Every year at this time I tend to crank up the holiday music. My tastes run to tunes with roasting chestnuts, sleigh rides and flying reindeer, as well as subversive standbys like Jackson Browne’s “Rebel Jesus” and Steve Earle’s “Christmas In Washington.”
But somehow, the old songs aren’t singing like they used to. After the year we’ve had, I’ve begun to wonder – is Santa Claus really coming to town?
Though I’m not curled up in a fetal position listening to “River,” a song like “Santa’s Lost His Mojo” is closer to my personal zeitgeist these days.
That cool Jeremy Lister track is one of many gems on “Christmas,” a new compilation from a group of Nashville alt-rockers collectively known as Ten out of Tenn.
Why’s it so hard to write a Christmas carol? With a few exceptions, most holiday music is either too earnest or just plain goofy.
But the original songs on the Ten out of Tenn disc evince a third way, which I think of as “sentimental modern.”
Well, except for one.
With lyrics describing a dispirited Santa “down in Mexico drinking tequila and wine,” “Santa’s Lost His Mojo” really is goofy – but in a modern way.
Other cuts on “Christmas” evoke the past while staying rooted in the present. Butterfly Boucher contributes the Phil Spector-inspired “Cinnamon and Chocolate,” which both consoles and celebrates.
Trent Dabbs’ “Raise the Tree” exhorts, “bring the ones that you love just close enough” – but not too close at Christmas.
Who hasn’t felt like that during the holiday season?
“Christmas Time,” a beautifully melodic Andy Davis song, really hits the mark. Davis observes that, for some people, Christmas “sneaks up on you like cold weather, whether or not you’re ready.”
Looking out at the milling masses, they only see what might have been – a great relationship ended, a dream that’s not coming true.
It’s at that point that emotions can tug equally towards despair and hope.
Celebrating with a backward glance is a form of moving forward.
Or as Davis eloquently puts it, “it heals and it hurts to remember.”
No wonder Nashville is such a songwriter’s Mecca – even the indies are poets.
“Christmas” is the third anthology from Ten out of Tenn, a project begun in 2005 to get the word about alt music in a town that’s known for country.
Check out their MySpace page, streaming most of the record.
And don’t miss these local events:
Thursday: Christmas Revels, Hopkins Center – Children’s tickets are only $5.00 for tonight’s performance of “The King and the Fool,” which plays through the weekend. Much of the show’s charm can be found in the local energy that’s made it happen for the past 34 years. The role of the King is played by film and television actor Alan Gelfant, but most of the cast comes from the Hanover area. Doing it for love – that’s my kind of music!
Friday: foreverinmotion, Chester Underground – Emo rocker Brenden Thomas’s stage name refers to his touring regimen, traveling the country and winning fans one at a time, club by club. Vermont is Brenden’s home base (he helped start the Chester Underground in the basement of his favorite restaurant), so this gig should have elements of celebration that have nothing to do with the holidays. Brenden has a new collection of muisic due in March.
Saturday: Stonewall, Heritage – Speaking of hometown heroes, Stonewall is the de factor house band at this Charlestown second-floor bar, awkward shaped room and all. It’s been a good year for Josh, Ryan and Phil, who (finally) released their first album, and learned to play “Mississippi Queen” – well that was good for me, actually, since I’d been bugging them to play that old Mountain song for awhile.
Sunday: O’hanleigh, Salt hill Pub – A Celtic Christmas performance, with a suggested $5 cover to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It’s also a Tuohy family event. Brother Daniel, who’s very active with the charity, will stop by the describe the search for a cure for this disease. Dan also is running for LLS in next year’s Boston Marathon, and God bless him for that. Middlebury’s O’hanleigh, of course, plays real Irish music.
Monday: Rick Redington & the Luv, Uncle Iggy’s – A new performance space and Internet café, located on the second floor above the Pizza Jerks eatery, welcomes a hard-working, fun-loving band for music on what’s normally an off night. I love one of the terms Redington uses to describe his band’s roots-y music – rastabilly. A picture of Bob Marley with a banjo springs to mind.
Tuesday: Wrensong, Parker House – Sue Neighbor, Oliver Goodenough, Eliabeth Harley, Frank Fields, Helen and Dave Clark sing a mix of Christmas Carols and secular music from the Renaissance. You can check out samples of Wrensong in all their a capella glory at Dave’s wonderful web site, yellowhousemedia.com.