The Green Apple Sea “December” (2013)

Green apple Sea - December

K&F Records
Buy: iTunes

Woah. German folk band The Green Apple Sea are recording their forth album, and have released a track ahead of the early 2014 release. A bleak, but beautiful song, this song walks the line between simple and grand, as the lyrics’ pointed realism are engulfed by a rising chorus. I can’t wait to hear more.

Bottom Line: This is a lock. 5/5

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Strayfolk “Christmas Day” (2008)

strayfolk

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

How about some wonderful Americana from Sweden for your Saturday morning? Strayfolk came into my radar back in 2008, courtesy of Swedesplease, and their “Christmas Day” immediately became part of my regular rotation. Long existing as an mp3 floating out in the ether of the internet, it now has a home on Bandcamp. Why would you go to Bandcamp, rather than just popping over to their website? Well, because you can now get a FLAC version, as well as show your appreciation for such a great song with a buck. Christmas Underground is all about supporting the artists that make our season happen.

Bottom Line: You and your country band are going to want to cover this song, so go buy it and start practicing. 5/5

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For Folk’s Sake it’s Christmas 2012 (2012)

For Folk's Sake 2012

For Folk’s Sake
Buy: Bandcamp

For Folk’s Sake has been putting out Christmas compilations for (including this year) four years now, and I do hope it continues into infinity. I can easily say that Folk Folk’s Sake it’s Christmas 2012 was the best compilation that I purchased last year. Entirely listenable with some complete gems, this comp was worth every cent. I was one of the lucky few with an actual CD, as I do love physical media, and that just adds to the luster in my eyes.

While I feel there are many 3’s and 4’s on this record, I don’t have enough time to go track-by-track. However, I will most certainly highlight my absolute favorites. Please keep in mind, some of those songs I don’t mention at this very moment may indeed, one day, become a favorite that should stand with these… but I cannot see the future.

Ellen and the Escapades “By the Fireside” has that classic percussion + jingle bells that we have all come to expect from Christmas songs, which is not a knock at all – its the Darlene Love formula, but updated to their own, modern purposes. This song is good enough to be covered for years to come… and while I can’t imagine a different production being better than this one… perhaps a stripped down, banjo version would do the trick. Beautiful song. Can’t stress that enough.

Gibson Bull and Carmen have made me a believer in “The Holly and the Ivy.” I’ve heard versions from Los Campensinos (a good one, maybe even a great one) that come close, but not as good as this. Their voices are good, but not TOO good, which means they don’t overpower the song. They compilment each other so well – his early Dylanish tone and her soft tone wrapping that like a scarf on a cool winters night – true perfection.

Tom Williams‘ “Christmas (So Much Better When You’re Here)” reminds me of Mason Jennings’ lackluster contributions to the Brushfire Christmas comps… and how much better they would be if he took Mr. Williams approach. Stripped down, melancholy and utterly beautiful, this track is for that late-middle section of your mix, before you pick it up a bit in the latter half. It might just be someone’s favorite song, if they are a Handsome Family fan or something of the sort.

I’ve been glowing about these early songs, but you and your buddies in Spinal Tap will have to turn the glow up to 11 for this one. Gerard & the Watchmen’s “The Road” was very much one of my favorite Christmas tunes of the last five years. Comparison is useful for description, so please don’t think that I’d rather have these artists perform the song… but if Bon Iver had released this song, everyone would have (pardon my vulgarity) shit their pants in approval. I love it when a song’s ending is my favorite part.

So, with very few exceptions (mainly the really traditional stuff… but that’s a personal preference), For Folk’s Sake 2012 is one of the strongest compilations in years. Do yourself a favor, send them some money and download it right now.

Bottom Line: These kinds of releases make my life infinitely more enjoyable. 4.7/5

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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

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A Very Radiant Christmas (2010)

A Very Radiant Christmas (2010)

Radiant
Buy: Free!

Hailing from New South Wales, all these songs were performed live on Radiant Radio, and thus, you can expect a bit less of a stretch when it comes to overall performance and product.

It starts with a deep-voiced gentleman, Kirin J. Callinan, working through “Merry Christmas,” a song he just wrote. Tough to get through, but to be expected for a song he’s only worked through on his way there.

Packwood’s “Oh Holy Night” is a ramshackle folk performance that comes in and out of tune and key, but that rawness directed to a song that you normally heard sung by a huge voice and soaring orchestra might just be what the doctor ordered.

The Maple Trail and A Casual End Mile & R. Somerset each do covers of traditional songs as well, and none of them are notable enough to highlight. They are both perfectly fine, but the song and the performance just don’t lend themselves to comment.

The Preachers “Run Run Rudolph” is notable for the single fact that you’ve got a woman covering a Chuck Berry tune that is most often covered by dudes. So, if that’s what you’re looking for, you got a twist. Otherwise, nothing too crazy. Excellent guitar playing, but not exactly what I’m looking for.

The Holy Soul’s “Six White Boomers” is a original, normally a bonus a cover (Stubby has corrected me, it is apparently a Rolf Harris tune)… and the production value (e.g., the sound… not everyone is mic’d well) torpedos it. I can’t say that I think the song is very good either. If you are an Aussie, you might enjoy it a bit more; I doubt I get the humor, especially when it sounds like they are having sex in the middle of a song.

Side Note: This is the second review where I have missed a cover version and assumed it was an original. I either have to take more time doing research (which I likely will not have time for) or you will just have to take what I say with a grain of salt.

Bottom Line: Overall, not something you need to take the time with unless something I described above sounds particularly appealing. 1.5/5

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UPCOMING: Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club (2013)

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club

I will no doubt be talking more about this upcoming project as it unfolds, but just to wet your appetite, a repost below from their website, with handy hyperlinks to the featured bands. Thank you Robert for sending this my way, and best of luck with this AMAZING project.

From snowflakes-christmas-singles.blogspot.nl

In November, the four singles of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, edition 2013, will be released.

All singles come in a full colour picture sleeve on white vinyl, limited to 500 copies. On the A-side, the singles will have an original, on the B-side a cover.

On the first single, London folk/blues duo Smoke Fairies, joined on violin by Neil Walsh, sing about how celebrating Christmas with friends and loved ones makes one feel at home in their ‘Simple Feeling’. On the flipside they do a haunting and beautiful rendition of ‘I Wonder As I Wander’, a Christmas carol written by singer John Jacob Niles, based on some lines of a folk song he once heard a little girl sing in a small village in Appalachian North Carolina.

Stockholm, Swedens’ indie poppers The Garlands have rearranged and rerecorded their ‘Christmas Song’, prevously released as a download only in 2008, for the second single. This Chrismas love song has the sound of the swinging 60s, with bells, piano, sweet harmonies and all. Their cover of ‘I Don’t Intend To Spend Christmas Without You’, written in 1967 by Margo Guyan for French actrice, singer and dancer Claudine Longet, is a perfect fit with their original song, has the same hip 60s vibe, but still with a indiepop bite.

The third single has chamber popband The Miserable Rich from Brighton with an uplifting original, ‘Everything You Want’, in which singer James is out to buy a Christmas present for this lover and finds himself – and the present – with friends in the pub at the end of the day. The Miserable Rich cover the antiwar protest song ‘Stop The Cavalry’, written and made into one of the most loved Christmas songs from the early 1980s by Jona Lewie.

Surf pop band The Silhouettes from Amsterdam are featured on the fourth single. The Silhouettes have written an very Christmas sounding song, about looking forward to sit with your lover ‘Under The Mistletoe’. They back it with a surf version of the Christmas standard ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and first sung by the legendary Judy Garland in the classic 1944 musical ‘Meet Me In St. Louis’.

Pre-orders going up later this month!
Check http://snowflakes-christmas-singles.blogspot.nl/ or http://www.facebook.com/Snowflakes.Christmas.Singles for updates!

Duover – Christmas Volume 1 (2010)

Christmas Vol. 1 cover

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Portland’s Duover recorded one of the best original Christmas tunes (Grandma’s House) I’ve heard in years. For that fact alone, you should buy this record. And when I say buy this record, I mean it. Send them some money. Presently, Christmas Volume 1 is name-your-price, but come on… throw AT LEAST a buck or two their way.

Originals!!! ORIGINALS!! Yes, you heard it right… there are a whole bunch of originals on this one. 8/9 tracks if I count correctly… beginning with the absolutely stellar “Grandma’s House,” which really highlight Duover’s ear for a hook and subtle groove. This is followed by my second favorite track, “Trivial Pursuit,” which brings their harmonies to the front, while spinning a tale with some wonderfully clever wordplay (Nerds, this one’s for you).

“Home for the Holidays” slows things down a bit, and while still a solid song (I normally love a good Christmas dirge), Duover really excel when employing a faster tempo. Though… I must say, this may be the first song that name-checks “The Bud Bowl.” Certainly, bonus points for that one.

“Under Mistletoe” looks to either be their single, or simply the song that a friend wanted to make a video of. The music really creates a level of drama that I would not expect from a Christmas song. Though this drama is tongue-in-cheek… which makes the rapping much more palatable. Its a lot of fun.

“Coyote Christmas” is a great example of the power of simplicity. The lyrics are short and oft repeated; the vocals are subdued, as is the music. These elements combine into a beautifully constructed song that has no fat left to trim.

“Fruitcake” and “Old Soles” are the two slowest songs on the record, and as I mentioned earlier, Duover are at their best when they up the pace a bit. That said, they are still strong songs. There is not a single song on this album that I dislike, which is saying quite a lot for a Christmas record. The two instrumental tracks, “Ice Cycle” and the lone cover “Auld Lang Syne” are also quite nice and enjoyable. Though I have to wonder… had they not hooked me with that first track, would my lenses still be so rose colored? Yeah, probably.

Bottom Line: A wonderful collection of originals – quite a feat in the Christmas music genre. I look forward to Volume 2 (which they have *somewhat* confirmed in a response on Facebook). 4.7/5

LISTEN:

Under Mistletoe by Duover from Noel Taylor on Vimeo.

Christmas Aguilera – S/T EP (2012)

Christmas Aguilera cover

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

So… to post or not to post. Is it truly selfish to want to keep this to myself, so that I might impress my Christmas music loving friends upon receipt of their mix CD? If it were not for the good cause this EP is supporting… I might have kept it in my back pocket.

The mysterious “supergroup” that claims to be the “greatest band since Wizzard,” has put out a truly excellent 4-song Christmas EP that will be one of the highlights of my personal mix. Four original songs that really push my buttons, be it a love of the melancholy, the political, or the secular… this EP has it all.

The leadoff track, “I Wanna Give You a Present,” is… for lack of a better word… dirty. And awesome. Its dirtiness not only comes from the playful lyrics, but specifically from the singer’s voice, which just sounds like he’s got something in mind for you, and you’re going to like it.

The second song is my personal favorite – “I Want a Car” revisits that classic idea of just wanting your significant other for Christmas… and damn I love that chorus. The vocals are a little rough-around-the-edges at points, but perfectly so. This is no way a knock on the performance; he has a way of making the vocals seem more sincere than a pretty voice ever could.

“Lennon, Oh” is the kind of political Christmas song that I knew I could get behind – “Lennon, Oh, where are you when we need you – Cause War’s Not Over.” Fantastic chorus – man this band can swing a chorus.

The final track, “Red Nose, Red Dress,” has a great groove – and would benefit from offering up the lyrics… because I don’t believe I understand it… “One longstanding misunderstanding, I am Rudolph, I am no man?” Who cares if I understand. It’s fantastic.

Really, this thing is so good that you will wish that it was 8 tracks long – because I do believe they have 4 more! The group will be performing 8 originals at the “Jolly Santa Social Club” benefit show on Saturday December 10 at The Victoria in London. All proceeds of both the EP and the show benefit Crisis, the national charity for the homeless.

Bottom Line: Buy it. It’s only ₤3 – its very enjoyable all the way through, and often quite brilliant. 5/5

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Another Grey Christmas 2 (2008)

Another Grey Christmas 2 cover

Willamette Week
Buy: CD OOP | Stream

The second in a series by Willamette Week’s Local Cut section – this is the first one that I’ve actually held in my hands. Only available in Portland and (briefly) online, the Another Grey Christmas series compiles local Portland bands doing both originals and covers… as so many other cities do. What Portland has in their favor though… is that its Portland. They’ve got a bunch of great bands just chilling out, waiting to record something amazing.

There are some solid tunes on this disc, with the perfectly passible indie folk rendition of “Winter Wonderland” by A Weather, a stripped down “Silver Bells” by Run on Sentence with Mike Midlo, and a delicate “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Laura Gibson. There are some good originals here too – Future Historians‘ “Family Tree” is a darker take on the holiday season, and the lyrics have a wonderful sense of reality to them – something you don’t normally get from a Christmas song.

The best song on the disc is Dolorean’s cover of the Dolly Parton classic, “Hard Candy Christmas.” Slow, sparse and haunting at times – this is not your mother’s “Hard Candy Christmas.” And best of all… they posted it on their website for download.

Definitely check out the rest of the series… but be forewarned, they do not let you BUY anything but vol. 4 & 5. I had to call a boutique in Portland to get ahold of #2… actually purchased their in-store play copy. And I’ve never seen one go up on eBay either.

BOTTOM LINE: Some solid classics are covered, with one strong original. 3.6/5

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