High Two Records
Buy: Bandcamp (Vinyl) | Label (Vinyl/MP3) | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Amazon MP3
As the world commemorated WW1 this past week (there was rain – eek!), I began to think about this fantastic song that Adam Arcuragi included on his wonderful mini-album Soldiers for Feet back in 2008. “The Belgian” references that famous 1914 Christmas armistice, where soldiers along the western front ceased fighting and celebrated Christmas. It is a truly beautiful song – one that I have mentioned before, but never featured. I always imagined it was one that was meant to be discovered… but you know… let this be your point of discovery.
Bottom Line: Adam Arcuragi is three-for-three when it comes to Christmas songs. Just saying – I’d buy whatever he’s selling.
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.
Sam & Julia are a folk/americana duo from Amsterdam, whose love of old June and Johnny duets can be felt in this wonderful country-Christmas song. “Catching up with Christmas” starts off with a music box melody, but quickly transitions to slide guitar, upright bass and that easy country rhythm. The song was almost too pretty for me to get into, and on first listen, didn’t know how I felt. However, the ending of the song veers slightly towards some psych-rock inspired vocals, and it completely works! Subsequent listens have endeared me even more to this song – so if it sounds a bit too pretty for you at first, give it another shot and you may be surprised. Of note, they also made a great Wham! inspired video, so check that out too!
Bottom Line: Sam and Julia have crafted a beautiful country-Christmas duet that certainly grows on you.
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.
Mama Bird Recording Co.
As I searched down the feed of Bandcamp purchases by folks I follow on that wonderful service, I came across the absolutely fantastic Ryan Oxford release that came out a few days ago. I am hoping they will fix their payment processing issues, so that I can buy that cassette. But this is not the real point of this post, the real point is to highlight the Christmas single that Nick Delffs put out on the same label, Mama Bird Recording Co., this past December. “As I Sat on a Sunny Bank” is a traditional English Christmas carol arranged and performed splendidly by Nick. There is a warmth to recording, with the muted, pulsing drumbeat and the shimmering guitar accents, which makes this song sound contemporary, as well as just downright fantastic. Who wouldn’t want to feel the warmth as they sit on a sunny bank?
Bottom Line: A beautiful treatment of a traditional song by the talented Nick Delffs… you have my vote. Which…. doesn’t matter for much, which is why if you buy this track today (Friday, February 3, 2017), you’ll be giving a small slice to the ACLU as they fight for our civil liberties.
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.
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.
Buy: Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3
Today is a day of upcoming posts apparently. Amazon looks to be creating their own Christmas tradition with their holiday playlists. They like to mix it up, and this year they have moved on from the indiepop and rock of yore, and on to the fertile grounds of Americana. Texas Monthly recently debuted three songs to be featured on the collection, and it certainly looks promising. Hayes Carll covers himself (hehe) by polishing off “Grateful for Christmas,” Bob Schneider lays down a studio version of his “Christmas Street,” and Shinyribs add a little boogie woogie to the mix with “Birthday Cake for Jesus.” Be on the lookout for additional tracks by G.Love, Trampled by Turtles, Son Little, BILLY BRAGG & JOE HENRY (together???). You might have an idea of who I’m most interested in hearing from…
Edit: Shoutout to Arum Rae! You’re on this playlist! GREAT SONG!
Bottom Line: Again… haven’t heard it yet, but Amazon’s got the money and exposure to not only bring in some great names, but also support some newcomers.
Head on over to Texas Monthly yo to hear Hayes, Bob and Shinyribs. You know the deal… ‘sclusives.
Woah. German folk band The Green Apple Sea are recording their forth album, and have released a track ahead of the early 2014 release. A bleak, but beautiful song, this song walks the line between simple and grand, as the lyrics’ pointed realism are engulfed by a rising chorus. I can’t wait to hear more.
Bottom Line: This is a lock. 5/5
How about some wonderful Americana from Sweden for your Saturday morning? Strayfolk came into my radar back in 2008, courtesy of Swedesplease, and their “Christmas Day” immediately became part of my regular rotation. Long existing as an mp3 floating out in the ether of the internet, it now has a home on Bandcamp. Why would you go to Bandcamp, rather than just popping over to their website? Well, because you can now get a FLAC version, as well as show your appreciation for such a great song with a buck. Christmas Underground is all about supporting the artists that make our season happen.
Bottom Line: You and your country band are going to want to cover this song, so go buy it and start practicing. 5/5