Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 19: Over the Rhine

Over the Rhine - Snow Angels

This is full of dark, jazzy, soulful, bluesy Christmas songs.  It seems influenced as much by Billie Holiday as it does by Vince Guaraldi.  I don't care too much for "North Pole Man", but the rest of this is terrific.  It's pretty much all original songs, which definitely helps.  You can put this in your Christmas playlist knowing that yet another version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" won't be coming up.

"Snow Angel"

"Darlin' (Christmas is Comin')"

"All I Ever Get for Christmas is Blue"

Saturday, December 15, 2012

December 15: The Pogues

I didn't get a chance to throw an album up yesterday, and I can only manage one meager song today.  It's been a busy weekend.  I'll get back on track with a full album tomorrow.

But, for now, enjoy The Pogues' fantastic "Fairytale of New York".  It's a Christmas song for the drunk in all of us.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

December 13: Elvis

Elvis - Christmas Peace

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Elvis.  Not all of his stuff, of course.  But, overall, I'm a big fan.  I love the skinny rockabilly Elvis.  I love the fat, jumpsuit-wearing Elvis.
And I especially love Elvis Christmas music.  His style just works really well.  He's able to take these songs - both old and new - and mold them to his style.  When I hear these songs, I have a hard time believing they could be done any better.  And, for the most part, that is the case.

I know there are a number of Elvis Christmas collections, but this one is my favorite.

"Blue Christmas"

"Santa Claus is Back in Town"

"Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)"

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 12: Jessica Ripka

Jessica Ripka - Manger Songs

With only 4 songs (only 3 of which are Christmas songs), this is a pretty short Christmas album.  But it packs a punch.  There's not a bad song on here.  Ripka's unique piano and vocal stylings provide a fresh take on "Joy to the World", "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "Silent Night".  You've never heard these songs done in this style, and you're unlikely to ever hear them like this again.

It's a free download over at her Bandcamp page, but any donations go to AIDS relief efforts in Africa.  I highly recommend you check it out and donate what you can.

Full disclosure: Jessica is a friend of mine, and I was lucky enough to work with her on a remix on her most recent album.  She's a fantastic musician, and a great person to boot.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

December 11: Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith - Christmas Cookin'

As past selections have shown, I'm a fan of quite a few jazz Christmas albums.  Having heard the same songs done a million times with very little variation, I find myself drawn to albums that shed new light on those songs.  A fresh take, as it were.  As a general rule, jazz - good jazz, at least - offers a fresh take on standard songs.
This is one of those albums.  I love Jimmy Smith's organ style, and it comes through here.  He pairs with a big band on a number of the tracks, but this album is at its best when Smith's organ is in the foreground.  This is a solid album, and it's perfect for this time of year.
One of my favorite tracks on here is his rendition of "Jingle Bells", but, unfortunately, I couldn't find a clip on YouTube.

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"


"Silent Night"

December 10: Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens - Songs for Christmas

5 discs.  42 tracks.  Granted, that's a lot of music to get through, but it's worth it.  The songs were all recorded pretty quickly, so there's a certain ramshackle, lo-fi quality to most of it.  But there is a lot of great stuff.  Even the Christmas standards are seen through a new light.  And there are a lot of original tracks, most of which are terrific.
That's not to say the entire thing is great.  There are a few clunkers.  But, overall, there are more good songs than bad songs here, and more than a few amazing songs.
It's also worth noting that one of my favorite Christmas songs is "Once in Royal David's City", but it's rare to find it on an album.  But it can be found here in two versions: instrumental and vocal.

"Put the Lights on the Tree"

"Come On!  Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!"

"Once in Royal David's City"

"Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)"

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 9: Vince Guaraldi

Vince Guaraldi - A Charlie Brown Christmas

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't love to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas.  I don't even particularly enjoy Peanuts, and I love watching this.  There are a handful of movies I watch every year to get myself into the Christmas spirit, and this is one of them (for what it's worth, Die Hard and Bad Santa are also on that list).
As good as it is, it would be nothing without the music. And Guaraldi nailed it.  The music is perfect for the movie, and it's great to listen to as a standalone Christmas album.  I love it.

"O Tannenbaum"

"Christmas Time is Here"


Saturday, December 08, 2012

December 8: She & Him

She & Him - A Very She & Him Christmas

My love of Zooey Deschanel is very well known, and my love of M. Ward is fairly well known, so it shouldn't be a shock that I love this album.
But this album feels different from their first two albums.  Where those were all dressed up in pop dressing, this is a pretty stripped-down affair.  Sure, there are songs with a lot going on, but, for the most part, this album finds Zooey singing lead while Ward plays guitar, a little piano, and sings a little background.  It's a warm, bluesy, intimate Christmas album.  And I adore it.

"The Christmas Waltz"

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

"Blue Christmas"

Friday, December 07, 2012

December 7: Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck - A Dave Brubeck Christmas

Sadly, Brubeck died a couple days ago.  He was one of my favorite jazz pianists, right up there with Thelonious Monk and Oscar Peterson.
This entire album is solo piano.  It's beautiful.  It works perfectly for a snowy December day, or to put on in the background while you sip hot cocoa and open presents.  It's a great album for the season.
It doesn't quite put me in the same mindset that Vince Guarldi's Charlie Brown Christmas does, but it's close.
RIP Dave.  We'll miss you.

"Homecoming / Jingle Bells"

"Silent Night"

"Winter Wonderland"

Thursday, December 06, 2012

December 6: 8-Bit Synthtown

8-Bit Synthtown - A Very Chiptune Christmas

A little something different for the holidays.  The 8-bit culture is fascinating to me.  And, though I have dabbled in it, I doubt I'll ever fully understand it.
But I love it.  I mainly love it for albums like this.  I've listened to a handful of 8-bit Christmas albums before, but they never really grabbed me.  This one did.  It's short and beautiful.  It begs for repeated listens.  After I get done with one listen, I want to just put it on repeat and roll through it again.
If you really want, you can put this on and pretend that you're a character in a videogame, celebrating Christmas with all your pixelated buddies.  My imagination doesn't run quite that deep anymore.  For me, I listen to this album and it feels like I'm being called to sit in front of the Christmas tree and play RBI baseball on my GameBoy.  Which is what I will do.

It may not be for everyone, but it really is a beautiful little Christmas EP.  Each song is wonderfully crafted and layered.  It's quite lovely.

There are 5 songs here.  And, though the titles don't necessarily reflect it, you get unique renditions of "Winter Wonderland", "White Christmas", "Jingle Bell Rock", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree".

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

December 5: Kat Jones

Kat Jones - He's the One I Need the Most EP

It's short - 4 songs, with 1 of them not even being a Christmas song - but it's beautiful.  Of the 3 Christmas songs, 2 of them are originals ("I'll Be Home for Christmas" and the title track), and 1 is a gorgeous rendition of "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella".
"I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "He's the One I Need the Most" are filled out with quite a bit of instrumentation, while "Bring a Torch" is more sparse - just a rarely strummed guitar and Kat's voice seemingly filling the room.
It's short, but it's a great addition to your Christmas collection.  And it's available as a free download from her Bandcamp and Noisetrade pages right now.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

December 4: Phil Spector

Phil Spector - A Christmas Gift for You

Rightfully at (or near) the top of pretty much every "greatest Christmas album ever" list.  Spector's signature wall-of-sound style is on full display here, and it's glorious.  His style works perfectly for Christmas music, and the collection of artists here (Darlene Love, The Ronettes, The Crystals, and Bob E. Soxx & the Blue Jeans) is wonderful.

If you've never heard this album, you need to fix that.  It works for all ages.  If this album doesn't get you in the Christmas mood, nothing will.

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

Monday, December 03, 2012

December 3: Low

Low - Christmas

This is the only Christmas album I keep on my iPod year-round.  I usually don't listen to the entire album until December hits, but I usually find myself needing to hear "If You Were Born Today" a few times throughout the year.
This album finds them performing 3 Christmas classics and 5 originals.  Those familiar with Low will recognize their signature "slow-core" sound on a lot of these, but they also dial up the Christmas spirit a little, especially on the opener - a Spector-influenced gem of Christmas pop ("Just Like Christmas").
It may not be for everyone.  But on a snowy December day, this album is just about perfect.

"Just Like Christmas"

"If You Were Born Today"

"Blue Christmas"

Sunday, December 02, 2012

December 2: Rosie Thomas

Rosie Thomas - A Very Rosie Christmas

If you know me, you know that I love Rosie Thomas.  I love everything she's done, going back to her brief stint with Velour 100.  So it's no surprise that I love this album.
For the most part, Rosie sticks to Christmas classics on this album.  She has a couple originals (including the eternally cheerful and catchy "Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year"), and some fresh new takes on some Christmas standards (her heartbreaking take on "The Chipmunk Song" - titled "Christmas Don't Be Late" - is one of my favorite Christmas songs).
I cut off the last two tracks on my iPod (one is a track by her alter-ego Sheila Saputo, the other a "thanks for listening to this album" type closing), leaving me with 10 strong Christmas songs.
This is definitely worth adding to your Christmas rotation.

"Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year"

"Christmas Don't Be Late"

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Christmas Music Kickoff: Emmy the Great

It's December 1st.  We're past Thanksgiving, and Christmas is right around the corner.  I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight some of my favorite Christmas albums.
Having worked in retail for a number of years, I kind of got sick of a lot of Christmas music.  It's only recently that I've started listening to it again.  I attribute a lot of that to some great new releases by artists, I love, but I also have quite a few older albums that I listen to quite a bit.

My plan is to post every day between now and Christmas.  Each day I'll highlight an album and/or song that I love.  I'd love it if some of you felt like joining in with some of your own favorites in the comments.  And, of course, any recommendations are always welcome.

To the music!

Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler - This is Christmas

A beautiful and strange Christmas album.  The majority of the songs are originals, which is a nice departure from albums sporting the same songs over and over again.  Just a glance at the track listing tells you this isn't your standard Christmas album, with songs like "Zombie Christmas", "Jesus the Reindeer" and "Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing)".
There is a fair bit of genre-hopping here, but it all seems to fit on the same album.  It's clear that they had fun making this album, and it's also clear they drew their sound from wide-ranging musical influences.

I love this album.  Here are 3 of my favorite songs:

"Christmas Moon"

"(Don't Call Me) Mrs. Christmas"

"Zombie Christmas"