Murder by Death – 2014 Christmas Cover Songs (2014)

Murder By Death Christmas Covers 2014

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Murder by Death just released a 2-song covers single to backers of their recent Kickstarter, and lucky for us, they are also offering up for purchase to those who had no clue such a Kickstarter existed! “Oh Holy Night” is done in such a beautiful fashion, with a cello that slips in and, if you are like me, has the ability to give you goosebumps. The other cover is “My Evergreen” by the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the song is absolutely gorgeous. It’s an extremely faithful cover; they did very little to change the approach of the original, but the sound seems more rich and full. To me, this is now the definitive version of “My Evergreen.”

Bottom Line: Absolutely stellar two-song single. 5/5

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Crying Day Care Choir – Christmas Day Care Choir (2013)

Crying Day Care Choir - Christmas Day Care Choir

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Last year the wonderful German blog Lie in the Sound pointed me toward this beautiful folk EP by Sweden’s Crying Day Care Choir. The two best tracks, “Christmas Day Care Choir (Falala)” and “First Christmas” bookend the release, and led to a very tough decision when considering which one to include on this year’s mix. I finally decided to add “First Christmas,” which surprised me. Sweet Christmas songs have never really been my forte, and this is most certainly the sweetest to make a mix. The song is grounded in a reality that I found beautiful, and try as I might, I was unable to talk myself out of adding it. It was just too good.

Bottom Line: Simple, beautiful folk music and harmonies from Sweden. 4.8/5

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Nickel Creek “Christmas Eve” (2014)

Nickel Creek - A Dotted Line

Nonsuch
Buy: 7Digital FLAC/MP3 | iTunes

So, this may likely be the highest-profile post that I put on this site. Nickel Creek are largely mainstream; They have won a Grammy, been on CMT, etc. etc. However, it is their proclivity for interesting choices, such as covering a Pavement song (“Spit On A Stranger“) on a major-label release, that gives me enough reason to bring them into the Christmas Underground fold.

After a seven-year hiatus, Nickel Creek returns with a record that also marks their 25th anniversary, A Dotted Line. This album has gotten rave reviews, as have their earlier efforts, and to my surprise, includes a Christmas tune. “Christmas Eve” is a breakup track, with lyrics by their guitarist, Sean Watkins. If you have a folk bone in your body, this is certainly going to tickle it. And if you truly love folk music, you are going to LOVE this song. The ending is pretty exquisite – their vocals – “Please darling wait / It’s not all over yet” – layering as the song descends… very much worth your time. No jingle bells whatsoever on this tune.

Bottom Line: Mainstream folk via an excellent band that are likely to be listened to for many years to come. 4.5/5

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5MfYLO200Q]

Adam Arcuragi “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” (2011)

Adam Arcuragi - Baby Please Come Home

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Adam Arcuragi has a number Christmas tunes… and every damn one is excellent. He has been on 2 of my mixes, and this one narrowly missed making it onto this year’s (strictly a flow thing). It will remain the in the hopper for 2014…

This version of the oft-covered “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home),” has just what I look for in a cover – originality in interpretation. He re-imagines it with much darker production, slowing it down and finishing with a beautifully emotional last chorus. Hey, its short too. I always gotta love a short one, especially when its slowed down.

Bottom Line: I will likely write about Adam’s other tunes, but if you are so inclined, hunt down “The Belgian” and “Christmas Song.” This man needs to put out a Christmas record. 4.7/5

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The Hard Ground “Keep Me For Christmas Time” (2013/2014)

The Hard Ground

FIFA Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Well, why not keep the new stuff coming. Cork Ireland’s The Hard Ground (brought to me via 2 U I Bestow) bring another melancholy folk tune to the holiday table with “Keep Me for Christmas Time.” Beautiful female voice + grizzly male vocals + winter + longing = you’ve got a slow-burner that might just tear your heart out. As an added bonus, there are two versions for you to sample! I don’t see a place where you can purchase it yet. But likely, some resourceful reader will let me know where this can be accomplished. Free for download on Soundcloud!

EDIT: The Hard Ground has re-recorded this song for 2014, and put it up on their Bandcamp for €1, with the proceeds benefitting The Irish Cancer Society. Hey… Hard Ground… Why not add the other two recordings of this song you’ve made and make a good ol’ fashioned maxi-single!

Bottom Line: A very beautiful song deserving of your attention. 4/5

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Avalanche Records’ Alternative Christmas (2009)

Avalanche Records (Edinburgh)
Buy: Good luck!

One of the biggest challenges with reviewing Christmas records, is that so many are released to benefit charities. I certainly don’t want to crap all over a record that benefits sick kids, and thankfully, I don’t have to.

Avalanche Records in Edinburgh, Scotland released a very DIY Christmas record back in 2009. Simply titled Alternative Christmas, this compilation features mainly Scottish artists each submitting an original song, with only a few exceptions. So, for those out there who love originals (like me), this is a good start.

I originally purchased this to have an audio master for There Will Be Fireworks‘ “In Excelsis Deo,” which is a dramatic, and fantastic song; a perfect ending to my 2010 Christmas Mix. This used to be the only place you could buy this track, and of course it has since been released elsewhere. Fellow dramatic Scots Frightened Rabbit also lend their (by now) classic track, “Its Christmas So We’ll Stop.” I think this may be the only official CD release of the track, beyond a promo that they sent to radio stations back in 2008.

A large chunk of this record is terribly sad. The Savings and Loan contribute a serviceable cover of the Palace Brothers’ lament “Christmastime in the Mountains,” but it does not improve upon the original – which is a must if you are going to perform it in a similar style. Withered Hand gives us an emotional “Its a Wonderful Lie,” and while it certainly has its moments, it is just too dreary for me. Really, this one could be you favorite tune on the record if you really love a Christmas dirge. Another rather brutal, but well-done song is the Phil Ochs tune, “No Christmas in Kentucky”, retitled “Christmas in Kirkcaldy,” and performed by Meursault. Scots singing about the Southeast United States… and the poverty that is Appalachia. I have heard it all.

Two final tracks that are certainly worth a listen are Emily Scott‘s “Holy,” and X-Lion Tamer‘s stab at Beck’s “Little Drum Machine Boy.” Both are done well, and “Holy” is an extremely pretty, sparse folk song with excellent vocal layers.

Bottom Line: Can be quite sad, but has a higher percentage of good songs than most comps out there. 3.8/5

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If I Make it Through Christmas (2001)

If I Make it Through Christmas

Perfect Pop Records / Two Zero Records / Thatsperfectwonderball Records
Buy: Download | CD

Released in Norway back in 2001, this EP is a solid little piece of indie Christmas. Two tracks are of particular note (and they can be previewed at the Norwegian website where you can download it), the John Prine classic “Christmas in Prison,” performed by Cinnamoon, and Peru You’s “Real Maria.”

The Oslo-based Cinnamoon cover  “Christmas in Prison” with a great, full-band, folk treatment, that has just enough banjo to make you really take note of (and enjoy) – and before it was fashionable. I think they made some wonderful decisions with the arrangement – nothing seems out of place, and while they didn’t reinvent the song, they certainly improved upon it.

Also a Norwegian band, Peru You’s “Real Maria” sounds like something that Vampire Weekend could really tear up on a Christmas single. The vaguely Caribbean feel of the instrumentation, the interesting phrasing and the lyrical bobs and weaves really make this a great track. You need to hunt this down.

I can’t bring myself to write about every single song, so I shall end it there, with the two best. Additionally, I am certainly fascinated by the fact that I can find out very, very little about these two bands… who have no doubt broken up in the over ten years that its been since this release. I thought I could find every answer on the internet… or at least a long-abandoned myspace page…

Bottom Line: Those 2 tracks make the record. 3.5/5

The Mynabirds – All I Want is Truth (For Christmas) (2010)

All I Want is Truth (For Christmas) cover

Saddle Creek
Buy: 7″ Vinyl | Saddle Creek MP3 | Amazon UK MP3

The Mynabirds‘ Christmas release, All I Want is Truth (for Christmas), is the perfect Christmas release. A Christmas protest song! A Zombies cover! The title track is lyrically interesting, musically engaging, and should be considered an indie-classic. The Zombies’ cover of “This Year will Be Our Year” sets the stage for future female voices (Memoryhouse) to cover this fantastic song.

For the collector out there, there are 200 on white vinyl, 300 on black vinyl.

I wish the Mynabirds would release a Christmas single every year.

Bottom Line: Both songs are FANTASTIC. 5/5

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Christmastime, Approximately (2010)

Christmastime, Approximately cover

Where Its At Is Where You Are
Buy:
CD | Bandcamp

Christmastime, Approximately is one of the stronger indiepop Christmas compilations of the past few years. This was originally released in 2010 as a free download (500 downloads), and now available as a ₤5 Bandcamp download or as a ₤3.50 CD! I picked up the CD, as I am a sucker for a physical copy.

While every compilation (with very few exceptions) suffers from filler, there are certainly some standouts here worth appreciating. The Social Interaction Foundation (aka Help Stamp Out Lonliness) leads off the CD with a danceable, folktronic version of Low’s classic, “Just Like Christmas,” which is different enough from the original to be interesting. Other standounts are Eux Autres‘s “Teenage Christmas,” The Hillfields‘ folky “Spirit of the Season,” and especially Hexicon‘s “See That Day.”

Bottom Line: The songs are good enough to justify the price. 3.9/5

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