Saturday, December 26, 2020

Breaking Find -- Bang! -- AJR

OK, one final bonus song for 2020: AJR's Bang. I've liked AJR since they went on tour with Ingrid Michaelson and sang The Lotto with her.

About 10 months ago, they sang this catchy tune. I'll forgive myself for having missed it, given what was going on in my life then. I love this as a theme song for December 2020: it's time to make a change. I'm personally ready to see what 2021 has in store.

I'm including the official song, but I don't like the video yet (it distracted me):

Friday, December 25, 2020

Not Christmas Songs -- Hallelujah -- Pentatonix and Lindsey Sterling

Our last regularly-scheduled song of the year is also one of the most complex: Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. As originally written and played, it was almost an anti-Gospel song, with Biblical references by the secular Jew Cohen throughout the first part of the song, but not correct ones (he mixes David and Bathsheba and Samson and Delilah liberally). There are 70 to 80 different verses to the song in one form or another.

Given the lyrics Cohen sang himself, the original song was a downbeat anti-gospel that had nothing to do with God, and more to do with sex and relationships. Jeff Beckley cleaned it up a bit, but it's been the modern singers and players, especially Pentatonix and Lindsey Sterling, who've given it some pro-God depth (despite Cohen).

I think this is because Cohen wanted to use the depths of dispare to show that calling "let it be so, God" or "Glory to God" at the bottom is cynical. Instead, it is human, and what God wants. When we've failed or we're at the bottom, God wants us calling to Him. If we're getting punished rightly in our sins, or if we're in a terrible position through no fault of our own but because God is with us, the only appropriate thing to say is "Your will, God". Saying "let it be so, God", one meaning of the original Hebrew word for Hallelujah, is what we have to do.

While we can interpret it as pseudo-Gospel song, it's not a Christmas song.

The Pentatonix version:

Lindsey Sterling's version:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas 2020 -- O Come, O Come Emmanuel -- Enya

This had to be number one on my carol list. This song is on the short list of gospel songs that always have the power to make me cry. Unlike many of the other Christmas carols listed, the song is well suited for instrumental and vocal power/energy, and Enya has that in spades. Most of the sounds on the song are her voice being layered out, and if she needs an instrument, she's playing it. It's powerful in English, and just as powerful in the original Latin.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Christmas 2020 -- Silent Night -- Pentatonix

This is Paula's favorite Christmas song. She loved the simplicity of the song, and wanted a simple version of the song. She loved the story that a church lost its organ, and needed a Christmas song that could be played on a single guitar.

I've looked for songs that matched that simplicity. I like Enya's version, but Enya can't do simple; her songs get big without her even trying. Kelly Clarkson has a decent version, but Paula would never forgive me for picking a version with Reba on it.

Back we go to this year's shortstop of Christmas songs: Pentatonix. The five don't over-produce this song. It's clear that they don't do multiple tracks for anyone, and they give a very basic performance that I love.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Christmas 2020 -- Joy to the World -- Blind Boys of Alabama and Aaron Neville

There are a lot of choices for this wonderful song, but the best in my music collection is from the Blind Boys of Alabama and Aaron Neville. Aaron Neville's voice gives the song an incredible lift, and the original singers of the band sing in perfect harmony. It's a rare acappella song out of the Boys. Again, my favorite version of this song.

(Again, no idea why the channel name is "Blind Boys of Mississippi"....

Monday, December 21, 2020

Christmas 2020 - Mary Did You Know - The Hound + The Fox and Cimorelli

I knew that Mark Lowry wrote this song, but I didn't know that there was a controversy (at least, according to Wikipedia) about the song being degrading towards Mary, the "dumb woman" who in reality did know. Let's deconstruct both of those for just a second.

First, the "Mary, did you know" is basically a version of the Socratic method in rhythmic melody. It functions as the repeat frame in the AB, AC, AD, etc. form of repeating used in lots of different musical forms and genres. (Think "Papa Don't Preach", or "Go Tell It On The Mountain" in both songs.)

Also, did Mary know? She might have been able to answer "yes" or "some" to some of the questions, but not all. Remember, Mary and Jesus' brothers came to one of the houses one day, to take him home and stop the ministry. That's not a woman who could answer yes to all the questions. Not even the 12 disciples could answer yes to all the questions until Jesus rose from the dead and then the Holy Spirit became active in their lives. Now, after Pentacost, she could answer yes, but all the church could by then (that's how the brother of Jesus went from being sarcastic about Him to being head elder of the church of Jerusalem).

While searching for alternatives to my first pick, I found a really beautiful version by a couple performing as The Hound + The Fox that bumped the alternatives. So technically, this is also a Breaking Find.

Bonus version: the Cimorelli sisters (performing as Cimorelli) also have a pretty decent acapella version of the song:

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Christmas Satire 2020 -- Good To Be Bad -- Pentatonix

I know I should give Pentatonix a break, but I can't help it. They're good, even when they're being bad. This is a neat new song in the general tradition of Santa Baby and Nuttin for Christmas, and the anti-heroine ends up getting coal for it.

It's a cheerful song showing off Kirstin's singing range (and the rest's abilties in melody) and her and Scott's writing chops.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Not a Christmas Song - Last Christmas - Wham! (et al)

The secular radio stations overplay this song to the point of nausea starting in October. It hits all their checkboxes: it mentions Christmas but has nothing to do with the religious holiday. This song could have easily been about Valentines Day, Guy Fawkes Day, or any two-sylable holiday in general, and there'd be nothing different. It's a generic "you done me wrong" song with Christmas in the title.

If I never hear it again, it'll be too soon.

In fact, I went looking for the most gonzo version of this song so I wouldn't have to hear George Michael again. I was tempted by Miley Cyrus (hard to get more gonzo than her), but I did find a top: Last Christmas being sung by the Band of the National Guard of the Russian Federation:

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Christmas 2020 - Carol of the Bells - Moya Brennan

Carol of the Bells is one of the my most favorite Christmas carols. Many people have made beautiful covers. I happen to love Moya Brennan's version. She used to spell her name Maire Brennan, and she is the lead singer of Clannad. (She's also Enya's older sister.) In addition to her Christian and secular albums, I've collected her An Irish Christmas album, and it includes this incredible rendition of Carol of the Bells.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Christmas 2020 - Good King Wenceslas - Loreena McKennitt

The song is propoganda; Wenceslas I wasn't a king, and the song has nothing to do with reality. He was a good man and a Christian martyr though, and the song is top-shelf. Michaelmas was the day after Christmas (day 2 of the 12 days), so it qualifies as a Christmas song. The last verse of the song also confers some gravitas to the song.

I am fond of Loreena McKennitt's version of the song because it seems more traditional and "older" than a lot of modern versions.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Christmas 2020 - Go Tell It On The Mountain -- Blind Boys of Alabama (Featuring Tom Waits)

The Blind Boys of Alabama were one of Paula's favorite groups. We never did get to hear them live, but any time we found a new show, song, or album, it joined the list of what we listened to. Here, we get to hear the gentlemen sing the wonderful African American spiritual carol Go Tell It On The Mountain.

(I don't know why YouTube has the author as "The Blind Boys of Mississippi". I think it's because the record company created a user to "take over" user videos, and they couldn't be bothered to get it right.)

Monday, December 14, 2020

Christmas 2020 - Christmas Angels - Clannad

This isn't the only newer song on my list, but it is the only one that's from one artist only. Clannad came together and released this song on one of their best-of collections, In A Lifetime. There are some better new songs (Mary, Did You Know is an obvious one), but none of them have Clannad singing them. Moya and crew are at top form, and incredibly beautiful on this song.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Christmas Satire -- Nuttin' For Christmas -- Stan Freberg

There's a subgenre of Christmas songs about kids/people so bad they're not getting presents (Santa Baby is close, Pentatonix's Good To Be Bad is a new addition to the genre). One of the classics is Stan Freberg's Nuttin' For Christmas.

The hero (or should I say anti-hero) of the song admits to any number of tricks and bad acts that would earn him coal in his stockings, even (spoiler alert) helping the robber case the house at the end of the song.

Nothing is exactly what the "hero" of this song deserves.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Not a Christmas Song -- Baby It's Cold Outside - Multiple

First, and most importantly: this is not a "date rape" song. This is a "talk me into it" song, common in the 1950s. The lady wants an excuse to give when confronted later why she didn't come home, but she wants to stay. This is clear when you reverse the parts:

While I think the song is cute, and any "talk me into it" song is quaint in this era of "let me talk all about it", this has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Would You Say Stop? - Acid House Kings

This is another Apple free song that I fell in love with. I don't know why I have kept this in my favorites list; it's a cheesy little pop song with little redeeming value on the surface. However, it's also a happy, cheerful little Sweedish pop tune that gets stuck in your head.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Listen To The Man - George Ezra

When she first started, I never understood how LeeAnn Rhymes could sing as maturely as she did. Rick Astley was very similar. George Ezra is another wonderkind. He sounds 45, but looks 15.

This of course is a romance song, and should be on anyone's list to sing to a romantic interest. I can't say enough about loving this song.

I really wish they'd left Ian McKellan off of this video though.... I like Sir Ian, but not in this video.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Christmas Satire and Better In The Video -- Twelve Pains of Christmas -- Bob Rivers

This is a two for one special, because we have a special video for our Christmas Satire song. I've always adored the Twelve Pains as a Christmas Satire song. Like all good satire, it digs for that button of truth, and then presses hard. As I've heard others mention, I have been the "lights" guy way too often for my taste (and let's not even go into the "five months of bills"...).

While searching for a video for the song, I found the Third Hour TV version. I've never heard of these kids before, but the video they made for this song is hilarious. It compliments the song well and even throws a few jabs of its own, but doesn't try to go too far out on a limb itself. I laughed through the whole thing, and even played it a couple more times.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Not Christmas Songs - White Winter Hymnal - Pentatonix

I'll admit that I'm picking on Pentatonix a bit here, because two of the songs in this list will include their versions. The first is White Winter Hymnal, which I first heard off of That's Christmas To Me. It's a vaguely winter song, but nothing in it has anything to do with Christmas. The author (Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold) generally disclaims a conclusive meaning to the song, but that the lyrics tell a story. (Figure that one out....) The concensus is that there's a general allusion to the loss of innocense for the singer, but it's high allegory, and nothing related to Christmas.

The Pentatonix version is pretty though.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Breaking Find -- Today Is The Saviour’s Day -- Rand Collective

Thanks to Valerie Vanover for this link. I'd never heard Rand Collective before. I am fixing that one after Christmas.

This is an excellent modern Christmas carol that respects tradition without blindly following or stealthfully mocking them. I love it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

On My Knees - Nicole C Mullen

I first heard this song when I discovered K-Love. While I haven't been able to stick with CCM music, this song has stayed in my favorites playlist. There are many times when I have had to get on my knees, and will do so again.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Breaking Find - Christmas in Dixie -- Home Free and Alabama

This is the ultimate breaking find, because Home Free just released it today. Alabama sings their hit song Christmas in Dixie, with Home Free on backup vocals and "instruments".

The most bittersweet part of this for me was Jeff Cook. I was unaware that Mr. Cook was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2013, and has been public about it (and semi-retired) since 2017. As is clear from the video, he is impared by his illness. However, Randy and Teddy have been clear that Jeff Cook is in Alabama, and will be on stage with the band whenever he wants. Mr. Cook clearly wanted to be on stage for this song. I am impressed by the physical and mental strength shown just to be on that stage and able to sing as much as he can in year 7 of Parkinson's.