Local Rhythms – The Twelve Songs of Christmas

My favorite Christmas movie is Die Hard, and I like holiday music that’s similarly offbeat – sometimes a little subversive.

Every year, I mark the season with a list of the best.

There few entries of recent vintage, proving the genre didn’t begin and end with “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Little Saint Nick.”

Here are my 12 songs of Christmas:

Run Rudolph Run (Chuck Berry) – The tame “Jingle Bell Rock” was probably the first rock and roll Christmas song, but this one better captured the music’s rebellious spirit.

River (Joni Mitchell) – Until this song, most Christmas music was about the holiday experience. Mitchell captured the mood and left the trappings to other songwriters.

Christmas Wrapping (The Waitresses) – A song about two alienated artistes meeting in the checkout line on Christmas Eve, it’s full of jangling angst with a frothy pop coating.

Christmas in Hollis (Run D.M.C.) – From wrapping to rapping, this is an urbanized, hip-hop rendition of the Night Before Christmas story, with fried chicken and collard greens.

Last Christmas (Wham!) – One of those holiday songs that gets stuck in your head and won’t go away, it’s been finding a new audience with fans of the television show Glee.

All I Want For Christmas Is You (Olivia Olsen) – Featured prominently in my other favorite Christmas movie, Love, Actually; I prefer 10-year old Olsen’s version to the Mariah Carey original.

Christmas in Washington (Steve Earle) – The unrepentant leftist name-checks Emma Goldman and Woody Guthrie, with a sense of dread that seemed out of place when the song came out in 1997, but not today.

The Rebel Jesus (Jackson Browne) – It’s impossible to listen to this song, which paints Jesus as a rabble rouser whose actual deeds would likely appall the pious, and not be affected.

Raise the Tree (Trent Dabbs) – From Ten Out of Tenn., a holiday collection released last year by a group of Nashville musicians, it’s sentimental modern, both edgy and happy.

Santa’s Lost His Mojo (Jeremy Lister) – Goofy and infectious, another standout Ten Out of Tenn. track about the Big Man in a funk.  Buy this record!

O Holy Night (Trombone Shorty) – The most beautiful Christmas instrumental ever can be heard at http://www.localrhythms.com, where it’s a free download (with an optional charity link).

Carol of the Bells/Jingle Bells (Barry Manilow) – Back off, Barry-haters, this is great jazz.  Manilow’s backed by the MaD Fusion band, with Matt Herskowitz supplying jaw-dropping piano runs.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Dec. 17: Harvey Reid, Flying Goose Pub – “Master Minstrel” Harvey Reid brings his annual holiday concert tour to New London for a solo performance of seasonally inspired American contemporary and roots music, folk, blues, bluegrass, Celtic and ragtime.  The show is annual tradition at the Pub, and though this year it’s without Reid’s wife Joyce Anderson, Reid still own Christmas in the Granite State.

Friday, Dec. 18: Recycled Percussion, Claremont Opera House – For my money (and a lot of America) these “junk rockers” won America’s Got Talent with their unique brand of can banging, scratch mixing and guitar pyrotechnics.  In any case, they were the best band, finishing behind two vocalists.  There may not be room to saw a car in half, but rest assured sparks will fly and the opera house will rock.

Saturday, Dec. 19: Local Legends Music Awards, Lebanon Opera House – Over the years, I’ve written about most of the performers appearing at this celebration of the local music scene – Pariah Beat, Pete Merrigan, Sensible Shoes, Carlos Ocasio and major domo music maven Dave Clark of Yellow House, a leading force in organizing the event.  Here’s a chance to see it all – in one night.

Sunday, Dec. 20: Christmas Revels, Hopkins Center – “A Scottish Christmas” is the theme of this year’s holiday production by Revels North, as members of the community join professional performers for a mix of Renaissance Faire pageantry and Celtic-flavored music.  It’s the 35th year of Revels North, and by the end of the show everyone in the house should be singing along.

Monday, Dec. 21: Battle of the Bands, Kimball Union Academy – A group of high school musicians throws down for a variety of prizes including cash, and recording session in a real studio.  Tuck’s Rock Dojo and the Meriden Congregational Church sponsor the competition.  MCC youth leader Leslie Macgregor came up with the idea for the event, which benefits a pair of local charities.

Wednesday, Dec. 23: Reid Trevaskis & Friends, Andre’s – Tonight’s jam session is special; it’s Andre’s annual Christmas party.  $17 admission includes a sumptuous buffet prepared by the restaurant’s well-regarded chef, along with entertainment from Trevaskis, Ben Butterworth, Jan Bear and whoever else happens by.  Given the great eats, that could mean friends from Reid’s bands Manchuka or Lisa Marie and the All Shook Up.

Local Rhythms – Counterculture Christmas Songs

45290.jpgI tend to think a bit subversively around the holiday season. Perhaps it’s a reflexive response to wanton consumerism passing like a dark cloud through a time meant for joy and reflection. Another reason may be the many poets and minstrels who use this occasion to remind the world in music about why we should pause.

I enjoy the sweetness of Nat King Cole singing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire; “now bring us some figgy pudding” sounds like a fine notion, too. But I’ve never eaten a chestnut, roasted or otherwise, and I prefer tapioca.

These songs, however – made by some of my favorite rabble-rousers – speak to me more viscerally.

Here then, a short list of counterculture Christmas carols:

Happy Christmas (War Is Over), Plastic Ono Band – If not the first, certainly the most well-known holiday protest song. Unlike the times it came from, it’s more hopeful than hectoring tune, which may explain its current-day popularity.

Jerusalem, Steve Earle – Earle imagines a day when “the children of Abraham will put down their swords forever in Jerusalem.” I believe that refusing to listen to a voice claiming all hope is lost is the first step toward changing the world.

The Rebel Jesus, Jackson Browne – Doe the world celebrate Jesus while forgetting his teachings? In recounting the ancient world consequences of advocating for the poor and downtrodden, Browne – “a heathen and a pagan” – makes a convincing case.

Christmas in Hollis, Run-D.M.C. – The message is somewhat buried, but this song appeared in my favorite holiday movie, “Die Hard.” You see how my twisted mind works. “Each year we bust Christmas carols,” indeed. Yippee-ki-yay!

Father Christmas, Kinks – Released as a single in 1977, here’s a tune that fully reflected the zeitgeist of its moment in time. “Give us some money … give all the toys to the little rich boys,” sneers Ray Davies to Royal Jubilee England.

Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas, Staples Singers – The gospel family group really meant “Mary” – not “Merry” – in this 1968 reminder of the holiday’s Biblical imperatives. It’s also soulful as all get-out, a nice bonus.

What Ever Happened to Peace on Earth, Willie Nelson – If Willie had any friends left in country radio, he lost them with the release of this star-studded (Michael McDonald, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson) protest song last December. God bless him.

Love your neighbor, enjoy your holiday and don’t forget to support local music.

Thursday: Holiday Concert, Stevens High School – I point this out because I live in Claremont, which has a wonderful music program from the early grades through high school. The annual December concert is always a highlight. You should make a point to check out the one in your community, wherever you live. If kids stop making music when they’re young, it could be very quiet when we’re old.

Friday: Social Club Orchestra, Middle Earth Music Hall – This Upper Valley based collective, 17 musicians strong, formed last year to raise awareness and make music. Their annual “Holiday Harvest Revue” is also at Gilberte Interiors in downtown Hanover on Wednesday. With fiddles, banjos, guitars and happy voices, it’s described as a night of “rockin’ Christmas cheer.” Pxroceeds go to local charities.

Saturday: Wherehouse, Salt Hill Two – Jason Cann has a big following as a solo performer; he also rocks it up with his three-piece band. They have a well-deserved reputation for filling the room and the dance floor with the musical equivalent of comfort food – a lively mix of Van Morrison, David Gray and the occasional Spencer Davis oldie. Cann’s originals, and the list keeps growing, make a welcome appearance as well.

Sunday: Jody Ebling, Center At Eastman – The second installment of this year’s “Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon” series features, naturally, Christmas music – with a lovely twist. Ebling edges new and surprising elements out of songs you think you know by heart. Backed by Bill Wightman’s talented JOSA Ensemble, her holiday concert has become an annual attraction. Add to that the fine cuisine provided by Bistro Nouveau, and it’s a fine concoction indeed.

Monday: Celtic Women Christmas Celebration, PBS (TV) – Just one of many musical treats on the television if you’re not inclined to watch the video fireplace. They play things straight down the middle with standards like “Carol of the Bells,” “O Holy Night” and “Let It Snow.” Though my list of protest songs above may seem to indicate otherwise, I love this stuff.

Wednesday: Duke Robillard, Iron Horse – A founding member of Roomful of Blues (who play their own IH set on Friday), Robillard made the move to “all blues” in the mid-90’s after dabbling in R&B as a member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He’s occasionally taken time out from his solo career to work with stars – tours with Robert Gordon, Tom Waits and studio gigs with Bob Dylan.