1. Christmas Isn't Like Any Day
2. Gimme That Twine!
3. I Wish You A Merry Christmas
4. Christmas Time (Come On Over)
5. A Christmas Snowfall
6. Purple Snowflakes
7. Santa, What You Got In The Bag?
8. Snowbound Girl
9. Christmas At The Super 8
10. Sick Again
11. Soul Of Christmas
12. North St. Grande
13. Merry Christmas Everyone
ROUGH SHOP WEB SITE
Rough Shop recently unveiled their second Christmas set, "Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree". And, for this one, the Indie Folk Rock group seems more in touch with their inner elves.
Rough Shop is known for putting on annual holiday extravaganzas in the St. Louis area and, for "Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree", they've captured a more celebratory spirit but still manage to weave through the full emotional pallet of the season--"wonder, loneliness, joy, sadness, celebration, longing, family, helplessness and beauty." The record is comprised of mostly original tunes with a handful of "uncommon covers".
Setting the tone for this set, Rough Shop opens the disc with "Christmas Isn't Like Any Day", an adult look at those nostalgic memories of Christmases when we were young. This is the stuff of Christmas classics--the perfect blending of longing and hopefulness--the perfect paean to the season. And it doesn't just capture that essence lyrically; if there weren't a word sung, the music itself conveys the sentiments perfectly.
Rough Shop quickly moves into seasonal frivolity with the uptempo "Gimme That Twine", a fun reworking of the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross song "Gimme That Wine" easily worthy of the Christmas Jug Band. Maintaining the spirit of holiday celebration, "I Wish You A Merry Christmas" is the rockin' rewrite of the Christmas chestnut done up with echoes of "Mockingbird" originally sung by Little Eva and Big Dee Irwin (written by Goffin/King).
Musically, "Christmas Time (Come On Over)" perfectly blends Americana and Classic Rock (with the very slightest touch of psych). And the oft repeated "it's time for fun" sounds as much a longing plea as an invitation. Wonderful stuff; I know that feeling precisely and the song inspires it with amazing ease.
"A Christmas Snowfall", a bittersweet ballad, juxtaposes the bleakness of mid-winter with the awe and wonder of the savior's birth as if to say, if Christmas didn't exist, we'd have to invent it.
It isn't often Marvin Gaye's "Purple Snowflakes" is covered and for good reason. How ya gonna top Marvin? But Rough Shop's soulful Americana on the song manages to find every bit of beauty in it and then some. Marvin would love it and you will, too.
"Santa, What You Got In The Bag?" is another mid to uptempo effort--a bit of jazz infused Folk Pop that you could hear, again, fitting into the Christmas Jug Band playlist. It's nice enough and reminiscent of an earlier era of Christmas music. It's not my favorite from the set, though I suspect others will like it more.
No, "Snowbound Girl" is why I came. "Snowbound Girl" is Rough Shop at their best, building from a barren Americana portrait to a full Gospel Rock revival of spirit. From the opening line--"when the holidays are crashing all around you"--you know you're in the presence of lyrical genius. "Take some comfort in knowing that you're not the only one who ever feels this way, Snowbound Girl". Just brilliant!
If you're anything like me, you were hooked on this album long ago, but Rough Shop then finds my musical G-Spot with "Christmas At The Super 8"--a clever holiday vignette musically worthy of the Eagles or Springsteen.
And, wow, "Sick Again". Just wow. Talk about a unique Christmas song. This, again, is where Rough Shop excels--getting inside the mind of someone whose Christmas point of view isn't often reflected in Christmas song. It's brief but powerful.
Just when you thought you couldn't love this album any more, along comes "Soul Of Christmas", the kind of Christmas song Steely Dan should have done a long time ago.
The final cover song on "Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree" is "North St. Grande" (originally by the British group Stackridge) and it definitely has that British Folk Rock pub song feel.
"Merry Christmas Everyone" is pure Rough Shop--vivid lyrics and beautiful melody--and closes the album just like it should be closed. Feels very much like closing the cover of a good book. Finding warmth in the cold. Merry Christmas, everyone.
Rough Shop's first Christmas album, "Just Because Its Christmas", was a solid effort but required a certain mood to fully appreciate. "Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree" is damn near perfect and should be easily enjoyed by just about anyone at just about any time. It's an instant classic and easily the best Christmas album I've heard so far this year. For all its highlights, its ultimately the opening number, "Christmas Isn't Like Any Day" that most sticks with me. Both lyrically and musically, that one song sums up the emotional totality of the season for me as well as probably any song since "I'll Be Home For Christmas".
According to the band's website, "Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree" was produced in limited numbers in both CD and vinyl formats. I haven't seen the vinyl available anywhere. Its possible its available only in the St. Louis area, or maybe it hasn't come from the pressing plant yet. Or maybe it sold out while we were all taking our long summer's naps. But the CD is available through CD Baby and the download version is at all the usual spots and Bandcamp. You'll also find two of the songs available as free downloads. But do pick this one up. Whatever your genre preference, I think you're going to find Rough Shop's "Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree" will be an album you'll look forward to playing every Christmas. On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 20.