Olive Grove Records
Scottish! Horns! Politics! Beloved musicians! Randolph’s Leap and the Olive Grove All-Stars have checked off every single required box for me to love them. “Christmas, Burn it All” is a cathartic release of frustration with a big chorus. “It’s Christmas time and all your heroes are dead / So love yourself, your family and friends tonight instead / It’s Christmas time and all your dreams are gone / But Santa’s on his way to bring a new and hopeful dawn.” EPIC! You think this thing is going to be bleak, and only bleak when you hear that first line – but then bam! – there is Love. In two short lines, your perception of what this song is going to be is flipped. I haven’t even gotten to the part that truly hooked me. The verse with Daniel Johnston was just so damn touching, I continue to be destroyed by it. “It’s Christmas time and all your heroes are dead / The ghost of Daniel Johnston came and hovered by my bed / We talked about some random things then finally he said / Merry Christmas and True Love Will Find You In The End.” That verse made this song undeniable. AND THEN CAME THE ENDING. Horns ring out with “Burn it all, throw it all in the fire / It’s Christmas day / a new age is on the way!” To finish with an explosion is pretty much the best way to go.
Bottom Line: This song is the first EPIC Christmas song of 2019, and perhaps the last and greatest one of the decade.
Fisher And Porcupine
The other half of my favorite (title) song off of Chris Farren’s brilliant Like a Gift from God or Whatever,” Jenny Owen Youngs has a Christmas song of her own this year. “Maybe Next Year” is one of those Christmas songs drenched in emotion. There is no rocking around the Christmas tree, this song makes you FEEEEEEELLLL. The best way I can describe it is that I feel the same way listening to Elliott Smith. Some of those early songs are heartbreaking, but because you feel it so deeply, you feel more alive. So, live a little and check out this song.
Bottom Line: Sad songs are the best, and scientifically proven to make you feel better.
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.
Did you know… that Christmas can also be someone’s birthday? True story. I know this guy, legend has it he was born then. I’m sure that science and well known pagan traditions will not prove that wrong. However, there is a little-known fact that other folks also have their birthday on the 25th… it’s true (hehe). Well, we finally have a song for them! NYC indiepop band (well, one guy who sings and plays everything!) The Color Bars‘ released this great indiepop/doo-wop, supremely-secular Christmas/birthday song back in 2017, and I don’t shy away from digging back a few years to bring out the good stuff. I was initially not too sure about going full doo-wop, but after a couple listens, me and the boys began performing it for dimes on the corner, and it just stuck. Those first few lyrics are pretty great:
I’m not one for Christmas wreaths, eggnog or Christian beliefs
But I still love Christmastime and there’s one primary reason
Merry Christmas it’s your birthday, baby it’s true
I’m not talking bout Jesus, I’m talking bout you
‘Cause Christmas is your birthday and it’s almost here
And I’m giving my heart to you for Christmas this year
Merry Christmas it’s your birthday
Written for a woman who bears the burden of a December 25th birthday, “Merry Christmas It’s Your Birthday” is a pretty fantastic birthday (or Christmas? or both? I’ve just gone cross-eyed) present indeed.
Bottom Line: This song is certainly an excellent new approach to celebrating on the 25th, for whichever reason you happen to do so.
Le Jean Luc Tobine’s Official Fan Club
One of my absolute favorite finds ever was the Christmas EP put out by Jean Luc Tobine’s Official Fan Club, which is SOMEHOW still available. I mean come on. Any self-respecting alternative Christmas fan should own that thing. Well, they have also released two great Christmas singles by the Basse-Normandie band a Drift. The first one was lovingly reviewed on this very blog back in 2015, and the lastest…….. well here it is. I know, what a twist! “Make Christmas Great Again” is an obvious jab at our orange leader, just based on the title alone. However, just to be sure, the song begins with “Once in the biggest tower of the biggest town, / Lived the richest boy who never asked for what he had.” I do believe that fits the biography. However, there may be hope for this young boy. He proceeds to ask for Santa to make a wonderful Christmas for him, his family and friends. While a bit self-centered, not a terrible request from this young boy. However, as Christmas arrives and he is sitting there alone, his true nature is revealed and things take a turn toward the megalomaniacal.
Make Christmas Great Again
Make Christmas Great Again
I want a big big party
I wanna be adored
I want them to scream my name
and ask for more
Make Christmas Great Again
Make Christmas Great Again
Build a wall around the house
so they can’t get out,
and I can play with them
until new year strikes.
One could say that I love a good political Christmas song… and they would be right. A Drift’s deft ability to set the scene, then twist the knife stands in both contrast and compliment to the doo-wop indiepop groove. It is a big smile while flipping the bird, and sometimes those are the best.
Bottom Line: Political indiepop from our sharp-tongued brothers in arms.
Just when you can’t go on… you find “Fuck It, It’s Christmas,” and you are revived. If you don’t feel that way after listening to this fantastic new song by San Francisco’s Faux Canada, then you are indeed a Grinch. I should know, I was one. I absolutely love their description, because it is so apt:
Here is our latest release; a Christmas song that gives you permission to eat the whole cake, confess your obsession with all things festive, to give in to the lovefest the holidays are meant to create.
I’m gonna stay up another hour. Because fuck it, I’m writing a Christmas music blog.
Bottom Line: I pledge my allegiance to Faux Canada. Let’s forget what hell this year has been and say “Fuck It, It’s Christmas.”
You never quite know what to expect, yet fully know what to expect, when you are awaiting the new Ornaments Christmas single; The one thing you know is that you will never quite hear a Christmas song like this from anyone else. This seasonal project of Mike Behrends and Lance Owens is entering its sixth year, and after we all contemplated death in 2016, we find ourselves celebrating (new) life in 2019. “Married and Joseph” is a brilliant short story, borne out of Mike’s early upbringing in Minnesota attending a conservative Lutheran Church. The characters take part in the classic Christmas pageant, one where their performance is so successful that it leads to sex, a baby and blackmail. I don’t want to give away the whole story, listen for yourself! An added bonus for 2019, the Ornaments are offering up a wonderfully appropriate tote bag in “Lutheran prayer book green.” The bag is wonderfully emblazoned with “Christmas Music or Die Trying.” I can think of a number of folks who are going to NEED this (or be insanely bummed they missed out). Best of luck grabbing one of the
15 (14 now that I’ve gotten one), you weirdo Christmas music fanatics.
Bottom Line: The Ornaments are truly on their own Christmas music island, every year throwing a party and treating us to a fascinating new entree to devour. Delicious!
Buy: Bandcamp | Spotify
Nashville’s Charlie Marie just released one heck of a combination of classic-country Christmas originals. Charlie’s voice is the kind that you’ll immediately recognize, soulful and strong, the kind of voice that you would have heard forty years ago coming out an AM radio. Those folks out there who wish to save country music will no doubt find solace in this voice. “Old Fashioned Christmas” is simple and pure in presentation and purpose; the song is about wanting a simple Christmas with family. The only flourishes in this song reside in her voice, where you fully understand how much it means to her. To convey so much beyond the words on the paper, simply through the emotive quality of her voice… you are going to recognize this as the defining feature of Ms. Charlier Marie. “Under the Mistletoe” is ALL about that chorus. I may have mentioned Charlie’s voice one or two times before, but here is where she takes you for a ride. Sit down and read the lyrics to “Under the Mistletoe,” and you may find it fun to have a “Home Alone” reference, and smile with a story of working for a moment away from the kids to connect. Charlie’s voice takes that basic frame and blows it up into an incredible song, adding a vividness that only a big, soulful voice like hers can provide. Charlie Marie could make the phone book sound important and meaningful – her voice is just that good.
Bottom Line: Charlie Marie, thank you for hipping me to your songs, you just made my night. These are some absolutely stunning classic-country Christmas songs deserving of your ears.
Norman, Oklahoma has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to underground Christmas music. Of course, the Fowler Volkswagen/Blackwatch Studios compilations are based in Norman, and so are a bunch of fantastic musicians. One such musician is singer/songwriter Beau Jennings. Having earlier contributed the dark, yet excellent “Christmas Bus” to 2013’s Fowler VW/Blackwatch compilation (Volume 3), Beau returns with a full Christmas record, The Christmas Light. The album is a collection of originals, with a few excellent covers sprinkled in. There is some real beauty in this sparsely-orchestrated affair, most notably in some of the lyrics in the title track, “The Christmas Light.”
“Woke up that morning to ta wonderland
The TV said that school was closed
Mom made hot chocolate in the microwave
We put on our winter clothes
The snow just fell as the day went on
We smelled the neighbor’s fireplace
Inola Oklahoma 1985
Oh if Christmas had a face.”
The imagery is simple, but damn if you can’t feel it. The warmth and love that emanates from that track is undeniable and can be found in the tone and pacing of the instrumentals as well. Beau’s motivation for creating this beautiful record is one of love, but also of loss.
In many ways, I made this record for my mother. She died earlier this year and it’s the first Christmas my family will spend without her. Because I recorded it late October and into November of this year, I suppose it was a way to keep her spirit present as the holidays approached. But it also turned into a larger reflection of how memories of holidays past can sometimes define or refine a holiday’s meaning in the present. I’ve always felt ‘the Christmas spirit’ most acutely when it’s late at night and I’m the only one awake, and so I wanted to capture that feeling as best I could.
Similar to Lachlan Denton’s “This Christmas,” Beau is using his music to keep his mother’s memory alive, and dammit if I’m not getting a little emotional thinking about it. You can’t quite imagine how it is going to feel… or how you are going to move on. Beau shares his journey with us, and it is beautiful.
Bottom Line: Warm, simple and full of love. That sounds like a great Christmas to me.
Commodore Trotter / Ball of Wax Audio Quarterly
I am not the kind of blogger who seeks out a great voice. So many of my favorite singers couldn’t sing (How I miss David Berman), but even I can still fall for a voice. Ball of Wax Audio Quarterly is a fantastic blog and music-compiler based in Seattle, and their most recent release is Ball of Wax 58: The Ball of Wax Winter Spectacular, featuring this truly beautiful song by Brittain Ashford & Matt Bauer. Honestly, I’m having a tough time describing Brittain’s voice in a better manner than Ball of Wax did:
The teller of this tale is Broadway star and thematic alchemist* Brittain Ashford. With a voice that balances diaphragmatic force with childlike vulnerability, Ashford paints the sort of holiday portrait that those of us who suffer from melancholy particularly this time of year can appreciate and empathize with, and what’s more—what we need most during the dark season—she infuses every line with a tattered but palpable hope.
This song was almost too pretty for me… but those distinctive qualities of Brittain’s vocal delivery were undeniable. The music is also quite lovely, but after learning of composer Matt Bauer‘s folk and banjo background, I am SO intrigued to hear a version with banjo. Damn that could be cool.
Edit: Turns out this song was initially released in 2018 on an EP, Tinsel and Snow & Other Mid-Winter Missives. Go check it out!
Bottom Line: Like Messi’s “Charlamagne,” this song is defined by a beautiful and distinctive voice.