Saturday, December 4, 2010

Happy Holidays

Unlike in the past two years, this year I wanted to do a holiday post just with music that I received from the artists. That netted me one Hanukkah song, and four Christmas songs. I intend no slight to my Jewish audience, (which includes me, after all). It’s not too early too send me material for next year, and I’ll try to be more balanced then. In the meantime, I offer a pause in the frenzy of the season, to recall why we’re all doing this.

Three Quarter Ale: Blood of the Maccabees


Hanukkah is, after all, a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. So there are many songs about the frivolous aspects of the holiday. Songs about latkes and dreydls tend to be silly or aimed strictly at kids, or both. But Three Quarter Ale goes back to the story of the holiday in Blood of the Maccabees. They remind us that Hanukkah is a celebration of the fight for freedom of religion, and that such fights usually involve the death of good people. This is presented reverently, not in a heavy handed way, and with a beautifully heartfelt performance. The album Shall We Gather By the Fire includes a few more Hanukkah songs, as well as many Christmas songs. The arrangements range from almost classical, to the folk style heard here, to even some jazzier numbers. Three Quarter Ale is a group that can do all of this well and have it make sense together. Both the reverence and the fun of the holidays are to be found on this album. There are some narrative bits between some of the songs that I found distracting, but the music is strong enough for me to forgive that.

Lori Lieberman: Daughters and Sons


This year, Christine Lavin released Just One Angel. This is a collection of holiday songs by songwriters famous and less so. Most of the songs are originals, including both Christmas and Hanukkah, sometimes in the same song. So I could have presented another Hanukkah song, and there are some decent choices here. I could also have presented a number of other Christmas songs, including some by artists who are new to me, and who I will be seeking out and possibly presenting here in the future. But I noticed a new song by Lori Lieberman. I got my hopes up, and Lieberman did not disappoint me. The same beautiful yet delicate arranging style that I so admired on her album Gun Metal Sky is here as well. This serves a song about a mother whose children are grown and live far away. There is a hint that one or more of them may be a soldier at war. Christmas here is the time for bittersweet reunions. There may be a thousand songs on this theme, and most of them are maudlin and weepy. But Lieberman hits it just right, and the song rings completely true.

Heather Dale: I Saw Three Ships/ Song of the Ship


Most of the songs on This Endris Night are at least 300 years old. Heather Dale, playing all of the instruments here, gives them modern arrangements but sings them in the original languages. So she sings in English, French, Latin, German, and even Huron. She also provides her own English translations of the lyrics to many of the songs in the liner notes. So this album is an impressive of linguistic talent. Dale has a fine almost operatic quality voice, and she plays keyboards, recorders, bowed psaltery, and bodhran, to name a few. She’s after a fusion of ancient and modern, and she makes it work better than most. I Saw Three Ships is familiar enough, but Dale intertwines it with the less familiar Song of the Ship. As heard here, the two songs have a conversation, with each enhancing the other. This is a wonderful piece of inspiration, and a most welcomed addition to my holiday music library.

Anne & Pete Sibley: Once in Royal David‘s City


One of the joys of holiday albums for me is finding an old song that I’ve never heard before. Often this happens because the song must be performed in a certain way to work, and not everyone can do it. Anne and Pete Sibley take Once in Royal David’s City, and turn it into musical swaddling for the infant Jesus. There is no doubt at all what this song is about, just from the sound. The rest of the album has one original, the title track, and a selection of more familiar carols, all performed beautifully.

Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer: The Ditching Carol


Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer were asked by a hardware store chain to participate in a holiday album by various artists that the store used as a gift for their customers. The first year went well enough that they were invited back the next two years. The result was four original songs and four readings of traditional songs. So American Noel was not originally intended to be an album, but it works quite well as one. The Ditching Carol is on of the traditional songs. It is a gentle but eloquent reminder to remember this less fortunate this holiday season. Carter and Grammer’s performance gets it perfect.


It‘s crunch time for Mary Bragg. She has two days left in her Kickstarter campaign, and she still needs just over $4000 as of this writing, or she gets nothing. Follow the link to see my original write-up on her campaign, and hear a song. From there, please follow the donation link, and do whatever you can.

Chris LaVancher is in better shape, He has more time and a more modest fundraising goal. Still, your help is needed.

Kim Davidson and Kristi Martel are doing this the hard way, raising the money for their albums on their own. Follow the link for a taste of their music as well.

On behalf of these artists, thank you for your gifts. And happy holidays to all.