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Auld Lang Syne 2011

And here we are, at the end of another year.  I have to say, I really enjoyed blogging about free Christmas music more this year than any other time I can remember - not that it's ever a chore or anything, but it was especially enjoyable this year.  I think the lowered expectations I had for myself really helped a lot.  Thanks also for all the wonderful comments and emails that you have all left for me - it always means a lot to me to read them.

Anyway, this being the eve of New Year's Eve, I think it's about time for the annual "Auld Lang Syne" post.  I have five versions of the song this year; here they are in no particular order:
  • Jordan Gladstone's version is actually called "I Heard the Bells on Auld Lang Syne" and is from the Badgerland: Thee Christmas Mix Tape 2010 compilation.  It's a very cool instrumental guitar version.
  • Sam Billen's version is from a compilation that was actually released two years ago, but I somehow still haven't gotten around to posting about.  Anyway, it's a very mellow and beautiful version.
  • Human has a cool, jazzy version of the song.
  • Joel Rakes has actually released two versions of the song: a "Happy" and a "Sad" version.  These are only available for free for the next week, so go get them now.
And there we go.  Hopefully at least one of these versions of the song will help you to usher in the new year in whatever way you choose to.  Once again, many thanks for reading the blog again this year, and I'll be back again between ten and eleven months from now to do this all over again.

Happy New Year, and happy listening!



Where does your love of Christmas music come from?

No music in this post, as it's been a rather busy day.  I do have a few more albums I want to post about, though, so I'll try to get at least one more post out before Christmas to wrap things up for the year.

I wanted to try something a little different today and ask a question to everyone who reads this: where does your love of Christmas music come from?

I came up with this idea earlier today when I was kneading bread dough and listening to Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Eve and Other Stories for what is probably about the hundredth time.  I got that album in 1997, and it was the first Christmas album I ever owned.  I think I got another one or two albums that year, but that was really the one that started it all for me.  The combination of traditional Christmas music with progressive rock and heavy metal was unlike anything I had ever heard before, and it fit perfectly with my taste at the time.  The following year I really began collecting Christmas music in earnest, and at this point in my life it's something bordering on an obsession - I'm always on the lookout for new songs and new versions of old songs, hence all the music that I find and share with you here.

So does anyone else have a special album or song to which they can trace back their love of Christmas music?  If so, please share it in the comments.  I'd love to know where everyone who reads this blog is coming from musically.


A Rarebird in a Pear Tree, Volumes 1 and 2

Rarebird Records is an independent Canadian record company that specializes in a variety of styles, "from Americana blue-grass to indie folk rock, and singer-songwriter pop to soul infused art-rock."  They have also released a pair of excellent little Christmas compilations called A Rarebird in a Pear Tree via Noisetrade;  Volume 1 was released last year and Volume 2 was released this year.

Though they are both short, there are a lot of highlights on each album.  I really like the two songs by Shelley Adams - she has a very beautiful voice that sounds like Sarah McLachlan at times.  "The Friendly Beasts" by  Jason Paul Johnston has some of the cutest backing vocals you will ever hear courtesy of  Jana Lynn & Luke Paul Johnston.  There's a nice mix of traditional and modern songs, and possibly a few originals as well (I find it's getting harder and harder to determine if a Christmas song is original or not).  Both volumes are well worth checking out if you're looking for something a little more laid back and mellow sounding.

Happy listening!



Annie Moses Band - Bethlehem House Of Bread

Bethlehem House of Bread by the Annie Moses Band is an album I have been meaning to post about for a while now, but I have been trouble coming up with words to describe it.  Noisetrade lists the genre as "Pop: Chamber" and says that it is for fans of Josh Groban, Nickel Creek, Alison Krauss, and Celtic Woman.  I have Josh Groban's Christmas album, and I can kind of hear some similarities to that not-quite-classical, not-quite-pop sound.  It also delves into a country/bluegrass sound at times - "Jingle Bells/Go Tell It On The Mountain" and "Christmas On Cripple Creek" would not sound out of place on a Dixie Chicks album.

On the whole, I think the album has a very unique and beautiful sound that needs to be heard to be appreciated.  Many thanks to Chris for notifying me about it via email!

Happy listening!


18 songs from Folk Angel

For a limited time - until December 22, to be precise - Folk Angel are offering their entire catalog (2 EPs and a full-length album, a total of 18 songs) for free.  You have to enter the case-sensitive password COMPASSION to access the downloads (I found the password on this site, in case you're curious).

I've been listening to these albums tonight and they're quite nice.  The third volume seems to have a much more varied sound than the first two, with the biggest surprise being the rap in the middle of  "Ring Christmas Bells (Carol Of The Bells)" - it comes from out of nowhere, but it works amazingly well.   "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus / Joy To The World", the final song on the second volume, has a very uplifting ending and is another highlight.

Happy listening!



A pair of country Christmas singles (Tim McGraw and Lonestar)

Oh my goodness, are there really only six days left until Christmas?  Time really seems to fly by faster and faster every year.  There was so much that I wanted to post about this year, and I'll try my best to get some more good stuff out before Christmas.  I really hope everyone has found at least something they like here this year - I know I've had more fun writing posts this year than I have in a long time, which is a good thing.

Here are a couple of singles from some popular country artists that you might enjoy:
Happy listening!



Customary Christmas

If you're like me and your knowledge of Christmas hip hop music (or is rap the term I'm looking for here?  If someone could let me know the difference - if any - it would be greatly appreciated!  I feel like I get in over my head with some of this Christmas music sometimes, but it's all in good fun.) pretty much starts and ends at Run-D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis", then this one is for you.  Customary Christmas is a collection of five Christmas-themed hip hop songs (plus instrumental versions of each song).  You'll recognize the choruses of songs like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", "Sleigh Ride", and "White Christmas", but the verses are all original creations by Customary.  The tone of each song is more on the serious side as compared to "Christmas in Hollis".   I wish I could say more about them, but I'm really not normally much of a fan of hip hop - I just really like the way these songs sound.

The link to download the album is actually in the logo at the top of the page.  There are also a couple of videos embedded on the page - one is a music video for the title track (which is quite good), and the other explains the background of the album a little, as well as gives some information about the causes that it is supporting (Act Six and City Union Mission) - and there are links to donate to each organization, if you are so inclined.

Happy listening!



Happy Holidays 2011 from PumpYouUp.com

Here's something different: a collection of dubstep arrangements of Christmas songs (mostly from The Nutcracker) courtesy of PumpYouUp.com.  I am by no means an expert on dubstep - in fact, the only other time I can recall deliberately listening to a dubstep song was when I heard "Pipe Wrench Dubstep" from the Machinarium Bonus EP - so I can't say for sure whether or not this is good dubstep.  I rather like the sound of it, though.  All of the songs are instrumental and have a very unique synthesizer-based sound - I've certainly never heard Christmas music arranged quite like this before.  "Dark Jingle Bell Dub" is probably my favourite of the bunch.

I suppose it's entirely possible that there are entire albums of dubstep Christmas music out there - like I said, it's not exactly something I've sought out before.  But whether dubstep is something you love or if it's entirely new to you, this collection is well worth checking out.  Incidentally, for anyone who is into dubstep, could you tell me how this compares to your favourite dubstep?  And is there any other dubstep - Christmas or otherwise - that you would recommend for someone who is new to the genre?  Thanks, and happy listening!



Paste Magazine 2011 Christmas Sampler

Wow.  Paste magazine is offering a free sampler consisting of 40 Christmas songs via Noisetrade.  Forty songs, clocking in at nearly two hours and twenty minutes.  I've heard of a few of the artists on the sampler, while most are new to me.  The biggest surprise for me was a cover of The Who's "Christmas" (from Tommy, and one of my all-time favourite Christmas songs) by  The Phantom Family Halo.   There is a tremendous variety of, well, everything on here: all sorts of genres, traditional Christmas carols, contemporary songs, original songs, etc.  I think it's best to just go and grab the sampler and give it a listen for yourself.  Leave a comment if you find anything really great on here, or if any of these artists have other music that's worth checking out, or anything else you feel like saying.

Have you been enjoying this year's batch of free Christmas music?  I've been doing my best to keep on top of it all.  There's still a lot of stuff I'd like to post about, but I know that time inevitably begins to get shorter and shorter at this time of year.  I'll try my best to keep the music flowing here.

Happy listening!



The Brantley Family Band Xmas Album (2011)

The Brantley Family Band have released their annual Christmas album.  I've been looking forward to this one for quite a while now, and it does not disappoint.  This year's release has four songs:
  • " I Wish You a Merry Christmas".  As far as I can tell, this one is an original.  It's very upbeat, playful, and humorous.
  • "Little Saint Nick".  My initial reaction to this song was that it sounds like the Beach Boys; a quick check on Google for some of the lyrics revealed that it IS actually a Beach Boys song, so I think it must be quite well done.  The vocal harmonies are great.
  • "Christmas Time is Here".  I never know if these guys are going to throw a disco metal breakdown or something into the middle of a song, so my first listen is always on the cautious side.  This one turns out to be a straight cover of the beloved song from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and it's very well done.
  • "White Christmas".  A little bit of genre hopping in this one, going from a country sound for about the first two thirds of the song (including a very nice steel guitar section), and concluding with a headbanging rock outro.
In case you haven't heard of the Brantley Family Band before (I only found out about them last year), they've been releasing a little Christmas album every year since 2004.  Fortunately, all of the past albums are still available from their website - in fact, you can download their entire discography in one big zip file.  I really think that this is turning into (or perhaps already is) one of the best  collections of Christmas music on the Internet.  The mix of moods (e.g. straight up vs. humorous), sources (traditional Christmas carols, modern classics, obscure novelty songs, originals), and genres (just about everything, sometimes within the same song) make it an essential resource for anyone who loves Christmas music.

Happy listening!



Song Spotlight: "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"

Today is the 31st anniversary of John Lennon's death, so I thought it would be appropriate to post some versions of "Happy Xmas (War is Over)", a song which I believe to be an absolute masterpiece and one of the best modern Christmas songs around.  Surprisingly, I didn't already have any new versions of it this year, so I took a few minutes to search Bandcamp and came up with versions from the following artists:
I think my favourite of these is the Itchy Sweaters version, which goes all out with a full band arrangement and background choir.  Others, like IQYSO and Joel David's versions, are a little more raw than most versions.  They're all pretty good, though, and worth a listen if you like the song.  Which one of these is your favourite?

What about this song in general - are there any versions you think that people should hear?  Besides Lennon's original, my two favourite versions are an instrumental version by Japanese guitarist Hotei on the first Merry Axemas album, and Sarah McLachlan's version from her Wintersong album.  I can't share those versions for free, although I'm sure there are plenty of places you can stream them online if you really want to.

Happy Xmas, and happy listening!



Attwater: Christmas

I used to be a really big fan of country music.  Looking back on it now, I think it was more of a phase than anything, although I still enjoy pulling out my old Garth Brooks, Dixie Chicks, and Shania Twain albums for a listen every now and then.  That said, I think Attwater's Christmas EP, which is decidedly very country sounding, has been one of the nicest surprises so far this Christmas season.

There's a nice mix of traditional and modern songs on this EP.  It opens with a countrified cover of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You", then moves on to "O Holy Night".  I don't recognize "Christmas Song (Walk Me Home)", so I'm assuming it's an original, and a very nice one, at that (I mean really, really nice - I've listened to it a few more times while typing this post, and it sounds better with each listen.  The vocals are just gorgeous, the bridge is beautiful, and the little quote from "Winter Wonderland" near the end is icing on the cake.).  "It Won't Seem Like Christmas" seems to be a Loretta Lynn cover (I'm not familiar with it, but a quick Google of the lyrics seems indicate as such).  The EP closes all too soon with "Little Drummer Boy", but the entire thing is so well done that you'll likely be coming back to it for repeated listens.

 I just noticed on their Facebook page that the album will only be free for this week, so hurry up if this sounds like something you're interested in!  

I often find that I need several listens to an album in order to really absorb it and feel comfortable enough to post about it.  Not so with this one - I heard it for the first time this morning and immediately felt that it would be worth a post.  Hopefully you'll feel the same way about it.  Happy listening!


Sofia Talvik: "Winter Canon"

Once again, Sofia Talvik has released a free Christmas single (by my count, this is the fifth one), and once again, it has proven to be a very nice surprise.  This year's single is "Winter Canon", and though the AC/DC-ish cover artwork might bring other things to mind, the title comes from the repeated use of canon on many of the vocal phrases.  The musical accompaniment is very minimalist, which makes this a great showcase for Sofia's vocals.

As she does every year, Sofia has chosen to support a charity, and encourages her fans to support it as well.  This year's charity is ActionAid, an organization that "wants a world without poverty, so they work with local people to fight hunger, seek justice for women and education for children, and cope with emergencies."  In order to access the download, you have to "like" both Sofia and ActionAid on Facebook; there is a widget on the single's page that makes it easy to do both of those things, and I have attempted to embed the widget at the end of this post (hopefully it works).

So go support a good cause if you're able to, and enjoy some lovely Christmas music by a very talented artist while you're at it.  Happy listening!



A completely NSFW Christmas song from Brad Sucks & John Benjamin

The masses have spoken: the song will be posted!  In addition to the comments on the post, I received a few emails, and the response was overwhelmingly in favour of posting the song - provided, of course, that I make it quite clear that this is not the type of song you would want to play in most work environments, around kids, or anywhere else you wouldn't expect to hear profanity.  To anyone who would rather not hear this type of song, please know that this is nothing more than a blip on the radar - it's not the type of Christmas song I normally gravitate towards, and the chances of anything like this ever appearing on the blog again are extremely low.  In other words, please stick around, as we'll be back to more typical Christmas music (well, as typical as it gets on this blog, anyway) very shortly!

Anyway, here's "F*** You, Motherf***** (It's Christmas)" as performed by Brad Sucks & John Benjamin.  I think it's an insanely catchy song, which is the whole reason I wanted to post it here in the first place.  I've always loved the style that Brad Sucks has crafted for himself, and it's on fine display in this song.  As a bonus, there's also a link to the original version of the song by John Benjamin, which is more bare bones than the version with Brad Sucks.  Let me know if you prefer one version over the other, or what you think of the song in general, in the comments.

Happy listening (and remember, completely unsafe for work)!



Quick question

I have an amazingly catchy Christmas song that I'd love to post about, but there's one little problem: it's riddled with profanity and is in no way safe for work, kids, or a host of other environments.  Please correct me if I'm wrong, but this would really be uncharted territory for this blog.  I haven't intentionally set out to make this a family friendly blog, but that's pretty much how it's worked out so far.

So, quick question: would you be okay with seeing this kind of song posted here?  Sound off in the comments, and I'll wait at least a day before coming to a final decision on it.


Create a panel for the (2015)QUILT, get a free Christmas song from The Killers

This is just too cool not to post about.  Visit the (2015)QUILT site, create a panel for the quilt, and then you can choose one of six Christmas songs by The Killers to download for free.  The goal of this project is to "be able to provide treatment to the millions more who need it, drastically reduce new infections, and virtually end the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies" by the year 2015.  The song I chose was "Don't Shoot Me Santa".  Do some good for the world and get a free Christmas song in return - does it get any more win/win than that?

Happy listening!



Vladimir Sterzer: Christmas in minor - Weihnachten in Moll

After my first listen to Vladimir Sterzer's Christmas in Minor - Weihnachten in Moll, about all I thought was that the songs were really short (the 16 songs clock in at just under 19 minutes) and that the album may not have been worth posting about.  During my second listen, things clicked when "Santa's Coming Tomorrow" came on and I started thinking that it sounded like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" done in a minor key - at that point, the full meaning of the "minor" in the title hit me like a ton of bricks and the entire album suddenly became much more interesting.  Yes, this is a collection of German Christmas carols arranged in a minor key!  I don't know if knowledge of music theory is required to really appreciate something like this - I am by no means an expert on it, with just a couple of high school and university courses under my belt - but I'm pretty sure that most people would pick up on the fact that there is something different about these versions of "Silent Night" and "O Christmas Tree", to cherry pick a couple of familiar songs.

I still think that the album is too short, but at this point it's because I feel like it has barely whet an appetite I never knew I had - I'd love to hear more Christmas songs done like this!  What do you think?  Do you like the sound of Christmas carols done in a minor key?  I'm sure it's not for everyone, but for those like hearing Christmas carols done a little differently, this is definitely worth a listen.  Happy listening!



Christmas 2011

Hey everyone, how's it going?  I've been listening to Christmas music for a couple of weeks now, and I think I'm finally ready to start writing about it.

I haven't had a lot of time for blogging this year (in fact, I think I only managed to make one post on my other blog all year, and that was back in January), but I'm hoping to be able to make some time for Christmas music posts over the next few weeks.  I think one reason I've been so hesitant to post anything is the fact that I like to be very thorough about things, which ends up being very time consuming - it takes multiple listens to an album before I feel ready to write about it, and it also takes a long time to write the actual post.  I'm going to try relaxing a bit this year - posts probably won't be as long and detailed as in past years, and I won't be overly concerned with having to say something about every single song on an album.  In a way, this could end up being even more challenging for me than trying to write a new post every day!  But for the love of free Christmas music (which hasn't diminished a bit - I still find myself scouring multiple sources whenever I have the time, looking for new songs and interesting takes on old songs), it should be a lot of fun.

While I finish figuring out just how I'm going to approach this, I welcome any comments that anyone may have.  Is there anything you'd like to see posted here - maybe a song, an artist, or a style that hasn't been covered before?  Got a link to some good Christmas music?  Please post it!  After all, this blog would not exist without you, my readers, so if there's any way I can make it a better experience for you, please let me know.

Also, just for fun, I've decided to create a Google+ page about the blog.  There's nothing there yet, and to be honest I'm still not certain what kind of content will be there, but if you're on Google+ and would like to circle the page, please do!