Our thanks to Randy of Hip Christmas for bringing this one to our attention. According to Legacy's write-up, "Brand New Year" is Eric Carmen's first new recording in 15 years. It will be included on the upcoming "Essential Eric Carmen" CD, due for release this March. Nice to start the New Year with new music. Thanks Legacy. And thanks Randy.
Cynthia Lin has a pair of name-your-own-price Christmas downloads on Bandcamp--"Blue Christmas" from 2011 and "A Very Merry Christmas" from last year. Her current album, "Microscope" (featuring the song "Holiday"), can also be had on a name-your-price deal. And here's a pretty cool rendition of "All I Want For Christmas Is You" on Youtube.
Don't forget to grab A Stubby's House Christmas 2013. You only have until January 6. Just sayin'.
Update (1/8/14): All gone. Even gave you a couple extra days because of stuff that's been happening around here.
We just dumped a whole bunch more links to free Christmas and New Year's music on the Free Page. Don't forget to get some. While you do that, I'm going to stay here and watch one of my all-time favorite holiday tracks/videos. It's Barman's Fault with "New Year's Song" from 2010 (if memory serves).
While you slept, Santa left a whole lot of links to free and legal Christmas music downloads. They're on the Free List. Meanwhile, here's a video to warm your holiday chestnuts.
Warning: massive post ahead. In spite of being mostly absent this season (and it doesn't look any better for next year), I couldn't resist putting together our annual Stubby's House Christmas collection. For one thing, these Stubby House mixes are ALWAYS better than my own annual mixes--a fact I attribute to the proximity to Christmas (the closer it gets, the more I feel the spirit). As in past years, all of the music on A Stubby's House Christmas was available free on the Internets this year. In past years, we've restricted ourselves to music we spoke about elsewhere on the site (mostly, the Free Page). Obviously, we had to abandon that rule for 2013. In fact, I thought we could kill two birds with one stone, by doing the collection and talking in a little more depth about the tunes as we went along. Never occurred to me how long such a post would be. So as not to totally freak the Weebly people and software out, we've split the post in two (when you get to the end of the first part, just keep going). Due to time constraints, our initial filtering process was the old virtual needle drop technique, which can be brutal and unfair. But, if you didn't capture our attention right away, you didn't make the cut. A new rule we employed this year--again, due to our not being around much--was no double dipping; no matter how good any of the collections we came across (Santastic, Paste, Suburban Sprawl, etc.), we could only choose one song from each so we could tell you about more of them. No Stubby's House exclusives this year. Sorry.
This is our fourth season of A Stubby's House Christmas. So, by now, you know I mean it when I say this collection is only available for a limited time and then disappears forever. In this case, we'll leave it up until Little Christmas (January 6). So you've got a little more than 2 weeks to get yer Stubby on. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Everything you need to make your own little Stubby CD is included in the file, including artwork for both jewel case and full sized CD housings. Here's the download link for "A Stubby's House Christmas 2013" (subtitled "The White (and Black) Album") or click on the pic of the cover, above. Go get it and then, if you've got a few days, read all about it below. Report broken links and other issues and we'll work something out. Merry Christmas from yours truly and Mrs. Katz (not her real name). (Update 1/8/14: Link removed, as promised)
1. DECK THE HALLS - PRISCILLA AHN
I think, even in this season of semi-retirement, Stubby's might have been the first blog to feature this ethereal take on the old warhorse that is "Deck The Halls". Priscilla Ahn completely transforms the song into something new and unique. I love when that happens. Seemed like the perfect way to kick off our Stubby's House Christmas set. Except for one thing. When you begin a playlist with a song this special and unique, there's nowhere to go but down. No disrespect to any of the great music that follows. And let that be a lesson to you young mixtapers. What lesson? Never mind. Anyway, Priscilla's "Deck The Halls" is free for the taking at her web site.
2. MY FAVORITE SEASON - MAGNOLIA SONS
Remember the post of free stuff where I was falling asleep and ended abruptly? This was one of the songs I'd intended to mention in that post. Magnolia Sons' "My Favorite Season" was subsequently blogged on several of the other Christmas sites (I thought so, anyway), so I didn't, ahem, lose any sleep over it. But it's a real nice pop/rock track with a retro feel from this Nashville ensemble and you should definitely pick it up (as well as the virtual flip, "The Christmas Joy", while it's free via Bandcamp. It's an instant download, too--don't even need your email address. Although, if you'd like to keep track of what Magnolia Sons are up to, maybe catch some more tunes, you can sign on to their email list at their web site.
3. PRETTY LIGHTS - KISSING PARTY
I know it seems like we feature the same bands every year. Certainly, we do on the Free Page, and that should tell you that those artists are turning out consistently wonderful Christmas music. Should have you saying to yourself, "Hmm. I wonder if the rest of their music is as good as their Christmas music." Should have you heading to their web sites and, doggone it, buying some music to support these people.
That said, I did some back tracking, checked my list once, checked it twice, and it turns out--even to my surprise--our annual Stubby's House collections have featured few repeaters (save one major exception and not including this year). I was especially floored to learn that we've never included a track from Denver's Kissing Party. And that surprised me because I love what they do. When I listen to a Kissing Party song, I always come away smiling--even if its a depressing song. Seriously, Kissing Party makes me smile (in spite of myself, cause I'm basically a surly cuss). Forget the ghosts; Ebeneezer might have had a much brighter perspective on life had he listened to Kissing Party. Which would have been difficult since they weren't around back then. Timelord science!
I'm sure Kissing Party wasn't jockeying for a spot on our humble little collection when they decided to release an entire EP of Christmas music this year. "Winter At The Pub" includes the group's previous holiday efforts as well as some new. Yes, that includes the award winning title track. What's that? "Winter At The Pub" didn't win an award? Well...it should have.
Though we went with "Pretty Lights", here--which I believe is new--I almost went with "Commit A Tiny Crime Together", which is neither new nor Christmas (near as I can tell). "Pretty Lights" will make you smile, sure, but checkout "Commit A Tiny Crime Together". Just awesome, amazing stuff.
Grab the free "Winter At The Pub" EP and visit Kissing Party at their Internet home. And, hey, what say we check out the video for "Pretty Lights", right now?
4. I HEAR (CLICK, CLICK, CLICK) - THE ROSEBUDS
North Carolina's Rosebuds have made quite a name for themselves in college radio and Indie Alt Rock circles. And there was more than a little buzz surrounding the release of last year's Christmas album, "Christmas Tree Island". Thank goodness, for us, they haven't broken through completely, yet. If they had, you can bet they would not have offered up last year's Christmas album as a free download this year. Originally, the free download was only supposed to last a week, but you can still grab "Christmas Tree Island" at Noisetrade, if you hurry.
"I Hear (Click, Click, Click)" originally appeared on the 2009 local artist CD "Have A Holly Raleigh Kidsmas", the first of the "Holly Raleigh" collections featuring music geared to kids (both big and small) and, sadly, the last of the four "Holly Raleigh" sets released (the call went out in 2010, but no finished product emerged).
The Rosebuds' latest non-holiday full-length, so far as I know, is "Loud Planes Fly Low". The bands gigs constantly and they even had a Halloween single this year. Stop by their Facebook page sometime and don't be a stranger.
5. THE CHERRY TREE CAROL - SOLAS
And now a cautionary tale. I was out searching for free Christmas music, prior to putting this set together, and I was downloading left and right (click). I really dug this sprightly version of "The Cherry Tree Carol". Ordinarily, people tend to do the tune like a dirge, but this version genuinely swung. Into the Stubby's House mix with ye!
But the only tag on the file was "CherryTreeMix" and I could not remember the name of the band, nor how I'd come upon them in the first place. Wasn't sure whether to drop them from the mix or put them on a milk carton or something. Kids, let that be a lesson to you; properly tag your audio files so people know who you are.
Long story short, I did eventually find them again, but it wasn't easy. The band is Solas (Gaelic for "light"), an Irish-American band. They've been around for 15 years, have ten albums under their belts, and clearly have a substantial following. "The Cherry Tree Carol" was actually their second free Christmas download this year. Their first, an original titled "Home For Christmas Day" was posted to SoundCloud and, if I recall correctly, Soundcloud caps the free downloads at 100, so it wasn't free any longer by the time I found it. No such issues with "The Cherry Tree Carol", though, which is free via something called "dropify". Stop by the Solas web site to catch up on the last 15 years and learn about their amazing Shamrock City project. Or drop in at Facebook and follow the links to your free download of "The Cherry Tree Carol".
6. DRIVING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS - DAN ANKERS
Dan Ankers' holiday offering, a cover of Chris Rea's "Driving Home For Christmas", comes to us from Small Bear Records and their 2013 Christmas collection "Tinsel Machine". A UK Indie label (I'm guessing), Small Bear's overall philosophy seems to be about getting the music out there and seeing what happens. Outside of recouping the investment in physical releases, they don't seem all that concerned with making money on downloads. Which is precisely why you should tip them generously, if you can.
"Driving Home For Christmas" impressed us immediately with the jangly guitar open, but also felt musically compelling throughout. Unfortunately, the combination of "needle drop" and having one computer with a sound card and no Internet and another with Internet but no sound card means I can't be very helpful on the rest of the set. I sort of remember liking Nanaki's take on Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You". And "It's Christmastime, Like" from Bri Slutcher & The Gnasher Downham Experience seemed like a good drinking song for the pub, like.
And we can't leave without telling you that this is Small Bear's second holiday collection. The 2012 Christmas set, "Enter Snowman", was released so close to Christmas last year that I (and I suspect a lot of you) missed it. No worries. It's still a name-your-own-price download at Bandcamp.
7. FOLKS IN THE STREET - SHELLEY GORDON
The "no double dipping" rule put a cramp in things right about here. 2013 was a good year for Christmas Folk music and I absolutely loved this year's collection from Rarebird. As the title suggests, "Rarebird In A Pear Tree, Vol. 3" is the third annual holiday collection from Rarebird and there were at least three songs I wanted to include. Jason Paul Johnston does a superb take on "Go Tell It On The Mountain" and the nice psych opening to "Waiting For Snow" by terns was so tasty that we almost abandoned the no double dipping rule. In the end, we stuck with Shelley Gordon's "Folks In The Street". Given this track and Shelley's downbeat album closer, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", she's not having a bright and cheery holiday, but rather one of those nose-pressed-to-the-window-pane, on-the-outside-looking-in affairs. Unlike us, you don't have to choose just one song from this great collection; you can grab all three Rarebird holiday sets free via Noisetrade (un, deux, trois).
8. PLEASE COME HOME FOR CHRISTMAS - SIX & THE SEVENS
Nope, not the Charles Brown track. This "Please Come Home For Christmas" is a much more desperate pleading blues-rock original from Six & The Sevens, taken from this year's "Suburban Sprawl Holiday Sampler".
For as long as I can remember, I've always been drawn to that desolate, dreary little guitar riff. I don't think there's any sound more instantly evocative in music. That Six & The Sevens go all John Lee Hooker on the chorus is just gravy on the stuffing to me.
Speaking of stuffing, our friends at the Michigan Indie collective Suburban Sprawl have been putting out humongous Christmas collections since at least 2002. And they're all still available for free at the label's Christmas site, in handy zip files or a la carte. Go get your feedbag on for there is no better way to go from no holiday library to massive holiday library. And did we mention its all free?
After you get your fill at Suburban Sprawl's holiday trough, be sure to stop by the label's web site and the web site of Six & The Sevens as well. Those cats are going places.
9. I DON'T WANT YOUR PRESENTS - THE JAC
The JAC is the latest incarnation of Australian legend Joe Algeri, who has been recording annual Christmas songs since the Internet was young. Sometimes Joe goes all experimental, sometimes sweet, sometimes Swedish, sometimes kitchen sink Spector, and sometimes awesome Power Pop. This year's outing, "I Don't Want Your Presents", reflects Joe's fascination with the sound of the Byrds (who could forget "Chris Hillman Christmas"?). And the result is a track you're going to want in your Christmas arsenal. Download "I Don't Want Your Presents" free at Bandcamp.
But wait. What's this? "I Don't Want Your Presents" is included on the compilation "Merry Rock Against Bullsh*t Xmas, Vol. 8". VOLUME EIGHT? How have I missed that all these years? Dang! Well, Volume 7's still up and here's a link to Volume 8. I guess we'll just have to ask Santa for the rest.
10. I BELIEVE IN CHRISTMAS TIME - KIRBY KRACKLE
Seattle's Kirby Krackle is, apparently, a six man group fronted by Kyle Stevens making a name for themselves in the under appreciated genre of Nerd Rock.
A lot of bands wouldn't think it cool to wax nostalgic about "GI Joes and Thundercats", but, c'mon, we weren't born old. In fact, that's part of what makes Christmas special; its a chance to embrace, celebrate, and indulge the child that still exists in all of us. Pretend all you want. If you're stopping by a blog like Stubby's, you're still a Christmas child at heart; you still believe in Christmas Time.
"I Believe In Christmas Time" was just so sweet and sincere (nice production values, too), it had to have a place on a Stubby's House Christmas. Had to. The track is free at Bandcamp (as are the Kirby Krackle Christmas singles from 2012 and 2011). And feel free to knock on the door of the group's home web site. They'll welcome you in and make you feel right at home.
11. THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS - THE CLOTHES
One of my favorite--perhaps THE favorite--annual Internet Christmas collections is "A Polaroid For Christmas". Polaroid is an Italian blog. As Polaroid's curator says, "I called some friends and some bands, and asked them if they wanted to write a song for this season, or at least play a song that could keep me company while decorating the Christmas tree." For something seemingly so informal, the Polaroid collections are amazing and fresh and genuinely capture the Christmas spirit. The Polaroid collections often slip below everyone's radar in this country and most of these bands and songs won't turn up anywhere else. Unless, of course, Stubby's can call them to your attention (I try to do my part).
Once again, the "no double dipping" rule proves a pain in my.... but, if I had to pick just one song for OUR collection, it was going to be "The Night Before Christmas" by The Clothes. Not all the groups and artists on "A Polaroid For Christmas" are Italian, but The Clothes happen to be. You should definitely stop by and say "Hi" on Facebook and grab their free album, "Fairy Lights Dress", on Bandcamp.
For an Indie Pop tune that is never going to get the exposure of Mariah Carey, Susan Boyle, or even Charlotte Sometimes, "The Night Before Christmas" is amazing. It's epic! It rocks, it rolls, it's retro and contemporary, it goes through more changes than "Bohemian Rhapsody" and it just sounds like the musical distillation of the joy of Christmas. Dig it!
Grab the entire collection, "A Polaroid For Christmas 2013". Its free and its awesome. And, if you're up for it, a little searching through the Polaroid archives may turn up some of the earlier volumes as well.
12. SANTA HAVE MERCY - CALICO THE BAND
I've seen virtually no mention of "The Alternate Root Holiday Music Sampler" on the Interwebs and that's puzzling. Alternate Root's collections have been one of the brightest stars in the Christmas sky for the last several years. I don't know if people just take it for granted, now, or what. I don't believe Roots music is any less popular than its been. And one of the greatest things about the Alt Root Holiday Spectacular is the diversity of sounds and styles it presents.
44 songs in all and featuring well known artists like Over The Rhine, The VooDUDES, James Lee Stanley, Deborah Holland, and Rev. Jimmie Bratcher as well as a whole bunch of acts hoping to catch your ear.
There were at least a dozen tracks I'd have liked to lift from here, but there's that darn "no double dipping" rule again. Special mention should go to Yarn, who offer a poignant Christmas song for the troops, and the aforementioned Deborah Holland, who weighs in with one of the best (and funniest) Hanukkah songs I've heard in a while.
In the end, though, one track demanded inclusion on A Stubby's House Christmas. Calico The Band's "Santa Have Mercy" is a rollicking roots romp the likes of which we haven't heard since the Davis Sisters did "The Reindeer Boogie". Calico confesses their crimes and sins--Lord knows, they've been bad--and throw themselves on the mercy of St. Nick. Not that they're looking to turn over a new leaf or anything, even offering to give Santa the best time he's ever had. How can it be bad when its sooo good. And, really, who could blame them when they declare, "I don't wanna go to jail for Christmas/I don't wanna eat no county bird/I just wanna crash your brother's party/Get a little loose and deck the halls !" Yeah! That's what I'm talkin' bout!
Hard to believe, but Calico The Band has only been together for about a year. Why doncha come up and see them sometime...at their home site, Facebook, or ReverbNation. Read the legend and be amazed. Grab some of their music on Bandcamp. And get the whole 6th annual "Alternate Root Holiday Music Sampler" at Alternate Root while it lasts. Time for another video? Yeah, thought so.
13. OLD MAN WINTER BLUES - GLENN CRYTZER'S SAVOY SEVEN
So, did you download this one like I told you to? Yeah, I thought so.
I know you don't think you need any more big band Christmas music in your collection, but you do. You need "A Little Love This Christmas" by Glenn Crytzer's Savoy Seven. You especially need to hear "Old Man Winter Blues". This is a great Jump Blues number as the big bands would have done and the late great Joe Turner would be diggin' on this one if he were around today. Just a great tune and well worthy of inclusion on A Stubbys House Christmas.
Glenn Crytzer has been composing music since he was 14 and was playing long before that . He's still a young man in his 30s today. So why is he writing and recording Big Band music? 'Cause its cool, that's why. Born in Pennsylvania, Glenn plies his trade in Seattle and environs these days. He's got oodles of degrees in music and plays multiple instruments. Did you need to know all that? Hmm, you might, rabbit, you might.
Learn more about Glenn and his many musical projects on his web site and, for goodness sake, go download this great free Christmas record like I told you to do in the first place. You'll find it on Bandcamp. Remember, Santa's watching (in the off-season, he works for the NSA).
14. ANAK NG P - KRIS LAWRENCE featuring KARYLLE
This one's for Megyn Kelly as it comes from "Unwhite Christmas", a 3-track EP available free on Bandcamp. I don't think anyone's buying that her "Santa is white" segment was just tongue-in-cheek, nor that she really intended any discussion of the article that spawned the segment. If you're trying to do something like that tongue-in-cheek and foster a discussion, here's what you say: "You know, I'm always asleep when Santa comes each year, so I can't really say what color he is, but it does seem that, in most of our movies and advertising, for example, Santa tends to be depicted as white. Should that continue to be the case, or should we see more diversity represented?" You don't just declare, harshly, "Santa just IS white!" and then spend the segment with three white people doing nothing more than agreeing. And then, instead of apologizing, Megyn played the victim card. Everybody hates poor privileged, conservative you. Well, boo-hoo.
The music on "Unwhite Christmas" is genuine Pasko (Christmas) music from the Phillipines. So I'm guessing, in their homes, Santa is Filipino. He just IS, Megyn, OK? By all accounts, Filipinos adore Christmas--they celebrate from September through the third Sunday in January--and I love their music. The three songs on "Unwhite Christmas" are very different--and any one of them would have been welcomed on a Stubbys House Christmas--but I chose "Anak ng P" because the sound is one that was missing from the mix. Do I know what they're singing? Heck, no (though you can make out that they're wishing Jesus a Happy Birthday), but it sounds like Christmas to me. Both Kris Lawrence and Karylle are very popular singers and actors in the Phillipines (though Kris was born and raised in Los Angeles). Kris sometimes goes by the handle "Prince of R&B".
By the way, Megyn, Santa is actually a black man. I know because my man Akim told me so. And I trust him far more than I would ever trust you.
15. JWAYE NWEL - OLENCE CALIXTE
Olence Calixte lives on Haiti's north shore. When he was 15, he was struck by sudden blindness and his mother gave him a guitar to keep him occupied. Since then, he's rarely been seen without it. At the time "Jwaye Nwel" was recorded, Olence was homeless, thanks to the Haitian earthquake of 2010, living next to the ruins of the Catholic Cathedral in Port-au-Prince and playing and singing for anyone who cared to listen, hoping some passers by might feel generous and open their wallets a bit that he could feed his family and hoping that others in his circumstance might take comfort. Haiti has the highest unemployment rate in the world and little of the promised earthquake relief money has reached the Haitian people almost 4 years later.
Lakou Mizik, a non-profit organization working to preserve and celebrate Haitian music and culture, began work on an EP with Olence late in 2012. On the first day of recording, Olence offered up this yuletide original, "Jwaye Nwel". The song celebrates the joy of the season, whatever the hardships or circumstances. "If you're barefooted," Olence sings, "Jwaye Nwel. If you're without clothing, Jwaye Nwel. If you're without food, Jwaye Nwel." (I'm personally fascinated by how much the music sounds like Hawaiian music, for which I have a weakness.)
Thanks to the magic of the Internets, accompaniment was provided by musicians in multiple countries, donating their time and efforts, and "Jwaye Noel" was completed in days. Although the song is a name-your-price download at Bandcamp, enough money was raised that, in March of this year, Olence and his family were able to sleep with a roof over their heads for the first time since the earthquake.
So, anyway, although all the music in our annual collection can be obtained for free, please consider tipping generously for this song. 100% of your payment will go directly to Olence Calixte and his family. And, if circumstance prevents you from being able to give, Jwaye Nwel.
16. A BERLIN CHRISTMAS TALE - SOFIA TALVIK
Swedish singer/songwriter Sofia Talvik offers up a free Christmas song every year. And pretty much every year, I declare that "this is her best yet" or that "this is my absolute favorite." Well, "A Berlin Christmas Tale" is Sofia's best Christmas song yet and my absolute favorite. Sofia has explored a lot of different musical styles in the past, but "A Berlin Christmas Tale" returns Sofia--with the enrichment of all her musical experimentation and time on the road--to the Sofia I was originally drawn to...the Folk Pop artist who paints pictures with her music, words, and voice--pictures so clear and alive that you experience them yourself. Christmas is not always the idyllic print from Courier & Ives we would wish it to be. "But, baby, its Christmas."
If Christmas didn't exist, we'd have to invent it. In the depths of winter, with the biting cold and days so short it always seems to be night, we need a celebration of hope to keep us warm. We need pretty lights and the smell of pine and the spirit of giving and good will for all and the promise of something wonderous and beautiful to replenish our faith, recharge our batteries, and keep on keeping on. We need something to remind us that we are alive and that that alone, when all is said and done, is pretty f#&king amazing--that that miracle alone is worth living for. Life's not perfect, it's not easy, it's often harsh and cold. "But, baby, its Christmas."
Eh, too much philosophizing. Who said the soup was free? Just count yer blessings instead of sheep, tonight. And enjoy this wonderful song, "A Berlin Christmas Tale", from Sofia Talvik. Sofia has gathered up all of her solo Christmas efforts from past to present in one spot on her web site (which is well worthy of deeper exploration, btw). Click on the titles to get to the (still) free (or name-your-own-price) downloads. If you've already got them all, you can just grab "A Berlin Christmas Tale" on Bandcamp.
17. COVENTRY CAROL/KING WITHOUT A MOUNTAIN - BETA RADIO
I don't think I knew before now that Beta Radio hail from Wilmington, North Carolina. These two friends--Ben Mabry and Brent Holloman--have been playing and singing together for over a decade. The duo's stripped down, alt folk style is haunting--staying with you long after the music ends. "The Songs The Season Brings, Volume III" is the group's third annual holiday EP and this one has a bit of a King Herod focus. Click on the cover art for the Bandcamp download. It won't be free forever (neither Vol. 1 nor Vol. 2 are free any longer).
Listening to as much Christmas music as I have, the meaning of some of the ancient carols is often lost in their familiarity. Listening to Beta Radio's medley of "Coventry Carol/King Without A Mountain", I feel the import of every syllable of "Coventry Carol" as I never have. I've never heard "King Without A Mountain" and am going to assume its original until someone tells me otherwise. If its not, I can't understand why it isn't a staple of traditional holiday recordings.
Beta Radio has been slowly gathering a loyal following and, hopefully, that means good things for them and for us. But I'm going to be contrary guy and say I hope Beta Radio doesn't record a full length Christmas album. I'd much rather keep getting these small annual gifts, so beautiful and perfect, than get one big gift just once. You know, unless the big gift is a new Mazzerati that comes complete with a supermodel in the passenger seat. Yeah, I know, I totally lost the real meaning of Christmas, there. But, seriously, Santa, a supermodel would look lovely under my tree. Wrapped or unwrapped. Either way.
18. CHRISTMAS MEDLEY - LANDON STAHMER
Even doing the virtual needle drop thing, this is one track that I could not pick the virtual needle up from. I was immediately captivated from beginning to end. I have no idea who Landon Stahmer is, but what a voice. Since I downloaded this "Christmas Medley" some time ago via SoundCloud, Landon has given it the title of "Oh Come To Joy The Merry Gentlemen", but that's a little too frivolous for such an impressive and gorgeous performance, in my opinion, so I'm just sticking with the old standby, "Christmas Medley".
There's one every year and, in my opinion, this is this year's show stopper. Just beautiful. Grab the free download from SoundCloud, check the video on YouTube, and see what else Landon Stahmer is up to by visiting his web site.
Ah, what the heck, we've got time for another video, don't we?
19. WORK ON CHRISTMAS - SEAN NELSON
No doubt, this one sounds familiar to you. Sean Nelson used to be the lead singer for the Seattle based Alt Punk band Harvey Danger (who sadly said goodbye forever in 2009) and "Work On Christmas" is shorthand for "Sometimes You Have To Work On Christmas (Sometimes)". It's one of my favorite Christmas songs of the modern age (much better and more meaningful than the Mariah Carey, Wham, and Band Aid tracks combined). When I worked in radio, I used to love working Christmas. Heck, I'd be volunteering by the time August rolled around. But, by the time the Harvey Danger Christmas song turned up, I was working what we radio people (and some musicians) call a "real job" and it was no longer my choice. Fairly low on the totem pole, I would be working on Christmas. To be truthful, it wasn't all that horrible; I think it was the lack of choice that bothered me (although, as I used to tell those even lower on the totem pole, you always have a choice; the question is are you willing to accept the consequences of that choice). Anyway, the song struck a chord with me and "Work On Christmas" (yes, I'll accept the shorthand, thank you) has been one of my faves ever since. It helps that it's brilliant both musically and lyrically. And somehow Sean's voice makes it just perfect. The music on the new version is less...organic, but it also has new found intimacy.
Sean Nelson's done a lot of stuff with a lot of people since Harvey Danger split, but has decided upon a solo career for the moment, his "debut" album ("Make Good Choices") having been released earlier this year. So when the chance arose to contribute to No Sleep Records latest holiday collection, "No Sleep Till The Holidays 2", it probably seemed like a great idea. Hey, worked for me; I didn't know Sean had a solo record out.
The new No Sleep holiday set contains 7 tracks and, as usual with No Sleep, they're all great. Any other year, you might be listening to Allison Weiss, or Daisyhead, or What's Eating Gilbert?, or Maps For Travelers, or... But not in a year of no double dipping (dammit) and Sean Nelson's "Work On Christmas". Grab the whole collection free at Bandcamp. It's an instant download, so you don't even need to surrender your email.
20. LOU CHRISTMAS (WITHOUT YOU) - mojochronic
We mentioned before that we have not been repeating artists of the Stubbys House collections, much to my own surprise. Sofia Talvik and Beta Radio make their second appearance this year. But there has been one notable exception. The mashup artist known as mojochronic has appeared on each and every Stubbys House Christmas. There's been some mighty fine stuff on the Santastic mashup comps through the years. DJ BC has turned in many a fine effort, as have many of the others. But mojochronic, man, that dude is a freakin' genius. Some day, mashups will be considered the legitimate art form they already are. When that day comes, mojochronic will be hailed as one of the best of a very talented and creative group.
Until that day, you should absolutely download "Santastic 8". In addition to "Lou Christmas", there are 14 more tracks of mashed-up Christmas goodness. No. GREATness. It's simply Santastic!
21. KEEP ME FOR CHRISTMAS TIME - THE HARD GROUND
Like our friends at Christmas Underground (where I totally missed it), I found this great track at 2 U I Bestow, which is one of those sites that, every year, I find myself going, "What's the name of that awesome Irish blog again?" You'd think "2 U I Bestow" would be memorable enough, but obviously not. I've finally done the smart thing and added them to our list of Festive Friends (What, you thought those links were for you?). But neither CU nor 2U offered much background on The Hard Ground's "Keep Me For Christmas Time". The Hard Ground's web site wasn't any more helpful, really. And, as great as the song was, it just sounded so dang familiar. I hate a mystery.
I'll save you the Sherlock and get down to the deets. The Hard Ground began life as Berries Blue, a West Cork Ireland duo of Marlene Enright and Pat Carey, who'd met in college. Enright played keyboards and Carey played guitar, but it was the haunting harmonies of their vastly different voices (and the beautiful original music they wrote) that was at the center of their sound. "Beauty and the Beast," the press called it. When they were performing live or in studio, the pair would often be joined by a rotating cast of supporting players. Berries Blue released an EP in 2009, "Drinkin' To Heaven" and the folk rock duo were hailed as rising stars of the Emerald Isle. "Keep Me For Christmas Time" was a digital single released in 2010. I knew I'd heard it before. Sometime in 2011, two of the rotating support players--Dave Duffy (bass) and Dave Ryan (drums)--became full-fledged members of the group and the foursome became The Hard Ground. Ta-da!
The Hard Ground have released one album, so far--"Broken Conversations"--and they are still hailed as rising stars of the Emerald Isle. "Keep Me For Christmas Time" is a beautiful song about when love fails for no particular reason. It's not him, it's not her--it just is. The love's still there; it just isn't...enough. But a Christmas breakup is the worst thing in the world--worse than a Valentine's Day breakup. So, although its ending, lets just please stay together for Christmas. Very sad. And also a perfect ending to this year's Stubbys House collection. I feel like I may be moving on. I don't want to. I didn't suddenly wake up hating Christmas music or this blog. Its just "an unfortunate circumstance". But I'm here, right now, and, so, "Would you keep me for Christmas Time? If not after then for Christmas Time."
There are two versions of "Keep Me For Christmas Time" on The Hard Ground's Soundcloud page--both available for free download. I went with the first which I believe is the Berries Blue version featuring the beautiful cello of (I'm guessing) Aisling Fitzpatrick (please note, although I tagged it as 2013, I'm guessing it should be 2010). I found the bass to be a bit high on that one, obscuring some of the vocals, so its the only track I actually edited the sound of (just dropping back the bass a bit on the ol' EQ). You're certainly free to prefer it as offered and can easily drop the original into your Stubbys mix, replacing my bass reduced version.
So when I finished the Stubbys House mix, I realized in horror that I was at 80 minutes......and 26 seconds. Yeah, I could've probably found 26 seconds, shortening the fades and such (just cutting the countdown to "Jwaye Nwel" would've save 5 or 6 seconds). Instead, I just dropped a tune. I'm not even going to tell you what I dropped because it wasn't all that great. You won't miss it. I don't.
But there was a whole bunch of stuff that was either very good, or arrived too late, or that I didn't get around to listening to. Even not looking all that hard, there was a mountain of free music I downloaded this year. Seriously, I'm considering giving up buying Christmas music at all; the music being offered by bands and artists trying to get heard is so much better--more genuine, more sincere, more everything--and its free.
I wanted to tack onto the end of this post a list of those Christmas freebies, but look at this thing. War & Peace was shorter. So, if I find the time, we'll do some sort of Boxing Day links dump for you. It'll probably be on the Free Page (just sayin'), so you'll have to check over there when you stop by. But I do want to mention a few, here.
We mentioned, in our review of "Let It Snow" by New York Voices, that one other group had sent a CD to our physical mailbox. But you don't have to wait for me to get around to listening to it because The Sugarpills "Stocking Stuffer Sampler" is absolutely free to download. This is, I think, their third holiday confection and features three new covers (they covered Jonathan Coulton's "Chiron Beta Prime"; how awesome is that?) and a "bigger, better, more awesome" version of their now classic cover of "Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You".
I did not include Brainpool's "The Last Christmas" because it had a spot on my own mix (so it would have been sorta like double dipping...I guess). If there is one song I sort of regret not having on this mix, it would be Teenage Casket Company's "One Thing You Don't Need This Christmas". Found it just as I was wrapping up and I was loathe to start moving pieces of the puzzle. But I liked it a lot. Sort of a cross between Jim Steinman and Bon Jovi, but with a bit of edge. Anyway, I'm a sucker for lines like this: "Merry Christmas, isn't that what they always say/A million happy people.....and then there's me". It's a free download at Bandcamp. Let's toss it up on the jumbotron, shall we?
I looked for "Ho Ho Canada V" before I started on the Stubby's House Christmas. I really did. I checked again when I was just about finished. Still nothing. Sure enough, as soon as I was done, there it was. *sigh*
Another annual fave, the BFW Christmas album, hewed closer to their ambient core this year and, unfortunately, the virtual needle drop is especially brutal to ambient music. SineRider's "First Snow" was probably closest to making the cut.
And sad news in Holiday town. Those lovers of Christmas at Zang Productions closed up shop earlier this year. No Christmas presents from them this year, but you can still find plenty of previous musical gifts in their archives.
There was a treasure trove of great music on The Music Bed's Christmas compilation, "Water For The Holidays". The Music Bed is a music licensing clearing house and the idea, here, is to raise money to bring clean drinking water to developing nations and I sure would like to see them raise more money. Catholic Guilt (TM) and a lack of a proper fit kept me from including anything from that one (you can skip the donation step and just get the free sampler, as I did).
WXPN is doing their annual thing (though the site is impossible to navigate anymore), as is the Alternativ Julekalender and we've gotten our (mostly) annual gifts from Exohxo and friends of the blog Gordon & Cilla, too. Exohxo covers "Christmastime Is Here Again" this year, which reminds me that that freakin' genius mojochronic has recently posted "Yuletide Beatles", in the tradition of "Yuletide Zeppelin"
Jeez. I could just go on forever and I'm sure I'm forgetting a ton. Like I said, we'll do a links dump one of these days.
But one last thing. Lie In The Sound has given us plenty of Christmas cheer, this year. Among their presents was their own mixtape (I assume its theirs; I don't speak German), "Very Adult Pleasures On Christmas". Great stuff (including the Dollyrots' latest), but one track just jumped out as exceptional, a keeper, just beautiful, unique, and better than the rest. "Lover Man For Christmas" by Lots of Love (aka Jessica Fleischer).
The song is really good, too. Download it free from Soundcloud. Jessica's got a website and a Facebook page and a new album, "From The Start".
Santa, scrap the supermodel. Scrap the Mazzerati, too. I want Jessica for Christmas. (Yeah, I know, I'm a pig. An old man can dream, can't he?)
Don't forget, you've got through January 6 to download "A Stubby's House Christmas 2013". Then its gone forever. Don't dawdle. OK, cats and kittens? (Update 1/8/14: Gone, gone, gone)
It's always good news when Daptone Records gets the Christmas spirit. Which, thankfully, is most every year. Their presents usually come on vinyl and always come soaked in 100% pure soul. This year, Daptone has a 45 from the Sha La Das, and Sha La Das make me happy (sorry, couldn't resist). The A-side (stream it above) is "Sha La Da La La (Christmas Time)". The flip (gee, an actual flip and not just a virtual one) is a classic group harmony carol, "I Wish Christmas Time Was Over". Get the single in the Daptone Shop. Heck, get a dozen.
But wait! There's more! Daptone has also released a new Christmas song by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Mmm-mmm, the soul don't get no sweeter. And...wait for it...Sharon's new Christmas song is a...wait for it...free download. Well, sort of. It's a Google Play exclusive, so far, and you have to set up an account and they do ask an awful lot of questions for a free download. If it were anybody else, I'd have said "forget this". But Sharon's worth it. The song is called "Big Bulbs (Uncovered)" and it does give a wink to the old double entendre Blues classics of old, but just a wink--its a G-rated affair in the end. Not as good as "Ain't No Chimney's In The Projects", imho, but then what is? And speaking of "Ain't No Chimneys In The Projects", I feel a music video comin' on.
1. Let It Snow
2. Christmas Song/Christmas Time is Here
3. O, Little Town of Bethlehem
4. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
5. We Three Kings
6. Holiday For Strings
7. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
8. Sleepers, Wake!
9. O Come, All Ye Faithful
10. The Merry Medley: The Man With the Bag/I’d Like You for Christmas/Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
11. I Wonder As I Wander
12. We Wish You a Merry Christmas
13. Silent Night
PURCHASE FROM NEW YORK VOICES
As you are no doubt aware, we're pretty much closed up here (honestly, I'm not even here, now; this is just the Ghost of Christmas Past typing). Only one group was silly enough to send me a physical disc (got another one this week, so I guess there are two silly groups out there). Yes, I said silly. But I get it. If you do a rock, country or soul Christmas record, there are plenty of outlets to get your music exposure beyond people who already know about you. Not so much for Jazz. Merry & Bright might give you a spin, but Christmas Reviews--formerly the "go to" Christmas site for off-genre stuff--is dead and buried. Stubby's was supposed to fill that void. (Is this where I note that life is what happens while you're making other plans?)
I'm grateful New York Voices sent a copy of "Let It Snow" to Stubby's, though. Because, this year, I doubt I'd have heard it otherwise. And its a beauty, easily one of the best Christmas albums of 2013.
New York Voices have been around for more than 25 years. Though they began as a quintet, the group today is structured a lot like Manhattan Transfer--four very talented vocalists (2 male, 2 female)--bringing multiple musical influences to the table in arrangements that cover the waterfront from a capella to full orchestra. The current lineup features founding members Darmon Meader, Peter Eldridge, and Kim Nazarian, along with Lauren Kinhan (who joined in 1992). New York Voices previously graced us with their stunning arrangement of "I Wonder As I Wander" on the second of GRP's essential "Christmas Collection" records, back in 1991. A decade later, they turned up in a supporting role on Nancy Wilson's full length holiday effort. Another dozen years have passed and, finally, New York Voices have given us a full Christmas album of their own.
As it happens, I'm a big fan of vocal Jazz. The Manhattan Transfer's "Christmas Album" is one I simply must listen to every Christmas. But I'm equally fond of those groups that hew closer to pure Jazz--such as Bug Alley and Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross--and others that tend towards a softer, more sentimental approach that, while still containing Jazz elements, is just as evocative of a fifties pop vocal style (Vocalion and Sonos are the first that come to mind). On "Let It Snow", New York Voices showcases their range and their ease at moving from one end to the other on the vocal Jazz spectrum. And they find my absolute "sweet spot" on the title track that opens the set.
If you like Manhattan Transfer, you'll love "Let It Snow", which scats and bops along its jazzy path without losing any of the warmth and sweetness of the season. It recalls those fifties styles we mentioned above without sounding the least bit dated. New York Voices crafts about as perfect a rendition of the song as has ever been recorded (in my humble opinion). Yep, I even like it better than Manhattan Transfer's take on their essential holiday record.
If you came for the sweet cuddle up by the fireside harmonies, you'll find them no sweeter than New York Voices' medley of "Christmas Time Is Here", the Vince Guaraldi standard, and "The Christmas Song"; you'll swear they were always intended to be together. And there's Jazz to be had in New York Voices' spin around "O Little Town Of Bethlehem".
"We Three Kings" is likely the most complex arrangement on the album. I'm not an arranger and I don't play one on TV, but it seems New York Voices lay it all on the table on that track. I've seen other reviewers dismissively talk of a "Middle Eastern" sound. But, wow, that doesn't begin to describe all that's in here. In just that one song, you can hear all the multitude of these artists' decades of experience (my English teacher would flunk me for this sentence). There's a heavy dose of the group's classical influences and even some Broadway musical theatricality. The instrumentation is fine throughout "We Three Kings", but it's the work of the four vocalists that hold this one together.
On the back half, highlights include the reverent "Sleepers, Wake!" and "The Merry Medley". New York Voices also revisit "I Wonder As I Wander", sounding better today than they did 22 years ago, and they close with a beautiful "Silent Night" featuring a capella in both German and English. A personal highlight of mine, on "Let It Snow", is "We Wish You A Merry Christmas"--rarely done as anything more than a throwaway. New York Voices find the Jazz in "We Wish You..." and turn in quite a sweet and full bodied performance that had me smiling throughout.
What didn't I like? Well, I know opinions are going to vary on this, but I hated the inclusion of "Holiday For Strings". Not that they did anything but a superb job on it. But, please, the arguments are still raging as to whether "My Favorite Things" is genuinely a Christmas song, and that's after decades. More recently, "Wonderful World" has been starting to crowd into the Christmas action. Coming, as it did, smack dab in the middle of the CD, I felt I was being cheated out of a fer real Christmas song by its inclusion. There are so, so, so many Christmas songs--many deserving of more attention than they've received. Why would you do this? Hated, hated, can't emphasize enough, hated the inclusion of "Holiday For Strings". But I must forgive this digression as the rest of the record is wonderful. (And, besides, I've been known to push a non-Christmas song into a Christmas mix, well, pretty much every time I do one, so.....guilty, Your Honor; I throw myself on the mercy of the court.)
As a whole, "Let It Snow", the album, is a top shelf effort--easily one of the finest Christmas records this year. And "Let It Snow", the title track? That sucker is dead on perfect. The New York Voices rendition is going straight to the Stubbys Hall of Fame (if there were such a thing). Bravo, New York Voices! Now don't make us wait another 25 years for your next Christmas album.
My Christmas just got a lot more merry and bright! "Jazzy Christmas To You III" is here! Haven't listened to it yet, but I've bought my digital copy and will probably spend the weekend with it on repeat play and let you know how it hits me as soon as I find some time. It's going to be tough to top last year's "Jazzy Christmas To You II".
Regular visitors to Stubbys should be well acquainted with Jillaine. We very much liked her first Christmas outing, "Jazzy Christmas To You" and we absolutely adored the sequel. I was aware, thanks to the interview conducted by our friends at Merry and Bright, that Jillaine had a third Christmas album in the offing. But I'd heard from her earlier this year that, renaissance woman that she is, she was in law school (or would that be "Law School"). Following her blog and Facebook page, I didn't see any indication of a release. So I figured, well, she's busy. I get it. And how many people not named Bing Crosby or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir put out new Christmas albums three years in a row anyway? So maybe she'll hold off on the third Christmas album for a year.
Silly me. Never occurred to me to check Amazon. Duh! Fortunately, Ken Kessler of the Sounds of Christmas found it.
So this post, hopefully, won't top the blog for long because I really, really, really have been meaning to (briefly) review a few of the season's highlights--notably "Let It Snow" by New York Voices (spoiler alert: it's brilliant)--and I do mean to get to that right away. And then I'll be back with more on Jillaine's Christmas trilogy. And there's a whole truck load of free stuff out there. Sigh. Santa, if you're listening, could you bring me some time for Christmas? No, not thyme. Time!
1. Frosty the Snowman
2. O Come, All Ye Faithful
3. I'll Be Home for Christmas
4. Boogie Woogie Santa Claus
5. Go, Tell It on the Mountain
6. It's Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas
7. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
8. Good Morning Blues
9. White Christmas
10. The First Noel
11. The Christmas Song
12. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
13. Auld Lang Syne