Sam and Julia "Catching up with Christmas"

Sam & Julia “Catching Up With Christmas” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

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.

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The Boy Least Likely To "A Winter's Tale"

The Boy Least Likely To “A Winter’s Tale” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

The Boy Least Likely To have long been stalwarts in the indiepop-Christmas scene, releasing the beautiful Christmas Special LP back in 2010, compiling older Christmas singles alongside some fresh ones. (Boy I would love that on vinyl) In the following years, Jof Owen (half of the BMLT duo) created his indiepop-meets-country project, Legends of Country, which put out an equally spectacular, 2-song Christmas release in 2014, It’s A Long Way Back From A Dream. This year, after a cheeky response to a tweet I sent their way… I began anticipating a new track. December 1st hits, and viola! “A Winter’s Tale” is a perfect blend of both sounds – the indiepop of Boy Least Likely To with the country of Legends of Country. The main orchestration is the Boy Least Likely To at their most lush, as the Legends of Country accents of slide guitar and fiddle bring the two worlds together beautifully. As with most indiepop, the music is upbeat enough to look past the melancholy, but those country accents do a wonderful job bringing you back down to the lyrics. “It was only a winter’s tale / just another winter’s tale / and why should the world take notice / of one more love that’s failed / it’s a love that could never be / thought it meant a lot to you and me / on a worldwide scale, / we’re just another winter’s tale.” It was certainly worth the wait.

Bottom Line: It sure is wonderful to have the Boy Least Likely To back in the Christmas game. Beautiful, melancholy indiepop, expertly crafted with love.

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Boo Ray and Elizabeth Cook

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

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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Silas Nello "Chelsea Boots On a Holiday"

Silas Nello “Chelsea Boots on a Holiday” (2016)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Dallas singer/songwriter Silas Nello contributes an excellent new Christmas original to the 2016 holiday season, one certainly worthy of a listen. Silas doesn’t quite fit in the alt.country mold, as the track leans more rock than country, but his voice (both actual and lyrical) most certainly drives toward those Gram Parsons/alt.country fields. “Chelsea Boots on a Holiday” is a wistful tale of someone whose life demands that they stay in the city, as his mind wanders towards the Christmases of home and lost love. “I can hear the sleigh bells / rolling down the street / its my imagination / mixed with drunk and winter dreams. / New Years coming soon, / I hope it’s not too late. / But I can’t forget you, / wearing Chelsea boots on a holiday.”

Bottom Line: For those looking for some excellent, rootsy melancholia, I give you “Chelsea Boots on a Holiday.”

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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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Acoustic Christmas

UPCOMING: Amazon’s “Acoustic Christmas” Playlist (2016)

Amazon Music
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.

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Head on over to Texas Monthly yo to hear Hayes, Bob and Shinyribs. You know the deal… ‘sclusives.

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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Wheels Fargo and the Nightingale

Wheels Fargo and the Nightingale “The Christmas Presents’ Blues” (2014)

Part Records
Buy: 7Digital MP3/FLAC | Amazon UK (CD)

First off, isn’t it great having Stubby back? Secondly, how about some Italian rockabilly/bluegrass for your holiday season? Wheels Fargo and the Nightingale have released a new record, At the Hayride!, with an original Christmas tune to boot! For those looking for a country-feel for your Christmas mix, look no further than these imports (and I stress import- its not out in the states!). One of the originals on their new record just happens to be “The Christmas Presents’ Blues,” and its a solid piece of work. The song is simply about those presents that just don’t go right – shoes don’t fit, names are misspelled, and so forth. This would be for the yodeling cowboy in your family, most certainly.

Bottom Line: I will grade this as one should a wine – and let it be reflective of the qualities of the style it was written in, not necessarily how much I enjoy listening to it. While this sound is not necessarily along the lines of my own personal taste, it is done well and exudes an earnestness that I appreciate. Unfortunately, it loses points for not having an easy means to buy it as single track. 3.8/5

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