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2 free downloads from Oprah

Just as she did last year, Oprah is offering some free Christmas music downloads from her website for a limited time.  This year it's only 2 songs instead of the 8 that were offered last year, but still, free Christmas music is always worth downloading. :)

This year's songs are "What Child is This", as performed by Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige, and "Silent Night" as performed by Sugarland.  I can't say that I've ever knowingly heard any music by either of these artists (Mary J. Blige excepted), so it's nice to be able to hear something new.  I was really impressed with Sugarland's take on "Silent Night"; it has a light country feel to it, and the vocals (which include one verse sung in Spanish) are excellent.

After hearing last year's sampler from Oprah, I was so impressed by Josh Groban's version of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" that I added Noel to my wishlist and ended up receiving it for Christmas.  I don't know if I feel quite that strongly about either of these songs, but I think I would definitely like to check out some more of Sugarland's music now.

These two songs will only be available until tomorrow (that's December 1) at 23:00 CT, so if you're interested in them at all, you need to get over to the site as soon as possible and download them.  Last year's songs ended up being offered again a few weeks after they initially went up, but who knows if that will happen again this year.  Go check them out, and happy listening!



Album Spotlight: Severe - The Punk Rock Advent Calendar

Okay, now this is just brilliant.  The Punk Rock Advent Calendar will be offering one free punk rock Christmas song every day from December 1 to Christmas Day.  According to an email I received from the artist, Jimmy Severe:
"Each song comes with its very own classic punk intro/riff/solo "borrowed" from a variety of all-time punk classics. Singalong with your turkey to the festive noise, whilst at the same time playing "Spot The Punk Cliché". The Ruts, The Ramones, The Pistols, The Jam and many, many more – they're all in there somewhere!"
I am not the biggest fan of punk rock in the world, so unfortunately many of these little "clichés" will probably be lost on me.  However, I do enjoy me some Clash, Ramones, and Pistols from time to time, and I obviously love Christmas music, so that makes this a winning combination.

In order to give people a taste of what is to come, the first five songs can already be downloaded.  If you're willing to take a look at the source code for the site, though, you can find a lot more than just the first five songs - there are in fact working links to all of the songs there.  I discovered this by accident, and I felt a little guilty about it, so I actually contacted the artist (who had initially emailed me to tip me off about the calendar) to let him know about it, and he said that it's all right to let people know about it.  So just like a real Advent calendar, the choice is yours whether to wait until the right day for your treats, or give in to temptation and take all of them now.  It probably wouldn't surprise anyone to know that I went ahead and downloaded them all at once, although I still haven't listened to all of them - I'll get around to that soon enough, though.

Among the first five downloads are some pretty cool versions of songs like "Stop the Cavalry", "Lonely This Christmas", and "Angels We Have Heard On High".  "Santa Baby" is in there too (for December 4), and its fake intro had me wondering if I had accidentally gotten my MP3 tags mixed up with another, more traditional version of that song, but then the drums kicked in, the tempo picked up, and everything felt right again - it's a nice little musical gag.  I get the impression that a lot of care has been put into rearranging these old songs into punk versions, as they all sound quite excellent.  Looking ahead at the tracks I've downloaded, I can't wait to hear what has been done to some of them, but I won't spoil anything for those who choose not to download them ahead of time.

Whether you choose to experience it all at once or a day at a time, as intended, I hope you find The Punk Rock Advent Calendar to be an enjoyable little treat.  If any punk rock fans out there happen to recognize any of the clichés in these songs, please share them here, as I would love to know what they are.  Happy listening!



Album Spotlight: Sebastian Wolff - "Keys and Lights"

So, I just had an entire post typed up and ready to go when I ran into a little problem: the music I was writing about, which I had downloaded just last month, was no longer free to download.  Rather annoying, but luckily I always have at least a few posts in varying stages of completeness.  This one, for example, was actually started way back in April when I downloaded Sebastian Wolff's "World of Goo" piano medley.  While browsing the artist's website, I noticed that he had a Christmas album available for download, so I made a little note of that.  I finally downloaded the album just a few weeks ago, and now I'll finish writing about it nearly seven months after I first started.

After hearing the "World of Goo" medley, my expectations for Keys and Lights were pretty high, and I'm happy to say that it really lives up to those expectations.  I've really developed a liking for solo piano works this year, so to hear these songs performed in this way is a real treat.  There is a really nice variety in the song selection, ranging all the way from traditional songs like "Silent Night" and "Carol of the Bells", to standards like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", to modern soundtrack material in "Believe" (from The Polar Express) and "Where Are You Christmas?" (from the 2000 version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas).  The songs are mellow enough to be listened to as lullabyes (which I've been doing for the last few weeks while putting my youngest son to sleep), yet full of such interesting and beautiful playing that you could give your entire attention to them and still hear new things each time.
All 18 songs on Keys and Lights can be downloaded directly from Sebastian Wolff's website.  However you decide to listen to them, I hope you enjoy them.  Happy listening!


Most popular content

Here you will find the most popular (i.e. most-viewed) content on this blog from the last week, from last Christmas ( i.e. November and December of last year), and of all time.  I have tried not to list old posts which mainly link to unavailable material.  I don't ever delete posts, so you can still read all of my old posts in the archives; please see the index for a handy quick reference to all of my posts.

Last updated 2009-12-14
Last Week
  1. Album Spotlight: James Edwards - Christmas Bells
  2. Album Spotlight: A Garritan Community Christmas Volume 6
  3. Christmas Day Stocking Stuffer edition
  4. Multiple Album Spotlight: A Familyre Christmas
  5. Album Spotlight: The Layaways - The Christmas EP
  6. Album Spotlight: The Violet Burning - Divine
  7. Song Spotlight: Sofia Talvik - "Snowy White River"
  8. Album Spotlight: Fisher - December
  9. Album Spotlight: Severe - The Punk Rock Advent Calendar
  10. A few unavailable albums made available again
Last Christmas
  1. Christmas Day Stocking Stuffer edition
  2. Song Spotlight: Auld Lang Syne (special New Year's edition)
  3. Song Spotlight: The Snowballs - "Song About Christmas"
  4. New Content: last.fm Christmas tag free downloads
  5. Album Spotlight: The Layaways - The Christmas EP
  6. Album Spotlight: The Violet Burning - Divine
  7. Album Spotlight: Barbara Gallagher - Love Came Down at Christmas
  8. Multiple Album Spotlight: A Familyre Christmas
  9. Multiple Album Spotlight: Garritan Community Christmas Album (vol. 1-4)
  10. Song Spotlight: "Last Christmas"
All Time
  1. Album Spotlight: Barbara Gallagher - Love Came Down at Christmas
  2. Christmas Day Stocking Stuffer edition
  3. Song Spotlight: Auld Lang Syne (special New Year's edition)
  4. New Content: last.fm Christmas tag free downloads
  5. Album Spotlight: The Violet Burning - Divine
  6. Welcome to the Free Christmas Music blog!
  7. Multiple Album Spotlight: Garritan Community Christmas Album (vol. 1-4)
  8. Album Spotlight: The Layaways - The Christmas EP
  9. Album Spotlight: M Iafrate - happy xmas, x is here
  10. Song Spotlight: The Snowballs - "Song About Christmas"

    Album Spotlight: Oh, Starling - "Joy"

    I will be the first to admit that I can be rather enthusiastic about Christmas music.  I listen to it at times of the year that are just unthinkable to some people.  In November of one year, I was listening to some Christmas music on my lunch break at work when someone commented on it, basically wondering why I was listening to it when it wasn't even close to Christmas.  When I tried to explain that I just liked the way it sounds, I received a response along the lines of "Well, you've obviously never worked in a retail environment at Christmas."  I guess the implication was that the endless repetition of Christmas music in stores at this time of year is enough to make anyone sick of it.

    Now, I have nothing at all against this attitude or the person who said it (in fact, he may be reading this on Facebook right now).  In fact, I can understand how being forced to listen to anything repetetively can turn someone off from it.  However, over the last three Christmases (oh wow, is this really my fourth year doing the free Christmas music thing?), I have had the opportunity to listen to a lot of different takes on Christmas music, and I can't help but think that if people were exposed to some of these unusual arrangements of otherwise familiar songs, they might be a little more accepting toward the whole idea of Christmas music.  Of course, I could be totally wrong about that, but at least I enjoy it, and I gather from some of the comments and emails that I receive that my readers enjoy it too.

    Oh, Starling have made their EP, Joy, available for free for a limited time.  On it, they have crafted some very refreshing arrangements of five familiar Christmas songs; refreshing, but no so radically different that they could not be enjoyed on the radio, or yes, even in stores that are playing Christmas music.  The acoustic instrumentation and slowed down tempos give a very relaxed feel to songs like "Joy (To the World)", "Silent Night", and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear".  Each song is given a lot of breathing room, and a lot of them are given extended bridges and choruses.  It's a great little release to listen to when you'd like to relax for a while, especially as things start to get really hectic in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  You're not likely to hear these songs playing over the PA of your favourite store, so it might be a good idea to load them onto an MP3 player for your own personal listening; it would be hard to feel rushed while listening to these beautiful renditions of familiar Christmas songs.

    Joy will be free for a limited time - one article I read about it said only until US Thanksgiving - so you should go download it now if you're interested at all.  The form on the site asks for quite a bit of information (email address, first name, country, city, and zip code, to be precise), so I would recommend reading the privacy agreement if you're at all paranoid about giving that kind of information out.  They did send me a couple of emails, but it is worth noting that the download link appeared on the site after I submitted the form - it was not emailed to me.  You can choose between MP3 and AAC formats; I chose MP3, which yielded a 37.3 MB zip file.  Happy listening!


    Artist Spotlight: Northern Light Orchestra

    Sometime in mid-June, I began getting references in my RSS feeds to a band called Northern Light Orchestra, which supposedly had free Christmas music available for download.  At first, I dismissed these blog posts as spam for a number of reasons: first, they were rather poorly written, as if they had been written in another language and then auto-translated into English; second, when I clicked on the links in the posts, I could never find the music that had been promised; finally, well... who writes about Christmas music in June anyway?  Still, I was curious, and as time went on, I began to learn a little more about Northern Light Orchestra.  When I discovered that musicians like David Ellefson (former Megadeth bassist), Dizzy Reed (Guns N' Roses keyboardist), Bruce Kulick (former KISS guitarist), and members of bands like Whitesnake, KoRn, and Quiet Riot were involved with the project, it became something I simply had to hear.
    After reading a couple of these blog posts each week for several months, I was finally rewarded in the last week of October when the link led to a page with actual downloadable MP3s.  I downloaded the MP3s and began listening to them immediately.  Since I had been waiting to hear this music for such a long time, I can't possibly think of a more appropriate way to officially begin the 2009 free Christmas music season.
    As might be expected given the musicians involved, Northern Light Orchestra's sound is primarily rock and metal based.  I was immediately reminded of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but I think that is more due to the fact that there just isn't that much rock-based Christmas music around.  My favourite song so far is "God Was Born a Baby", which starts off with the sound of a choir before launching into an excellent rock groove.  Just when it sounds like the song is over at around four and a half minutes, it picks back up for an epic guitar solo, which lasts almost two minutes, and then winds down with an orchestral outro.  "Joy to the World" features a great instrumental breakdown with a drum solo and soaring guitar leads.  There are mellower songs, too.  "Joseph's Song" has an adult contemporary feel to it, while "We Have Come to Worship" you is a nice ballad with gorgeous vocal harmonies.  "Goodnight" is a pretty little piano- and vocal-based lullabye sung to baby Jesus.
    There seem to be alternate versions of some of the songs on the band's iLike page.  "Joy to the World", for example, features some additional orchestration and vocal harmonies as compared to the version on the band's website.  This exemplifies the only real problem I have with NLO - namely, a great deal of confusion.  Their website states that their album, The Spirit of Christmas, contains nine songs, and that they have another nine songs in production "for next year" (not sure whether they mean 2009 or 2010 by that); however, the amount of songs available for download is neither nine nor eighteen, and the songs that can be downloaded have different album names and track numbers between the different versions.  It's not enough to stop me from listening to the music, but I can't help but feel how much better it would sound as an album with a proper track list.
    Though Trans-Siberian Orchestra may have popularized rock-based Christmas music with their trilogy of albums, Northern Light Orchestra proves that there is still room for more of this type of music.  Their take on Christmas music is a thoroughly enjoyable one - this is something that I would gladly pay for if given the chance to have it as a proper album.  I hope you enjoy it too - please leave a comment here or send me an email to let me know what you think of it.  Happy listening!


    Free Christmas Music Index

    Well, here we are in November again.  This is usually the time when I begin listening to and writing about Christmas music, and this year is no exception.  I've been listening to a few new albums over the last couple of weeks, and I'll be posting about them here as soon as I get a chance to write about them.  Before I start posting about new music this year, I wanted to put together an index of everything that has already been posted.  Posts are organized into a few broad categories which will hopefully make it easy to locate what you're looking for; if not, please let me know.

    Last updated 2009-12-14

    Free Christmas Music Resources


    The 8bits of Christmas (The 8bitpeoples)
    Beautiful and Unique Snowflakes (various artists) (unavailable)
    Christmas Bells (James Edwards)
    The Christmas EP (The Layaways)
    (Christmas is a) Time for Us (various artists)
    December (Fisher)
    Divine (The Violet Burning)
    Electric Fantastic Christmas (various artists)
    Emmanuel (Sarah Brown)
    A Familyre Christmas (various artists)
    The Gift (Hairy Larry)
    Green Christmas (Mojo Green)
    Holiday Hits 2008 (various artists) (unavailable)
    Incarnation (Corbin Watkins)
    Joy (Oh, Starling)
    Keys and Lights (Sebastian Wolff)
    Love Came Down at Christmas (Barbara Gallagher)
    MiMi Loves Xmas (various artists)
    Peace on Earth (In Mansions)
    Rhodes Christmas (John Conahan)
    Seriously Westcoast Vol. 2 - Happy Holidays (various artists) (unavailable)
    Sounds of Bethelehem (Jennifer Avalon)
    Tidings (Allison Crowe) (partially unavailable)
    Winter Wishes (various artists)


    "Last Christmas" (various versions)
    "Snowy White River" (Sofia Talvik)
    "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" (Gary U.S. Bonds) (unavailable)


    Quick Reviews

    Auld Lang Syne

    Auld Lang Syne 2007 (partially unavailable)