ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
December 20, 2014
So this is Christmas ...
A lot of people who like a lot of music don't much care for holiday music, and I get it. I'll admit that there's a trainload of bad seasonal stuff out there, and that's what we're most subject to on radio, tv and in stores. I see it as my mandate to take a left turn at "All I Want For Christmas Is You" (still a great Christmas original from a sweet scene in a generally fine picture) and trip thru the kudzu of the internets to find the worthy bits. As with my non-holiday fare, it's not enough to be obscure, but the mistletunes with which I emerge also must earn their keep as good music.
This year brought a frequently fine compilation from the folks at Amazon, All Is Bright, and New West's holiday blend of the old and new in An Americana Christmas. Frequent tourmates Blind Boys of Alabama and Taj Mahal exceeded expectations with a collection that is both original and meaningful. And Over the Rhine continues their streak of peerless winter (re: depressing) song - I can't recall the last year I didn't play one of their tracks on my Holiday Show. Clinging to the runners of my musical sleigh, as they have for years, are the former Mr and Mrs Steve Earle with their unrivaled statement of seasonal purpose, "Nothing But a Child". I'll actually features new tunes from both their 2015 releases on next week's R&B Episode.
More than any other holiday, on Christmas we are asked to feel warm and fulfilled on demand, and ofttimes that's just not possible. There's a great deal of clutter and noise to distract us from this kernel of meaning at the heart of it all - but for me it's there. I spent the great majority of my vocational life in the retail sector, reminded that Christmas was a'comin' by the increasing lines and the mounting frustration of the shoppers. For all it was, that hubbub served as an Advent calendar of sorts for me. Now that I've departed that realm, it's not necessarily as easy to tell the time, but it's also a far more relaxing season.
Sometimes we cast judgment on the season, mistaking all that sparkle and crowding for the point of it all. It's my experience that the noise of Christmas can serve as both a door and a wall - capable of either blocking you from that kernel of peace or ushering you towards its warmth. With my weekly two hours of airtime, it's never my intention to do the former, to be part of the Noise. On the contrary, my hope is that the musical choices I've made will at least serve as a quality soundtrack to another Saturday afternoon. At best, I hope to be part of the ceremony that ushers you into the best that the season has to offer.
"I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. 'Cause I'm the real article. What you see is what you get." ~ Del Griffith
* Jamey Johnson w/Secret Sisters, "Mele Kalikimaka" Christmas Song EP (Bag Gassed, 14) D
* Dwight Yoakam, "Santa Can't Stay" Come On Christmas (Reprise, 97)
* Corb Lund, "Just Me and These Ponies" An Americana Christmas (New West, 14)
* Mother Merey & Black Dirt, "Run Rudolph Run" Noise To the World (Converse, 13)
* Xmas-Men, "Have a Holly Jolly Xmas" Santa Is Real (Rosetta, 14)
* Walt Wilkins, Josh Grider & Drew Kennedy, "If We Make It Through December" single (3 Amigos, 14) D
* Love Tractor, "Linus and Lucy" Before and After Christmas (Fundamental, 06)
* Jimmy Reed, "Christmas Present Blues" In the Christmas Groove (Strut, 09)
* JJ Grey & Mofro, "Santa Claus, True Love and Freedom" Ol' Glory (Provogue, 15) D
* Mavericks, "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" Christmas Cookies (MCA, 01)
* Over the Rhine, "First Snowfall" Blood Oranges In the Snow (Great Speckled Dog, 14)
* Eleven Hundred Springs, "Christmas Is a Time To Say I Love You" Light Connected (Kirtland, 12)
* Houndmouth, "Blue Christmas" All Is Bright (Amazon, 14)
* Nick Lowe, "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" Quality Street (Yep Roc, 13)
* JD McPherson, "Twinkle (Little Christmas Lights)" single (Rounder, 12)
* Tom VandenAvond, "South Texas Christmas" Tom VandenAvond (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 05)
* Norah Jones, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" single (Blue Note, 12)
* Blue Rodeo, "Jesus Christ" A Merrie Christmas To You (Warner, 14) D
* Grant Farm, "Christmas Time's a-Coming" An East Nashville Christmas (PhBalanced, 12) C
* Laura Gibson, "Silver Bells" Walker In a Winter Wonderland (Pink Smoke, 13)
* Mark Kozelek, "2,000 Miles" Sings Christmas Carols (Caldo Verde, 14) D
* Vic Chesnutt & Liz Durrett, "Somewhere" Somewhere Compilation (Liz Durrett, ??)
* Blind Boys of Alabama & Taj Mahal, "Do You Hear What I Hear" Talkin' Christmas (Sony, 14) D
* Bobby Womack, "White Christmas" Tradition (Capitol, 99)
* Anthony Hamilton w/ZZ Ward, "Away In a Manger" Home For the Holidays (RCA, 14) D
* Nikki Lane, "FaLaLaLaLove Ya" An Americana Christmas (New West, 14)
* Vintage Trouble, "Soul Noel" single (Ty Taylor, 13)
* Ron Sexsmith, "Maybe This Christmas" Winter's Night Vol 2 (Nettwerk, 03)
* Marc Cohn, "Coldest Corner in the World" single (Marc Cohn, 14) D
* Lucinda Williams, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" All Is Bright (Amazon, 14)
* Steve Earle & Alison Moorer, "Nothing But a Child" to: Kate (Western Beast, 05)
Finally, please join me on Monday, 12/22 as I share some of my favorite songs of 2014, from the americana world and beyond. And if we don't cross paths until next Saturday, have yourself a merry little Christmas, however you're able to define it.