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Song Spotlight: Auld Lang Syne (2008 edition)

Last year before New Year's Eve, I made a post rounding up all the free versions of "Auld Lang Syne" that I had found. I've found a few more this year - some are brand new, some from years past, but all of them are pretty cool in their own way - and I thought it might be cool to make an annual tradition out of an "Auld Lang Syne" post, celebrating the end of another year of great free Christmas music and allowing the new year to be rung in with style.

Here are this year's versions of "Auld Lang Syne":
  • Mojo Green's version from their Green Christmas album. This is my favourite version, with their rock instrumentation balancing nicely with the more traditional sounding piano accompaniment.
  • Richard Rayer's version from A Garritan Community Christmas Volume 5. This is an orchestral, instrumental version (done on a computer, like all Garritan Christmas recordings).
  • Navada Van der Veer's version from Voices of Christmas Past. Being from 1921, this is by far the oldest version of the song I've heard, so the historical value alone makes it worth hearing.
  • The Sleeping Brothers' version from The White Christmas Album. This is a short, countrified version.
  • Peter Buffett's version from Star of Wonder, with vocals by Kim Robertson. This is a pretty, softer version with some Celtic overtones. (this one requires registration with amiestreet.com. I registered there earlier this year for free, and as far as I know, it is still free to register. If anyone has any problems registering or accessing this album, please let me know)
The funny thing about this song is that I've never actually gone looking for it - all of these versions are part of Christmas albums that I've found - but it's really become a favourite of mine. That's certainly a long way from just thinking of it as "that New Year's song", after hearing it used on TV and in movies any time a New Year's Eve scene comes up.

I guess that's it. Thanks so much for reading this blog again this year. I've had a lot of fun tracking down, listening to, and writing about the music I've featured here, and I can't wait to do it again next year. In the meantime, if you're up for some free non-Christmas music, the Totally Free Music blog has a years' worth of posts in it now, and I should be actively posting in it again really soon (actually, I just made a post about a metal compilation called Christmas Carnage Vol. 1 - there's no Christmas music on it, but the artwork does have some pretty bows and a skull wearing a Santa Claus hat!). Happy New Year, and happy listening!

http://amiestreet.com/music/peter-buffett/star-of-wonder/ (free registration required)


Christmas Day Stocking Stuffer edition

[Update: A few of the links referenced in this post no long work.  Namely, Aaron Schust and Chris Sligh's 4 Songs for Christmas, and the Joel Rakes and Sounds Familyre links.]

Well, it's Christmas Day now. This day always seems to come much more quickly than it ever should. I've listened to a ton of great Christmas music over the last six weeks or so, and I've tried my best to post about as much of it as I could; I hope you've enjoyed reading about it and listening to it as much as I've enjoyed listening to it and writing about it. Since this will likely be my last chance to post about Christmas music this year, I thought it might be nice to round up some of the music I've really enjoyed but haven't had a chance to post about yet. I won't go as in-depth about it as I normally do, but if you're looking for some last minute musical ideas for Christmas, feel free to pick and choose from the links below.

One of the first songs I ran across in my search for Christmas music this year was Sofia Talvik's 2007 single "Christmas", which, musically, is a rather pretty little song; lyrically, it is rather dark and disturbing and not typical Christmas fare at all. I won't spoil anything, but please consider yourself warned. Sofia has released another Christmas single this year entitled "A Carol for the Lonely", which is very beautiful. Though the single is free to download, she "[urges] you to use the money you would have spent on it on iTunes to help someone less fortunate."

From the Internet Archive comes a recording of "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht" (better known to some as "Silent Night") from 1906. This is a beautiful instrumental version of the song, and I think the historical value of the recording alone makes it worth listening to.

Along similar lines is Voices of Christmas Past 1898 to 1922, a collection of Christmas skits and musical recordings from the early part of the 20th century. If you want an idea of what Christmas was like so long ago, this would be a great place to start.

Also from the Internet Archive comes Bela Fleck and the Flecktones' "Christmas Medley", which puts a cool jazzy spin on some well known Christmas songs.

From The Fa-la-lattes comes a pair of newly-recorded Christmas albums. Christmas on Public Property is a collection of public domain Christmas songs. I really like their rocking "Angels We Have Heard on High", their country-tinged "In the Bleak Midwinter", and their laid back "Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming", which has some beautiful vocal harmonies. The other album, entitled (Your Christmas Here), consists of all original Christmas songs - thirteen of them. I don't know of too many Christmas albums with all original songs, so the ambition alone on this one makes it worth a listen. As a little bonus, both of the albums will fit nicely onto a single CD, should you decide to burn a copy.

Aaron Schust and Chris Sligh's 4 Songs for Christmas is a nice little EP with a great, rocking version of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and a nice version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Brian C. Duyn's Home for Christmas is something that I downloaded last year and dismissed a little too prematurely as being cheesy. When I took another look at the web page this year, I had to laugh because even he admits that a lot of the tracks are cheesy, as he used karaoke style accompaniments. If you can get past that, you'll be treated to some outstanding singing on a good selection of both traditional and contemporary Christmas songs.

The White Christmas Album by The Sleeping Brothers has very little information about itself, but it's a pretty cool album nonetheless. "Fruitcake" is a fun, original song, and the cover of "Silver & Gold" should appeal to any fans of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer - I should know, as I've counted myself as one for most of my life. :)

Happy Birthday Jesus is a free compilation from the Christian electronica site Creuk Radio. It's a rather strange compilation, similar in spirit to the Electric Fantastic Christmas albums, but perhaps even weirder. My favourite track is Anguidara, Delta-s, Tranquil Chaos' industrial version of "Let it Snow", which has a bit of a Marilyn Manson sound to it.

And that's about it. Don't forget to check back with both Joel Rakes and Sounds Familyre for the remainder of their releases. Joel has posted a great version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", and his final song for this year will be released later today; the tracks for Sounds Familyre Vol. 2 have been released in batches of 2 or 3 tracks a day lately, so be sure to grab them while the download window is still open. I'll be back in a few more days to make another "Auld Lang Syne" post, so in the meantime I hope that you are enjoying your Christmas and that at least some of this music can play some small part in it. Merry Christmas, and happy listening!



Multiple Album Spotlight: Electric Fantastic Christmas

[Note: As of October 7, 2009, last.fm no longer has these albums available for download.  They are all still available from the Electric Fantastic Sound site, though.]

I've got a great resource of free Christmas music for you tonight. For the past three years, the Electric Fantastic Sound label has released a Christmas sampler featuring its own artists as well as international guests. The compilations, each simply entitled Electric Fantastic Christmas (or X-Mas in the case of the first one), are a great mix of both popular and original Christmas songs, all with an electronic sound that gives them a fun, catchy, and usually danceable feel.

Some of my favourite songs on these albums include Nouvelle Culture's "Douce Nuit", which I actually had as a standalone download from last.fm and liked so much I decided to track down the rest of the album; Bloodgroup's pulsating, sensual version of "Santa Baby"; Neurobash's cover of AC/DC's "Mistress for Christmas"; covers of "Last Christmas" by both Basswood Dollies and PLAS-TICk; Libra's version of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You", which sounds like it was filtered through Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams"; Electraset's "Christmas Wish", which has an awesome 80s feel to it; and Quelles Paroles' cover of Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto".

That only really scratches the surface of this great collection of Christmas music; with nearly 2 hours of music between the 3 albums, I find new things to enjoy about them every time one of them comes up in my playlist. If you're interested in checking any of them out, there are a few different ways to download them. The Christmas samplers page on the Electric Fantastic Sound website has links to ZIP archives of each album, which is the fastest and easiest way to download the entire collection. You can also check out each album's page on last.fm (2006, 2007, and 2008), where you can pick and choose which songs you want to download.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you enjoy what you hear. Happy listening!



Album Spotlight: The Violet Burning - Divine

[Note: the link to the album was changed slightly in December 2009.  I'm pretty sure it's working now, but please let me know if you have any trouble finding this album.]

The Violet Burning's Divine is one of the nicest surprises I have come across all year. It was released on their website last week with the message "tell anyone who loves rock music and christmas". I love both of those things, and this album does not disappoint on either front; in fact, the only real problem is that I wish it had been released sooner so that we would have more time to enjoy it before Christmas!

Overall, Divine has a warm, melodic rock sound - think Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but without the theatrics - and like a lot of great Christmas albums, it contains a mix of traditional Christmas carols and contemporary Christmas songs. On the traditional side (although the arrangements here are anything but traditional), highlights include a rocking version of "Silent Night" and a beautiful version of "The First Noel" that starts off quietly, slowly builds to a crescendo, and then goes back down again - this song gave me goosebumps when I first heard it. On the contemporary side, there is a nice version of "Last Christmas" and an ultra-cool version of "Blue Christmas", which finds the band switching gears completely with an Elvis impersonation; by the time it segues into "Sandy Claws is Back in Town", this mini-medley establishes itself as a real highlight of the album.

If you want a little rock in your Christmas music, but "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" don't quite do it for you, Divine might be right up your alley. Go check it out, and I hope you enjoy it in these final few days before Christmas. Happy listening!



A few words about the custom search engine

Some of you may have noticed that this site has its own custom search engine.  If you're reading this post on the blog, you'll find the search box in the right sidebar; if you're reading this on the website, you'll find it on top of the page, right below the title.  Having just added nearly three dozen sites to the search engine, I thought that this might be a good time to explain how it works in a little more detail.

What this custom search engine does is use Google's search technology to search only in the pages I tell it to use.  Since it is a search engine for free Christmas music, all of the pages it searches will have some kind of free Christmas music available; many of those sites have been featured either on this blog or on the website.  In other words, I've already done the work of finding which sites have free Christmas music for you; all you need to do is let it know what kind of free Christmas music you're looking for.

So why use this custom search engine instead of a regular Google search?  Let's look at a few sample searches in both the custom search engine and a regular Google search (links to search results will open in another browser window):

["Silent Night"] (regular search)

Now, Google also does all kinds of fancy personalized searching, so what you see in the regular search results may differ slightly from what others see.  However, it's very likely that the results will include Wikipedia's entry on "Silent Night", lots of links to the lyrics, and perhaps some other things - I even get a link to a bed manufacturer called Silentnight near the top of the results.  Compare that to what you get here:

["Silent Night"] (custom search)

Most of the sites in the custom search results contain a downloadable version of "Silent Night"; even the sites that don't necessarily have that song will be guaranteed to have at least some free Christmas music available, since all of the sites in these results were hand picked by yours truly.  You may also notice that there are far fewer sites to go through - the regular search returns more than 6 million results, while the custom search returns less than 40.  This is a definite case of quantity over quality.

It works with artists, too.  Let's try a regular Google search for Jars of Clay:

["Jars of Clay"] (regular search)

Again, there will probably be some variation in the results, but you will likely see things like the band's official site, their MySpace page, their Wikipedia entry, and links to online music stores among the more than 1 million results.  Now let's do the same search with the custom search engine:

["Jars of Clay"] (custom search)

Only 7 results this time (as of this writing), and among them it is pretty easy to find 4 free MP3's of Christmas songs by Jars of Clay.

Note that in both of these cases, when using the custom search engine there is no need to narrow the search down with terms like "free", "Christmas", or "MP3"; that's because I've already done those searches myself, and this custom search engine only looks at sites that I have found useful when looking for free Christmas music.

I hope this helps to clarify the way in which this search engine is intended to be used.  Try searching for your favourite Christmas songs or artists with it and see what you can find.  And while I try my best to make it as comprehensive as possible, I'm sure there are a lot of great sites that I still haven't found; if you know of a site that should be included, just send me an email or leave a comment somewhere on this site and I'll see about including it.

Happy searching!


Multiple Album Spotlight: A Familyre Christmas

[Update 2009-12-04: Both albums can currently be found at this link.]

I have a couple of nice compilation albums for you tonight in the form of the first two volumes of A Familyre Christmas from the Sounds Familyre label. The first volume was actually posted on their blog last year, but I didn't discover it until sometime after Christmas and was actually unable to download it. Thankfully, the entire album was reposted last week, and I'm happy to say that it was well worth the wait. A Familyre Christmas Vol. 1 contains a nice variety of both traditional and original Christmas songs. My favourite is Dan Zimmerman's take on "In the Bleak Midwinter", which has a wonderful Johnny Cash vibe to it. The Singing Mechanics contribute a very nice version of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming", a song which has become one of my favourites this year. A couple of other highlights are Lenny Smith's folky "For There is Born a Child" and Elin's sparse, beautiful, and multilingual version of "Oh Holy Night". All 13 songs can be streamed or downloaded from the widget on this page.

A Familyre Christmas Vol. 2 is in the process of being released, one track a day, every day until Christmas. There are currently 4 songs up, so go grab them if you haven't already done so and check back each day until Christmas for more. If this is anything like last year's release, the songs won't be up for very long after Christmas, so make sure to get the new songs as soon as you can. I have added a link to the RSS feed to this site's sidebar; it should appear near the top of the right sidebar, and it allows the MP3's to be downloaded directly (at least the last few).

I'll probably post a reminder about the remaining songs once they have all been released. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy what's already available. There's only a week left before Christmas, so I'm going to try my best to cram in as much great music as I can in that time. Happy listening!

http://www.soundsfamilyre.com/blog/2008/12/10/a-familyre-christmas-is-back/ (old link)
http://www.soundsfamilyre.com/blog/2008/12/15/a-familyre-christmas-vol-2/ (old link)


Artist Spotlight: Joel Rakes

[Update: The first volume does not seem to be available anymore, but the second and third volumes (as well as the fourth, which is new for 2009) can be found at Joel's Bandcamp page.]

Joel Rakes has started a rather cool annual tradition: each year since 2006, he has recorded an EP of 5 Christmas songs, which he releases one song at a time on his website in the few weeks before Christmas. The first two volumes of festive.mood.inducing.music can still be downloaded in their entirety, while the first three tracks from this year's volume are currently available, with the remaining songs to follow next Sunday and Christmas Day.

The first volume is very bare bones, with just vocals and acoustic guitar; it features a very nice rendition of "I Saw Three Ships", as well as a cover of Bebo Norman's "Mary's Prayer", which is a very touching and beautiful song. Volume 2 adds some more instruments to the mix, including the banjo that he is "more than obsessed with" (according to his bio page), and also a couple of original songs in "No Mo' Ho Ho Ho" and "Lost Christmas". Joel's sound continues to evolve on the three songs released so far this year, and I am really looking forward to hearing the remaining two songs, which haven't even been named yet.

The wide range of moods and styles captured in this growing collection of songs makes it a worthy addition to any Christmas music lover's collection. I think you may also agree with me in hoping that this annual tradition will last for many years to come. If you haven't done so already, go check it out, and happy listening!

http://christmassongs.joelrakes.com (no longer available)


Album Spotlight: Mojo Green - Green Christmas

Today I would like to spotlight a very cool album by a band about whom I have been able to find very little information. According to their MySpace page, "MojoGreen Project is a five piece Funkajazzadelic band bringing the groove from Reno, Nevada." [Edit: or not; see the first comment after this post - seems there is more than one artist with Mojo Green in their name] In 2006, they recorded an album called Green Christmas, which can be downloaded in its entirety from the Internet Archive.

There are very few traditional Christmas songs to be found on Green Christmas, and there are even fewer traditional arrangements of the songs that are on the album. Songs like "Jingle Bells", "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", "Deck the Halls", and "Frosty the Snowman" are given an upbeat, rocking, bluesy, and altogether amazingly catchy treatment, and are performed with more energy than is normally heard on a Christmas album. They only slow things down momentarily for a couple of instrumental, acoustic guitar-driven versions of "White Christmas" and "Silent Night", both of which are done very beautifully.

All in all, Green Christmas has some of the coolest versions of many of these songs that I have ever heard. If you'd like to hear something a little different this Christmas, then I can't recommend it highly enough. Happy listening!



Album Spotlight: Garritan Community Christmas Album Volume 5

Last year, on Christmas Eve, I made my final Christmas music post of the year about the first four volumes of the Garritan Community Christmas Album. A few weeks ago, in the comments of that post, Tommy from Secular Xmas pointed out that Volume 5 is now available, which brings the total number of free Christmas songs available from the Garitan site to 98.

Each song on a Garritan Community Christmas Album is created by a single person working on a computer using Garritan libraries, which contain samples of real musical instruments. Like the first four volumes, the songs on Volume 5 are mostly orchestral in nature and are all very, very well done. Jim Hammer's "Christmas at Home" adds vocals to the mix with a nice sentimental tale about spending Christmas at home with your loved ones. Jerry Wickham's "O du Fröliche, O du Selig" features some beautiful bell sounds. Pat Azzarello's "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is a cool jazzy version with more vocals. And my personal favourite on the album, Toby Bresnahan's "Silent Night", has a guitar sound that is so good I have difficulty envisioning how it could have been synthesized.

If you enjoyed the first 4 volumes, Garritan Community Christmas Album Volume 5 should be a must-download for you. And if you've never heard a Garritan Community Christmas Album, now is as great a time as ever to start. In addition to complete MP3 downloads of every CD, the Garritan website features cover and disc art for the last 4 volumes (I can't seem to find any for the 2004 CD), a Flash-based music player that allows all of the tracks on Volume 5 to be streamed directly from the site, and a host of other information. There is even a limited offer for a free (minus shipping costs) CD of volume 5, so if you like to have physical copies of your music, this could be right up your alley.

Happy listening!



Song Spotlight: Gary U.S. Bonds - "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"

[Note: as of October 5, 2009, this song is unavailable.]

This one will be short but sweet. I have a very fun song for you tonight from Gary U.S. Bonds called "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". This is not the standard song by that name that you have likely heard hundreds of times by now, but rather a very upbeat, lively, old fashioned rock and roll song, similar in feel to Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run". The song is extremely catchy - I have found myself humming, whistling, and singing it very frequently since I first heard it last week - and it would make a great soundtrack for any Christmas party.

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" can be downloaded for free from Gary's website. Go check it out, and happy listening!



Album Spotlight: Fisher - December

I have a very pretty, more relaxed sounding album for you tonight. From the duo of Kathy Fisher and Ron Wasserman, better known as Fisher, comes December, a collection of 7 Christmas carols plus an original song.

December was originally available at the now-defunct MP3.com and has since been posted by the band on their own website each year. I originally came across the album late last year, but I didn't have much of a chance to listen to it then; this year it has become one of my favourites. The traditional songs are all given some sparse but very beautiful arrangements, usually consisting of acoustic guitar, strings, and vocals. Their version of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" is one of the best I have ever heard, and the a capella "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" sounds amazing with its layers of vocals. Another highlight of the album is "Christmas Face", an original song that has a very melancholy feel to it, along the lines of Joni Mitchell's "River" or Sarah McLachlan's "Wintersong" - if you like sad Christmas songs, they don't get much better than this. A highlight of every song is Kathy Fisher's vocals - she has a very unique and beautiful sounding voice which really adds an amazing touch to these songs.

December can be found for free on Fisher's website. Happy listening, and I'll be back as soon as possible with some more great Christmas music for you.



Album Spotlight: The Layaways - The Christmas EP

I'd like to spotlight another EP tonight.  This time it is the work of a single band, The Layaways, an indie rock band from Chicago.  Their 2006 release, The Christmas EP, is available as a free download from last.fm.

The Christmas EP contains only three songs, but they are well worth hearing.  The first is a bouncy, light rock version of "O Christmas Tree" (which features the main melody of "Deck the Halls" being played on acoustic guitar near the end).  Next is a short but sweet instrumental version of "Joy to the World", which serves as a nice setup for the real highlight of the EP, "Silent Night".  Another instrumental, this is honestly one of the best versions of "Silent Night" I have ever heard.  The drums and bass lay down a simple backbeat which allows for the main melody to be voiced on the guitar.  The guitar tone is gorgeous and helps lend a dreamy feel to the song.


You know what?  I don't think my words could possibly do this song justice.  Please go download it and listen to it for yourself - this is a song that simply must be heard.  Grab the rest of the EP while you're there.  Happy listening!  I'll be back soon with more great Christmas music for you.



Album Spotlight: (Christmas is a) Time for Us

last.fm is host to a wonderful variety of freely available music. It often takes a bit of digging to find real treasures there, but I often feel very rewarded for having done so. Today I'd like to highlight a little 4-track EP that I found there recently called (Christmas is a) Time for Us.

The EP opens with the title track, an original song by John Conklin. This is a sweet, poppy love song set at Christmastime. The remaining three songs are all interpretations of traditional Christmas carols. Autumn Fox contributes a nice, soulful piano-based rendition of "Silent Night". Next up is a very jazzy version of "What Child is This?" by Bebop Broadcasting Network. Rounding out the album is The Beep's take on "Carol of the Bells"; with its thunderous drums, rumbling bass, and crunchy, distorted guitars, this is an absolutely rocking version that must be heard by anyone who likes their Christmas music on the heavier side (I think fans of Trans-Siberian Orchestra would really appreciate it - and when it comes to TSO, I speak from over 10 years of experience!).

(Christmas is a) Time for Us can be downloaded from last.fm or from its page on the Visible School website. For a varied, original take on Christmas music, I can't recommend this one highly enough. Happy listening, and I'll try to be back soon with some more great Christmas music!