Now that the end-of-the-semester hiatus is over, I’ve been busy cramming a month’s worth of holiday cheer into a few days. Sure, it sounds like the least joyful way to celebrate, but luckily these songs easily make days merry and bright. This post is brief because my brain is still mush, but here’s a Spotify playlist for are my Top 10 Holiday Songs for the most wonderful time of the year.
- “The Christmas Song” by Catherine Feeney and “Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming” by Sufjan Stevens (one of his 5,000 sing-along Christmas jams): Breathless and simple Christmas wishes
- “White Christmas” by Otis Redding (from Love Actually): A cozy sweater. A warm fire. A cuppa hot cocoa.
- “Christmas TV” by Slow Club: Charming and quirky, with lyrics that say, “hoping something good might grow out of this mistletoe.”
- “Fairytale of New York” by Gianni and Sarah (of Walk Off the Earth…aka the 5 people who used one guitar to play Gotye’s “Somebody that I Used to Know”): Not only is this one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs, but they use ukeleles and whistle. Natasha of Paper Crown’s Blog sums the song up nicely, saying: “It’s bitter and it’s hopeful, and it’s sad and it’s romantic, and it’s screwed up and it’s human. It’s just real. That’s what makes it such a great Christmas song.” Amen.
- “Skating” by Vince Guaraldi: Fluttering and festive piano chords
Do you have any to add? What are your favorite holiday songs and albums?
*Bonus (because it’s sadly not on Spotify)…Party Hard by Little Isidore: For your Kris Kringlin’ and do-wappin’ enjoyment
Earlier this month, British folk outfit Mumford and Sons released their video for Lover of the Light. I’ve owned their sophomore release Babel since it dropped on September 21, and have listened to it religiously like a good little fangirl. Yet, for some reason, “Lover of the Light” failed to transfer into my iTunes music library. There are far greater problems in the world, I know, but I still feel cheated by technology for separating me from this beauty.
Sure, the vigorous and angry banjos of Mumford and Sons sound repetitive when you listen to their albums straight-through and they spend too much time on grand declarations then cultivating thoughtful, toned-down verses. However, this stunning video caught me way off-guard and left me misty-eyed. Now I just want to share this with everyone.
Directed and performed by actor Idris Elba (from Prometheus, Thor, and American Gangsters), “Lover of the Light” follows a blind man through his daily routine. Midway through the video he ditches his cane and seeing eye dog, quite literally running into the light. Sprinting through a forest and picturesque Welsh peninsula Elba’s character finally experiences the world without being hindered by his disability. It’s an incredibly empowering and moving piece, showing that we can use senses other than sight and still be “lovers of the light.”
The Civil Wars at Berklee 10/28/11
Typing this title pains my little heart. But, I have taken some time to mourn, and unfortunately it’s now time to face the (folk) music.
Coincidentally, I saw the Civil Wars in concert for the first time over Halloween weekend last year. I was asked last-minute to take photos of their show for WTBU, and waltzed into the beautiful Berklee venue only knowing their swampy, southern single Barton Hallow. I was charmed by their genuine performance and, ironically, wrote, “contrary to their name, the folk-pop duo the Civil Wars are by no means divided” in my review the next day. The following February, the Civil Wars won two Grammy Awards: one for best folk album, “Barton Hollow,” and another for best country/duo group performance of their album’s title track. Funny how things change…
According to an e-newsletter (that I’m always giddy to receive each month) and social media outlets, John Paul White and Joy Williams cancelled their upcoming tour due to “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition.” While I don’t want this blog to turn into People Magazine or TMZ gossip, it is difficult to hear news like that and not ask questions. White and Williams have such interesting chemistry on stage, yet are both married to other partners. William’s husband is their manager with whom she just had a child. They are quick to squash any romantic rumors and define their relationship to a brother-sister bond. So, what happened? The sweet and sultry recipe for genius folk music has turned to an entity that can no longer tour together.
The Civil Wars at Berklee 10/28/11
I am devastated. The Civil Wars carved out a unique niche in the folk community and it was SO refreshing to see a duo that treats each concert like a black-tie event, rather than sport an unkempt plaid uniform. They radiate with respect for one another, which transcends far above their thoughtful treatment of music; the two are emotional, fun, and still incredibly balanced. Here’s to hoping the Civil Wars resolve this battle and continue to make music in the new year.
And in the mean time…I will have this fantastic cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” on repeat to mask the sound of my depressed wailing.
Today was an important day for American policy (prepare to be amazed as I connect this back to music). Barack Obama was re-elected for another four-year term, multiple states legalized gay marriage20 women took seats in the 113th Congress, and the 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting initiative and other NPR lovers celebrated the anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 (BAM it took less than a sentence for the music connection). While public broadcasting features more than just music, songwriting is still an imperative tool in the media.
Back in 2008 before Obama was even elected, he spoke at a Town Hall meeting at my high school. As a 17-year-old taking an AP Government class and watching some of my friends vote for the first time, I was very impressed by his speech…but also by the music selection for this event. I distinctly remember the unique string intro of raspy Ben Harper’s “Better Way” pumping up the crowd and thinking, “being President of the United States cool and all, but DJing this event would be the greatest job ever.”
Fast forward to this year’s election coverage. Last night, after hearing Beyonce’s “Get Me Bodied” and watching Obama’s headquarters in Chicago, these were the thoughts running through my head: 1) amiBeyonceyet? 2) Who wouldn’t be playing Beyonce right now 3) “being President of the United States cool and all, but DJing this event would be the greatest job ever” See a comparison?
That being said, I’m appointing myself as the DJ for this exciting election news. Some of the songs on this playlist were actually featured in Obama’s 2012 campaign, while others pay homage to great folk, political activists: Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Joni Mitchell. These singer/songwriters paved the way for future folk artists (Ben Sollee anyone?), and songs written in the 1960s are still just as relevant- I experienced this firsthand while seeing the Hard Rain exhibit at the Edinburgh Royal Botanical Garden last spring. It featured the work of enviornmental photographer Mark Edwards, looping Bob Dylan’s song “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Times They are A-Changin'” from outdoor speakers. Very poignant, beautiful, and sad. Dylan and his cohorts still highlight important issues and encourage collaboration to find this “better way.” Obama and Al Green actually summed it up perfectly saying,”Let’s stay together.”
It’s eerily coincidental that Ben Howard announced the UK release of The Burgh Island E.P. in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction and the day before Halloween. His announcement itself was obviously not creepy (and actually very exciting for this fangirl), but the album features ominous cover art and a stormy single “Esmerelda,” making the news certainly timely.
Music is an audio diary for musicians, and The Burgh Island is no different. According to an e-newsletter Howard sent yesterday, “it’s a pretty hard listen at some points but a huge relief to get some more songs down and out of my head. Onto permanent paper.” These four songs are loaded with brooding and rippling guitar chords and Howard trades cheerful tracks from his full-length album like “Old Pine” and “Keep Your Head Up” for intense drum cadences and guitar swells. “Oats in the Water” is my personal favorite, for it starts slow and bursts with energy midway through; Howard’s strengths exemplified . This EP is a wonderful fusion of music and nature (clearly a common theme amongst folksters…or at least the ones I’m writing about here). The Burgh Island is peace within personal turmoil and destruction, and a calm during the storm.
All abroad the Big Easy Express, where three distinct folk bands pow-wow on the floor of a vintage train and collaborate while journeying across six American cities. Directed by Emmett Malloy, this music documentary follows the first Railroad Revival Tour from Oakland, CA to New Orleans, LA and won the Headliner Audience Award at SXSW 2012. Mallow is joined by British folk-rock outfit Mumford and Sons, California dreamers Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and bluegrass crooners Old Crow Medicine Show.
“We’re playing music on a train with the country, across the country to see it the way [people] saw it more than a hundred years ago when we were all children,” muses Alex Ebert, frontman for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. All bands bring different experiences to this vintage California Zephyr Silver Lariat train- Old Crow Medicine show has been recording music since 1998, while the other two released sophomore albums within the last 5 months. Yet they share the same wanderlust and interest in experiential music-making. Come on baby, do the locomotion.
Big Easy Express beats the “Americana vintage” drum in a borderline kitschy way, and while beautiful, some jam sessions seem too staged. But the live performances are the opposite of cookie-cutter- the best parts of the film are watching Mumford and Sons perform “The Cave” with the Austin High Marching Band and dancing along with Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos sing favorites like “Up from Below” and the always-sentimental “Home.” It ends with a ten-minute finale of “This Train is Bound for Glory,” a raucous hoedown featuring all three groups. While Old Crow Medicine Show may have influenced the other bands’ sound, Mumford and Sharpe exemplify the future and diversity of folk music.
To find a screening of the Big Easy Express or enjoy the movie in the comforts of your own train, click here. For all my fellow Boston folk, there are two more screenings of the movie on 10/31 and 11/1 at the Museum of Fine Arts for $11.
Sure, we’ve all witnessed those not-so-sober sing alongs when walking or taking public transportation on a weekend night…maybe we’ve even participated in a few of these ourselves. But when Logan Afouyni was approached by an intoxicated man in London who eagerly wanted to sing a duet, the result was surprising to say the least…
Where did this guy come from, you ask? Lucky for Logan, she exchanged information with Clark Chamberlin and they (soberly) made another video.
Maybe I’m especially fond of this story because I spent last semester in London and Clark is also a study abroad student, but Logan’s raw Cat Power-esque vocals and the spontaneity of their duet makes impatient for more. In the meantime I’ve visited Logan’s SoundCloud for some fantastic (free!) covers, found a fan-made video of “The Drunk Duet”, and unearthed the original song by Seattle singer/songwriter Noah Gundersen. His live performance will make you want to stand up and dance just like the audience.