Peace on Earth (2007)

Peace on Earth

Hard to Find a Friend
Buy: Maybe here?

The first of two compilations by the much-missed blog, Hard to Find a Friend. Somehow, this blog was able to assemble exclusive songs by some relatively big names (indie big), to benefit Toys for Tots. This is a good-enough release that it would certainly sell, and make more money for Toys for Tots if it were available on Bandcamp. I have made an effort to contact them in the past, but to no avail. So, the link for vol. 1 is still “live,” but I have no idea if the purchase will work. Perhaps they will find my post and remedy the situation…

There are plenty of tracks to highlight from this release… so I’m going to rattle off a few of them quickly, with embedded tracks where available.

The record begins with “Shepherd’s Song” by The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers. What a band name! Well, I am led to believe that this track is not exclusive, because they released a Christmas EP years ago which is well out-of-print. Certainly a beautiful tune that is worth your time.

Quiet Company give a rocking rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is not something you tend to hear. A great treatment that doesn’t fit into the traditional mold.

Great Lake Swimmers‘ “Gonna Make it Through This Year” is a FANTASTIC song that made a mix of mine a few years ago. Lucky for us, they have made it available elsewhere!

Someone Still Love You Boris Yeltsin & Sweetwater Abilene‘s “The Wheels are Off” is equally wonderful – and just like the GLS track, much more focused on the end of the year, rather than Christmas… but that’s fine by me!

David Karsten Daniels‘ rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter” is as slow and haunting as one would expect, and while it does not reinvent the version that many like to attempt, it may be one of the best of the bunch.

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone‘s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is an instrumental rendition of the song, with a hip-hop beat behind it that adds much more interest than I would expect. Certainly a good version if you’re into the more traditional stuff, with a very nice twist.

The Winston Jazz Routine‘s “Through the Snow” is a gorgeous acoustic song that would fit perfectly in that contemplative section of your mix.

The Long Winters‘ “Sometimes You have to Work on Christmas” is a great indie rock Christmas song, reminding me of when all my friends worked in coffee shops, restaurants and record stores.

Ohtis‘ “American Christians” is a fantastic track… and I can’t find THIS version anywhere. They have 2 other version on their website, free for download. They vary slightly, the one on their proper record, and the one on their demos record. I am particular to this version… but below is the LP version.

Aaron Robinson‘s “End of the Year” completes the trifecta of great year-ending themed songs. This is a fantastic tune, and I do hope that Aaron hunts it down for his Bandcamp site soon (It may have been lost in a hard drive crash!).

Some songs, such as the Chris Walla track, left me undwhelmed, but I have to say, that feels like a MINORITY of tracks. There are still some great tunes I didn’t highlight, but those above are my favorite ones. Certainly the tracks by Via Audio, TW Walsh, and American Music Club are worth checking out (Full tracklist here). If you try to buy it, and are successful, please let me know in the comments.

Bottom Line: One of the top Christmas compilations I have – so many good songs, and for a good cause. Wish it was as easy as a Bandcamp site to purchase though. 4.5/5

This Christmas (with Anthologies and Hide & Seek) (2012)

This Christmas (with Anthologies and Hide & Seek) (2012)

Anthologies / Hide & Seek Records
Buy: Donate

A very admirable, and higher quality (than most) charity compilation by Anthologies has come out two years in a row now, and I do hope it becomes a yearly seasonal occurrence. Donation amounts are left up to the giver, and all proceeds go towards supporting the homeless.

While I must admit, there was nothing that I fell in love with, I found it a very listenable compilation. The Birthday Kiss‘ “Sentimental Christmastime” was released outside of this compilation first, but is certainly a welcome addition. I happen to be a fan of The Lodger, so a Lodger side-project (The Birthday Kiss) will always garner a bit more attention from me. Dancing Club’s “Silent Night” brings new phrasing and instrumentation to what I normally find a very boring song. His voice is odd, yet good enough to be interesting – and I do love a banjo. Finally, These Men‘s “How Come You’re Only Nice to Me at Christmas,” is another to check out – great lyrics, nice music and short – always a bonus. The rest of the record is certainly listenable, and your personal song preferences will likely direct you to like songs that I might simply cross off out of my personal prejudices. For example, I hate “Wonderful Christmastime.” HATE it. So, that’s me.

Bottom Line: Good cause and overall very listenable. Keep em coming Anthologies. 3.8/5

LISTEN

Lisa Bouvier – Live From Hendon Cathedral (2011)

Lisa Bouvier

Cath ‘N’ Dad Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Lisa Bouvier is presently the bassist in the excellent indiepop band The Proctors, but that does not stop her from releasing her own solo material. This simple, two track Christmas single, is released on Cath ‘N’ Dad Records, which allows you to name your own price on all their releases. The catch? All the proceeds go to the charity of the band’s own choosing. Lisa chose Popkollo, a Swedish (yes, she is Swedish – I’m such a sucker for the Swedes) charity best described by Lisa:

Popkollo started as a music summer camp for girls, and is now a nationwide collaboration of incredible female musicians who support girls all over Sweden in their musical endeavours.

As for the songs, they are short, sweet, and performed beautifully. Not quite sure they are the kind of vibe that I look for in my Christmas mix, but certainly would fit the bill for some of you. To the best of my knowledge, “Christmas Rain” appears to be Lisa’s own song. There are other songs with the same title, but not a match when I compared the lyrics. It is an excellent song, and the production value is of equal quality. The second and final song is a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” Covered by a million other singers, Lisa’s version does nothing to rewrite the script. However, she does it quite nicely.

Bottom Line: Lisa Bouvier’s Christmas single is short, sweet, well performed and produced, and all the proceeds go to charity. I think you’ll be quite pleased with your purchase. 4.3/5

LISTEN

 

And for good measure, be sure to check out The Proctors, the band Lisa is presently touring the world with.

Silent Night, Tiny Lights (2012)

Silent Night, Tiny Lights

Tiny Lights
Buy: Bandcamp

A generally solid compilation with some definite highlights, but keep in mind one can’t be toooo tough on something that benefits kids. I was able to get ahold of one of the very-limited CD versions of this release, though consider that a personal failing of mine (the urge for the physical object, not just buying bytes). I bought it on spec… I think there were only about 100 or so, and the price was not more than the download if I remember correctly… bonus points for that.

This is a big one (19 tracks), so were are really only going to go through the highlights:

The Futureheads‘ “Christmas Was Better in the 80s” came out a few years ago, but remains a personal favorite. This is a nice bonus, being that I had only been able to previously purchase an MP3, and have now since upgraded to CD/FLAC. Certainly mix-worthy, and if you live in the states, you may even impress a friend or two who haven’t heard it and/or have no clue who the Futureheads are.

Blank Maps‘ “Stollen” is the kind of track that I like to have about 3/4 through the disc, slow, pretty and dramatic. Perhaps I haven’t listened closely enough yet… but having a tough time connecting it to Christmas though. Lionhall’s “Angel” falls into the same category. Loose if any Christmas connection at all, with the same pace and beauty. These are not necessarily something I would put on a mix, but certainly better songs than most.

The Railway Club slow down “Baby, Please Come Home” with excellent results. Acoustic guitars, an organ, bass, jingle bells (perhaps a mandolin too) and nice harmonies created a nice warm atmosphere. The original overpowers with a wall of sound, while this version invites you in for some cocoa.

A Woman of No Importance‘s “That’ll be Christmas” is one of the more interesting originals covers on the record. Thea Gilmore’s tune is very engaging; the lyrics can be funny or sad, sentimental or daft, all within one verse. I have not heard the original yet, but will no doubt do so. Certainly worth a listen. (Thanks for the clarification onedaywhen. Feel free to throw some listening suggestions my way too!)

Fawn Spots‘ “Santa Won’t Get Away with it This Year,” is noise rock with synths, and it works. Certainly something to consider for your Christmas mix, if you need something to up the pace. I know that I’ve had years where I was scrounging for something that wasn’t mid-to-low tempo and pretty… just hoping to find that dirty rock n’ roll to spice it up a bit. If I remember correctly, they also won Fat Cat Records Christmas song contest with this song as well.

While there are still some very listenable other tracks on the disc, these are the main ones that I wanted to call out. I just can’t do track-by-track for 19 tracks. I have a baby, and there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Bottom Line: Some good stuff, but only 2-3 songs that I would consider mix-worthy (and one of them has already been on one). 3.5/5

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