This may not be the year for lots of cutesy holiday songs, at least not on this blog. Last week was of course the anniversary of the WWII attack on Pearl Harbor, and this week, which would otherwise have been a nice normal week ripe for holiday cheer, we were greeted to the horrific news of a school shooting in Connecticut that left 27 people dead, including 20 children. Not exactly a good day to be making lists of cheerful, silly Christmas songs. Still, it will be Christmas very soon, so this week features a nice sampling of pretty holiday songs, saving the jingle bells and reindeer for later. And, since I don’t usually listen to holiday music non-stop until at least the 18th, I’ve included a few other songs as well, not so many as last week, but enough that this is still not a solid block of holiday tunes. That’s next week.
1. “I wish I had a River”- Mike Love (Seasons Greetings From Soul Sound): A gorgeous version of this classic Joni Mitchell song, from a holidays album released by a Hawaiian studio. A case of perfect timing, this is the song that came to mind as I was reading the twitterfeed today, seeing all the confusion of information and horror swirling through social media in the wake of the school shooting in Connecticut today. And, it was also the song Keith Harkin recorded with Celtic Thunder for a live session video posted on their website today. I’d love to be including Keith’s rendition directly- I always imagine I’ve seen Keith perform this song, alone on stage with his guitar, but obviously I only dreamt the whole thing. Still, Keith’s singing on his version is just as amazing as I imagined, and while his version isn’t on spotify, Mike Love’s version is, and is equally good.
2. “Nadolig Cyntaf Un”- Rhian Mair Lewis (101 o Garolau): Another Welsh carol- nadolig is Welsh for Christmas, and the title is “First Christmas”. This is one of those tunes that has not yet migrated into American music, but it is very pretty, and I could see it catching on if it had a suitable English translation available and a few high profile singers to champion it on the Christmas music charts.
3. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”- Brooks & Dunn (NOW That’s What I Call a Country Christmas): I love Ronnie Dunn’s voice, and this version of this classic Christmas song is both traditional and made for the likes of these two country superstars.
4. “Mary, Did You Know”- Cee Lo Green (CeeLo’s Magic Moment): Cee Lo is hardly within my usual range of music, but he does a fantastic job on this song. In fact, his whole Christmas album is great, a contemporary pop/soul take on Christmas that aims to appeal to a much broader audience than Cee Lo’s usual work. You could play this album with the grandparents and kids in the house and not worry that they’ll be offended by the lyrics or turned off by the aesthetics.
5. “Day O”- Baylavwa (Baylavwa ): This version of the classic Beetlejuice song is by a Parisian jazz band that draws heavily on the music of the French Caribbean. “Day O”, while known in much of the US as a party song, often accompanied by a conga line, is actually a Jamaican work song about banana pickers and dock workers working the night shift loading bananas onto ships. “Daylight has come, the shift is over and they want their work to be counted up so that they can go home.(wikipedia)” But, I am sure it will be part of many Christmas party playlists as the ubiquitous conga line accompaniment, and no doubt many of those variously inebriated dancers will be yelling “jump” in place of “bunch”, as always.
6. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”- Ella Fitzgerald (Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas): I always prefer recordings that include more than just the first verse of these traditional songs. It makes me look cooler, with very little effort, if I find myself in a choir setting in which more than one verse is expected, but without any sheet music to read from. It’s also great for jumping into caroling ensembles at the last minute, of course. Anyway, Ella’s version of this classic song has all the verses I know from winging this song in choir with sheet music in hand. I do like some of the interesting alto line ornamentation I had to learn, but overall I like Ella’s arrangement better.
7. “The Maddening Crowd”- Ross Crean (Lovers and Other Kinds of Monsters ): Oddly enough, I had not yet included a song from this particular album in any of my lists, at least since I started including album art in these posts. I was debating whether to include something pretty from one of the other Irish Music Awards nominees, but after all the news from Connecticut I was in the mood for something a bit gloomier and more disquieting, and Ross Crean’s 2009 album is definitely edgy, gloomy, and more than a little disquieting, while still managing to be pretty. Ross doesn’t really have a Christmas album, though he does have a wintery single, The Winter King, which is pretty cool, and not on spotify. So, while I won’t have another Ross Crean tune on my playlists until 2013, do check out his single in the meantime.
8. “Still, Still, Still, Weil’s Kindlein Schlafen Will”- Die Prinz Familie (Fröhliche Weihnachten): I learned this song in one of my German classes, many years ago, long before blogs or spotify. It’s fairly easy for first-year German students, with very few words and easy verb tenses. It’s also a beautiful carol, one I’d love to sing in a decent choir some year.
9. “The Ghost in the Airwaves”- Post Paradise ( The New Normal ): A person can only stand being gloomy for so long without at least some sort of punctuation, in this case a tune off of Post Paradise’s album, The New Normal. This is one of the bands I enjoyed last night. They have a gorgeous light-show accompaniment to their live show, and their music prominently features their lovely cellist, Amy Morgan.
10. “Riu Riu Chiu”- Mirabilis (Pleiades) : A gorgeous Spanish carol, this song was the tune that launched Mirabilis on a holiday compilation album through Projekt Records in 2001. It also appears on their full-length album Pleiades(2004). Mirabilis is a Texas music project, though one of the gals who sings in this ensemble studied in California (and sang in her college’s women’s choir while there).
11. “Down Here”- David Wilcox (Underneath): David Wilcox has been making music for many years in the New England area. This song is off his 7th album, which was recorded with a live audience, though without recording applause. I’m guessing this was an attempt at capturing that extra energy and interest that some singers, probably including Mr. Wilcox, develop when playing live. Whether he succeeded or not, this is a cool song, and if it was not a successful experiment, then his live shows must be particularly good.
12. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”- Celtic Thunder, Ryan Kelly, Charley Bird (Celtic Thunder Christmas): Last night I was dreaming I was singing this one with Ryan Kelly, so while it is a bit more in line with the up-beat stuff I am saving for next week, this one made the cut tonight. I always vacillate between this version and the Pearl Bailey version, and Pearl’s voice is a bit closer to my own range right now, but even if I don’t like the key as well for singing along, the notion of singing with such a charming fellow puts this one ever so slightly ahead still.
13. “Let There Be Peace On Earth”- Peter Gillis (A Cape Breton Tenor Christmas): I had an mp3 of this song from way back when napster was legal, a Sweet Adelines barbershop recording, so that is the way I generally think of this tune. It was pretty sickly sweet and sappy, not the sort of ladies’ barbershop I enjoy much. But this recording is more to my liking. I kept the old mp3, obnoxious as it was, because I like the sentiments in the lyrics- it’s an empowering song, placing the responsibility for peace on individual people, not on some political abstraction. If we all were doing our best to maintain our neighborhoods and towns as supportive, attentive communities, school shootings would be less likely. Sadly, this grassroots solution does very little to take the guns away from the thugs in Syria and elsewhere in the world, where 27 deaths would be closer to a normal daily casualty rate right now. But at least in the US, it seems like a fair place to start anyway.
14. “Ave Maria”- Josh Groban (Noel) : Paul Byrom’s version of this song is equally beautiful, but I like how Josh parses out the lyrics a bit more. This song and Amazing Grace are probably going to be near the top of quite a few people’s lists this holiday season, as songs which help us as a society to deal with tragedy. Hopefully there won’t be any further major tragedies in the next 2 weeks, but I can’t help remembering the tsunami that threw Southeast Asia into chaos on Christmas Eve 2004, and a little research online turns up plenty of cyclones, massacres and other death-laden events falling on or near Christmas Eve. At least we have some great songs to keep us going, in the face of everything.
15. “A World Without Heroes”- Cher (Chronicles) : I could imagine this song as the theme for some modern TV series based off of Conan the Barbarian, or maybe an end-credits theme for a Wheel of Time miniseries. It is very 80’s, but there are some good things from the 80’s. For those of us who grew up on the fantastic 80’s fantasy films like Willow and the ewok movies, the world could use some more 80’s style fantasy.
16. “Cherish”- Neil Byrne (Sensitive Souls ): Not a gloomy song, or a holiday song, and not the dance song Madonna recorded- this is Neil’s slow, love-ballad style cover of Madonna’s song, capturing more of the feeling we associate with the word ‘cherish’. The other side of the coin in tragedy, opposite grief and loss, is the renewed appreciation of those we love. Most days we act as if we will always see our friends and family again, and most days that is a safe assumption. But, after events like what happened today in Connecticut, parents everywhere are hugging their kids a bit more, and hopefully appreciating everyone they love just a bit more keenly.
17. “O Tannenbaum”- Ronny (Frohe Weihnachten im Norden – Die schönsten Weihnachtslieder (Weihnachtslieder / Weihnachtsmelodien) ) : This recording is just a very nice rendition of O Tannenbaum, by someone who is not faking a German accent. I played through quite a few contemporary pop artist recordings of this song, and most made me cringe with their awful pronunciation. At some point it may be better to just sing in English, really. This recording, besides being sung by someone who sounds authetically German, is also sung by someone with a lovely bass voice. Even singing along an octave higher, one need never dip into soprano notes, ever. Having watched too much Saturday Night Live, this song also calls to mind those 1970’s killer Christmas trees that attacked when someone sang ‘O Tannenbaum’ near them. It’s worth looking up the 1970’s Christmas episodes to find these sketches, really.
18. “A Spaceman Came Traveling”- Chris de Burgh (The River Sessions) : This and “Wash Our Socks for Christmas” are by far my favorite new Christmas discoveries from last year, when I listened to Irish Christmas radio stations almost exclusively. Even my cynical, holiday-hating sister liked this song, about a guy in a spaceship, so either an alien or a time-traveler, visiting Mary and Joseph to see their baby. I’m imagining Matt Smith or maybe David Tennant, popping in after being drawn off course by rays from the supernova that shone so brightly overhead. Irish people have some fantastic Christmas radio stations, by the way. Christmas FM, a station Colm Keegan tweeted about just after Thanksgiving, is also a charity program, so you donate money while making requests, and can connect to other charity options through their website. I haven’t heard the “was our Socks” song yet this year on there, but I haven’t had it on much just yet.
19. “We Can Be Kind”- Aled Jones (Forever) : If Aled Jones’ voice is any indication, Celtic Thunder would do well to keep a line on Daniel Furlong. Not all boy sopranos go on to sound like Aled Jones, of course, but Aled Jones as a kid was yet another ‘voice of an angel’. As a grown man he’s simply a grown up ‘angel’, with the sort of voice I would hope fellows like the angel Gabriel would have. In any case, this song is another that fits in nicely with my pet solution for all the ills of the world. Naive? Probably. But again, it’s at least a decent place to start.
20. “The Parting Glass”- The Wailin’ Jennys (40 Days) : Other versions of this song are nice, but this one is absolutely stunning. This song is off the Wailin’ Jennys’ debut album, and certainly helped propel them to success. In a nutshell it is about saying goodbye and moving on, whether for the night after last call, or perhaps forever as we survive those who won’t ever rise again. I found when I started getting into Irish songs that it is best not to listen too closely to the lyrics of this song when one is already in a morbid mood, but some days these are precisely the right sentiments, sad or not.
Oh, all the comrades that e’er I had
They’re sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e’er I had
They’d wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I’ll gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be with you all