Lola Kirke “Cross You Off My List” (2018)

lola Kirke

Downtown Records
Buy: Soon? Streaming on Youtube

Lola Kirke, best known as an actress in projects such as Mozart in the Jungle and Gone Girl, is also a talented musician in her own right. Having released her first LP, Heart Head West, earlier this year, she has quickly followed it up with two seasonal tracks which debuted today. The first, “Little Drummer Girl,” flips the gender within the traditional song… but any reader will know how I feel about that song – so we will move on. “Cross You Off My List” is her first original Christmas song, and what a start! Originally written following the 2016 election, she tells PAPER Magazine, “It was a much more somber sounding song that set out to question how to celebrate Christmas in such a fraught environment. While we’re still conflicted about how to invoke the “spirit of Christmas” in today’s political climate, we decided to revise the song—set it to a more a upbeat chord progression and dash it with a bit more hope.”

There are some just killer lyrics too:

“There must be another day / to spend this holy holiday. / Maybe I should run away / or find a better way to stay.

All I want for Christmas / is to dance. / Forget romance, / I’ve made new plans / Maybe cause it’s Christmas, / I should take a stand, / and give my hand / to a better land.

All I want for Christmas / is to be less complicit / and love all those who need it. / You can take your kisses / and cross them off of my list.”

The song was co-written and beautifully produced by her partner Wyndham Boylan-Garnett, and together they have made one of the strongest songs of the season. I can’t wait to find out where you can pick it up – because right now, I got nothing!

Bottom Line: Great production with absolutely killer lyrics, this song deserves your ears.

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The Bridges – Do Christmas (2012)

The Bridges Do Christmas

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Hey, we all know that I like the dark stuff. I like a nice downer of a holiday tune, a political rant, even a solid anti-Christmas screed. I also like sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. The Bridges, an (apparently) now-defunct 5-piece folk-pop band from Nashville created this charming 3-song EP as their second (and last) release back in 2012. Each song has its own feel, with the leadoff track “I’m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus” is a cover of a 1956 Brenda Lee track which is a nice skiffle novelty track that you won’t hear too often. The second track is the most radio-ready, and if I’m not mistaken, their only original; “First Christmas” has some infectious hooks, and the folk-pop charmer doesn’t wear out its welcome at only 2:37. “Rock N Roll Santa” is their take on a Little Joey Farr tune from 1961. Not only did they pull up a song from the 45 bin under the counter, but they perform it with genuine affection. Too bad that the band’s Facebook page stopped updating in 2013, as they did appear to have something here…

Bottom Line: My inner grinch has to take a Friday off every so often, and perhaps this little EP will find some room on your digital shelf too.

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wejzak – Merry Christmas! (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

I know I have been strolling down the dark alleys of Christmas music of late, but I happened to stumble upon a brief ray of sunlight (despite the news’ best efforts). Will Ejzak released a short Christmas EP back on December 30, 2016, which through unfortunate timing, got lost in the shuffle. But then again… this release wasn’t really for us; Will wrote and recorded these songs as a Christmas gift for a very lucky Lauren. Three tracks of tender guitar, each accented sparsely with violin, provide a lovely bed for Will’s layered vocal harmonies. I can’t help to think that this is how Anohni’s Christmas demos might sound… which is high praise in my book. Bravo.

Bottom Line: These songs are simply adorned, yet perfectly dressed for the occasion.

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

Sam and Julia "Catching up with Christmas"

Self Released
Buy: iTunes

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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Lullabier featuring Faro “Natale A Ceneda (Just Like Christmas)” (2017)

Lullabier - 2512

Silber Records / VeniVersus
Buy: Bandcamp

Did you wake up, as I did, wanting a super chill version of Low’s “Just Like Christmas,” sung in Italian? You did? Well, that works out well for all of us, as Vittorio Veneto’s Lullabier has realized our dream with the leadoff track on his wonderful new EP, 2512. The novelty of hearing this classic song in Italian is not the only draw to the song – the laid-back indiepop orchestration is absolutely beautiful. However, it is the small, but significant, addition of the cabasa (at least that’s what I think they are using – the hand percussion), that evokes a crackling fire and draws out a warmth in this song that I don’t think I have heard before. The other tracks are also excellent – I enjoy the layered spoken word of “Natale A Serravalle (Silent Night),” and the English-language “White Dizziness” is understated and gorgeous. Lullabier has made some wonderful choices, and is very much on my radar now, and I hope yours as well.

Bottom Line: Italy is on the board with this stellar cover by Lullabier, whose warm, beautiful orchestration and production has extracted new qualities from an already beloved song.

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The Ornaments “Christmas Movie Marathon” (2017)

The Ornaments - Christmas Movie Marathon

Folkmonger Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Last year’s track from the seasonal folk band The Ornaments, featured a passenger searching for Christmas music to listen to as his plane was going down. This year’s track, despite reassurances that both Mike and Lance (the Ornaments) are totally in the spirit this season, is even darker! The track is simply arranged, just guitar and Mike’s thoughtful vocals. The song follows a father and daughter as they watch some Christmas classics, each of which sparks either impossible, or uncomfortable questions.

What am I gonna tell my little one
when she says she wants a White Christmas?
“Not tonight. Go to sleep.”

What am I supposed to say when she asks my way,
“Why’d his parents leave him Home Alone? Do they not love him?”
“You’re good. You’re fine. I’ll never leave you behind.”

What’s a man to do as her tears roll down
as Frosty’s face melts into the ground?
“Why don’t we turn off the TV?”

What am I gonna tell my baby girl when she asks,
“Is Mom coming back?”
“How about we watch a Christmas movie.”

“Christmas Movie Marathon” is a brutal, evocative poem put to music, one which spares no expense when it comes to tearing at your heartstrings.

 Bottom Line: The Ornaments continue to mine the darker side of Christmas with yet another fascinating approach to seasonal music.

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Rosie Carney “Winter” (2017)

Rosie Carney "Winter"

Akira Records
Buy: 7Digital (MP3/FLAC) | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Sitting outside on a winter night, trying to forget a lover… this is where we find the narrator in Rosie Carney‘s “Winter.” The imagery is gorgeous, the simple guitar-picked melody is lovely and Rosie’s voice is truly genuine. She has the ability to put you there with her – her voice is not singing a song, but living it. This track was recently featured on NPR, and thankfully alerted me to the beauty that is Rosie Carney’s work. An Irish singer-songwriter, she is also an advocate for mental illness, having written quite openly about her battles with depression, sexual assault and eating disorders on her blog. Rosie is a story of survival – beautiful, wonderful survival. So, in this time when we give thanks, think of those who could use even more support, and lend an ear, lend a hand, and give some love.

Bottom Line: While not a Christmas song, this song certainly has a place on your winter/Christmas-themed mixes, as it is truly beautiful.  Listen to all her songs… they are all spectacular.

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Laurence Made Me Cry “It’s Not You, It’s Christmas” (2017)

Laurence Made Me Cry

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Glasgow’s Laurence Made Me Cry (aka Jo Whitby) bought some sleigh bells, and now we all have a great new Christmas song! Which gives me an idea… who should I send sleigh bells to? I’m creating a list… OK, back to the review. This track is a “song for when you’d rather be alone at Christmas,” which I think we can all relate to at some points during the season. The music somehow tickles my late 90s-early 2000’s indie rock funny bone, as the lyrical guitar lines suggest Pavement-meets-Pinkerton-era Weezer? Am I crazy? But truly, it’s Jo’s voice that seals the deal for me. Love it. If you need any more convincing, all proceeds go to Community Christmas, “who believe that no elderly person in the UK should be alone on Christmas Day unless they want to be.”

Bottom Line: I’m sure happy Jo bought some sleigh bells, and that she shook them for charity!

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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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John Ralston – Jesus Christ / A Marigny Christmas (2010)

John Ralston - Jesus Christ

24 Hour Service Station
Buy: Vinyl | 7Digital MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Wow. Stumbled upon this amazing release from way back in 2010… and I honestly have no clue how it eluded me for so long. John Ralston, a member of the indefinitely on-hiatus Legends of the Rodeo, has been releasing solo work since the band took a break back in 2004 . I’ve been dipping into his other releases, such as this 2017 LP, IV, and they are all pretty fantastic. But let’s get on track… we’re talking about Christmas tunes. The A-side, “Jesus Christ” is not really a Christmas song… and while it does have what sounds like faint sleigh bells in the background at times, the lyrical context is just not there to consider it a Christmas song. However, it is still a great psych-folk song worth your time to listen to, and I do like the lyric, “I’m always know / I’m coming home / but I never know / for how long.” The B-side, “A Marigny Christmas,” is really where we really need to focus, because this song is fantastic. This alt.country story of lost love is the kind of song that gives me chills. Its understated delivery of aching emotion is so spot on. From the wonderful use of country organ to the Beach Boys-inspired leadout… this song deserves attention. Please listen.

Bottom Line: Why don’t you send $7 John’s way, buy the vinyl and receive not only one of 150 red or 150 white copies… but also digital downloads with a demo version of “A Marigny Christmas.” If that bonus is not a reason to go directly to the source… I don’t know what is.

EDIT: Please note that I have updated the “buy vinyl” links to John’s Bandcamp page, as he has kindly provided a new link. If you ordered through the earlier link, I recently heard from the folks at the label and it does appear that they can fill the orders (and they emailed me mp3s!). There was just a delay, as they are setting up a new online shop.

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