Zefereli "Oh Christmas" (2016)

Zefereli “Oh Christmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: iTunes

Brisbane, Australia’s Zefereli are a wonderful indiepop duo who… despite my best efforts, alluded me this past Christmas season. “Oh Christmas” is a beautiful, simple folk Christmas song in the vein of early, more acoustic Slow Club. There are no bells and whistles, just beautifully delivered harmonies and warm sentiment. “I won’t be asking for much this Christmas / I’ll just be asking for you.”

Bottom Line: I’m going to take this opportunity to ask Alistar and Clea to record another Christmas song this year because “Oh Christmas” was just too good, and I’m much more demanding than the song’s narrator.

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Three for Silver Christmas

Three for Silver “Our Rest Has Come” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Stubby hipped me to the excellent Portland trio, Three for Silver, when they released the fantastic Three Stones for St. Stephen in 2015. They are back once again, with a less ambitious release (1-song), but certainly with an eye towards the same level of quality. Three for Silver sound like a balkan-Tom Waits, and their style of junkyard folk-punk is a unique seasonal treat. Written in a recent snowstorm when the band had nowhere to go, you can feel the warmth of their studio come through in the production. A lovely antithesis to the dour news of the past few days, this is like a warm cup of coffee when you desperately need one.

Bottom Line: Three for Silver hit me at the right time, and hopefully you’ll find something here too.

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Erik Koskinen "On Christmas Day"

Erik Koskinen “On Christmas Day” (2016)

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.

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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.

My Bubba "Champagne Drops"

My Bubba “Champagne Drops” (2016)

Cash Only / Tone Tree Music
Buy: iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

The duo of My Bubba, previously known as the trio My Bubba and Mi, hail from those crazy Nordic states (Sweden and Iceland to be specific), which any reader will know are a particular hotbed of music that Christmas Underground both covers, and loves. To my pleasant surprise, their most recent single… is a one-off Christmas original! “Champagne Drops” is both fresh and new, as well as completely familiar, as it has suggestions of both “Unchained Melody” and “What a Wonderful World” in the cadence and melody that drives the song. This feeling of familiarity helps bring the song into an even more intimate experience. The vocals accentuate this intimacy, hushed but not whispered, as if spoken in a room so that others might not be bothered by their intrusion. “Feels like home when you dance me around / much crackling under the soles of our feet / a Christmas sound.” This cozy song demands a fire… and a bit of champagne.

Bottom Line: Sometimes I don’t go for the extremely pretty stuff… but the intimacy that My Bubba achieve in this song is undeniable.

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Venus and the Moon - Happy Xmas (War is Over)

Venus and the Moon “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I have to say… this isn’t easy. On so many levels, I don’t feel like entertaining anything that gives me pleasure. Nothing is funny. Laughter can feel like a betrayal. Smiling can feel futile. I mean… shit is dark. So… here’s a dark song. I know I said I didn’t know when I’d be able to post again, but this required very little effort and paid off quite spectacularly.

Venus and the Moon‘s special brand of “galactic country” has taken, what I often think of as an extremely boring and over-played song, and made it not only listenable, but beautiful. The slide guitar is so perfect that it makes me a little angry. I know, stupid reaction right? This is driven from a place where I just discovered this extremely easy and obvious answer that had eluded me for so long, and I feel really stupid that it took me so long – You know, that feeling. Don’t let me stop with the slide guitar, the vocals are also impeccable. The honest quality of the delivery takes a song that (for me) has lost all meaning, and you believe them. A wonderful early Christmas present for us all, at a time when we need it most.

Bottom Line: LA’s Venus and the Moon have helped me find meaning in “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” which is no easy task. Perhaps even more challenging, they prompted me to write when writing is the last thing I want to do.

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Totally Righteous Holiday Special (2015)

Chill Mega Chill / Very Jazzed Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Chill Mega Chill’s comp from last year, Tape Deck the Halls, had some real solid Christmas tunes, and largely originals! This past year was more of the same… WHICH IS AWESOME. This (hopefully) Christmas tradition is turning into one of the most interesting, original comps out there.

Totally Righteous kicks off with an extremely beautiful, somber song by Guess Genes that, had it been sung by Ryan Adams, would have turned Stereogum on fire. The collaged audio layer adds texture to the shimmering guitar and fluttering piano, and the vocals have a sincerity to them that makes you BELIEVE. Simply wonderful.

The Last Astronaut‘s “Street Lights” may not be as timeless as the Guess Genes track, but its modernity makes it a welcome addition to the Christmas cannon. The chorus is what makes this song really swing… but it makes me wish the whole song was like that!

Deep Cuts return for back-to-back Christmas Christmas classics with “Comatose Come Christmas.” This 80’s jam has the biting lyrics and sense of humor that I’ve come to love from Deep Cuts. I’m also partial to a nice drunken Christmas tune… and this song may get you contact drunk.

Grandwolves‘ “‘Zat You, Son Of God” is my first exposure to this great Houston band, and I’m going to need more. A great layering of male/female vocals amongst killer drums and some shrieking guitars provide the basis for some awesome turns of phrase: ‘Zat You, Son of God? / Asleep in the evergreen, / Next to an old tv. / Sharing your branch, with gold garland, / And a Charlie Brown ornament.” Indie rock Christmas at its finest.

Gangplans break out the drum machines and synthesizers to create their own warm cup of Christmas bitters with “Skipping Christmas.” Peppered with samples from It’s a Wonderful Life, this production duo have succeeded in making me feel warm and happy, nestled amongst their warm beats and dark lyrics.

Benjamin Andrew’s “For a Moment” for some reason makes me think of a stripped down Low – the layered vocals, the fingers squeaking on the metal strings. Bleak, beautiful and wrapped in a sweater.

LA’s Seaweed Salad scored a f*ing slam dunk with “You Won’t See Me.” Fuzzed out vocals surrounded by a cacophony of indie pop orchestration. I can barely hear what they are saying, but I don’t care at all; I loved the music too much to give a shit.

There are a few more tracks on the comp that I haven’t covered. Music is such a personal thing – what is one’s treasure is another’s trash. While none of the remaining tracks were trash whatsoever, they did not grab me nearly as much, despite some very intriguing titles.

Bottom Line: Well hot damn. There could be more than one track from this release finding its way onto my mix this year. Two years in a row, this label has just knocked it out of the muthaf**ing park. Please, while it is a free, name-your-price download, all proceeds go to Make-a-Wish. 

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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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