justin Osborne’s vocals convey the story beautifully. Of note – this track is also available on a limited (to 300) vinyl picture disc, available on their website. The record includes “Feliz Navidad,” which is also featured on Amazon’s new Indie for the Holidays playlist, an acoustic version of the same track, also featured on an Amazon playlist (Acoustic Christmas). The final track is not a Christmas song, but yet another Amazon playlist entry, “Serial Monogamist,” which features on the Love Me Not playlist.

Bottom Line: I must admit – the title had me skeptical. However, with some great lyrical imagery, this drinking song about the death of Santa is quite engaging and enjoyable. Digging it for sure.

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Pauline Andrès “Christmas from Paris, TN” (2017)

Pauline Andrès "Christmas in Paris, TN"

Self Released
Buy: Stream | Bandcamp

Originally “born in France a coal miner’s daughter,” then a Berlin-based country artist, Pauline Andrès has found a new home in Nashville to record her latest album, due in 2018. In the meantime, she has recorded this excellent new Christmas tune, “Christmas in Paris, TN.” The song begins as a intriguing title, and quickly expands into a melancholy, country-rock standout of this Christmas season. One would think that a track about Christmas in Paris would be a song of beauty, lights and romance – but add that Tennessee onto the end and you’ve got a wholly different scene. This song is about being extremely lonely on Christmas, where every reminder of Christmas makes it worse. So, she writes her family a postcard, “Alone for Christmas, Alone in Paris.” It takes a round or two of that line before she adds “Tennessee,” and that delay is so clever and effective – just wonderfully crafted. Her voice shares qualities with Lucinda Williams, and as with Lucinda, the rough edges compliment the lyrics beautifully. The production is wonderful, and the addition of country organ is the icing on the cake. I’m sure this song will find a place on someone’s mix out there, no doubt.

Bottom Line: Pauline has a very dark approach toward Christmas songs (check out her 2015, A Happy Christmas Song EP), and with “Christmas in Paris, TN,” she’s delivered her strongest song yet. Beautifully crafted, on all fronts.

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Boo Ray and Elizabeth Cook “All Strung Out Like Christmas Lights” (2017)

Boo Ray and Elizabeth Cook

BRRB Music
Buy: 12″ Vinyl | 7Digital MP3 | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

I think it is about time to mix it up from the contemplative indiepop tunes – we need a palate cleanser in anticipation of the feast to come. So, I present this boozy country Christmas single from Boo Ray and Elizabeth Cook, “All Strung Out Like Christmas Lights.” Plenty of pedal steel, bottles of wine, and some seriously fun back and forth between Boo and Elizabeth. I love a good drinking Christmas song, and this one’s outlaw country vibe is just what the doctor ordered today. Pick it up on vinyl too! Cheers!

Bottom Line: Boo and Elizabeth have laid down one of the most enjoyable country Christmas tunes of…. well, the last few years no doubt. I can’t stand pop country, and they obviously can’t either.

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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. EDIT – Those playlists will be updated on December 1. In addition to these two returning playlists, be on the lookout for Christmas Soul, 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.

EDIT: There is also the All is Bright playlist, which is getting an update again this year too. Why anyone is recording “Baby It’s Cold Outside” anymore is beyond me, but Willie’s doing it.

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 / A Marigny Christmas (2010)

John Ralston - Jesus Christ

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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