GROOVES & CUTS – John Apice
Artists Under the Radar Part 2 will appear in December.
This month — new Christmas/Holiday music. It’s hard to beat the classic Christmas songs but there are indeed many great holiday songs produced today.
An ideal open is British singer-songwriter Leigh Haggerwood’s emotionally uplifting vocals on his song “My Favorite Time of Year” with inspiring results. Known as The Florin Street Band — released 10-years ago independently & gained worldwide popularity by word of mouth. It’s since gone around the world & reached 14 million views. https://www.leighhaggerwood.com
I consider this a bonafide Christmas classic. I was one of the earliest reviewers (elsewhere) in the USA in 2010 & I still endorse this. It immediately received an enthusiastic response & I mention it each holiday season. It’s Victorian/Dickens’ visuals filmed like a movie in stunning detail is atmospheric. Filmed at Blists Hill Victorian Town at Ironbridge in Shropshire, it’s a seasonal must-see. Trust me. It will be hard to forget. The lyrics are included – so if you’re blue this season, sing it loud with The Florin Street Band.
Newly released Nov. 27 (PoMo Records/Maenades Music) with a Herb Alpert type trumpet, the upbeat, optimistic & punchy melody of The Christmas Star is played by songwriter/musician/producer Ted Russell Kamp (with a near-perfect Lee Hazelwood gruff voice) & with the pristine vocals of Emily Zuzik. David Raven plays drums. The song has everything necessary to be a festive holiday tune & it suits Ms. Zuzik’s vocals better than her more aggressive material. Her range is obvious, & her personality decorates the vibrancy this song requires & she displays. http://www.emilyzuzik.com
The Pinx 3-cut EP (Nov 24th – Independent) starts with The Kinks’ classic “Father Christmas,” & 2 soul Xmas covers. The Atlanta, GA band with Adam McIntyre emulates The Kinks in their blistering guitar-driven drum pounding garage band type showcase. But it’s festive for headbanger aficionados. On a cover of “Merry Christmas, Baby,” they don’t come close to Elvis Presley’s version, but the band maintains the stripped-down tradition of the original. The 3rd — Rufus Thomas’ “I’ll Be Your Santa Baby,” is more horn-driven, humorous with treated vocals & suggestive lyrics. Cool showcase. https://thepinxrock.com
More sublime is the LA duo Bird & the Bee’s (Inara George & Greg Kurstin) 8-track EP “Put Up the Lights,” (No Expectations/Release Me Records – dropped Oct 23rd) leads off with a lounge jazz-type Christmas tune “You & I At Christmas Time,” which is actually, a fairly relaxing listen & festive as well.
It’s cozy, sophisticated & warm. Their cover of the Mel Torme-Robert Wells classic “The Christmas Song,” is one of the best. A bonus — Nirvana’s Dave Grohl plays drums on the “Little Drummer Boy.” 24-minutes of classics rendered with enduring delightfulness. https://www.thebirdandthebee.com
Among more serious holiday fare is a metaphor song with the comparison of the Biblical story of Chanukah to our current world on Rebuild (drops Nov 20 – Trespass) by the marvelous reliable duo Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt. Available on YouTube. http://nathansandronstadt.com
Colleen Brown on her LP Isolation Songs (drops Nov 20 – Flatcar Records/Fontana North) has a beautiful Christmas song “What Do You Want for Christmas.” With her ideal festive voice leading a chorus of children the song is endearing & delicate. https://www.colleenbrownmusic.com
6 various artists are featured on a South Louisiana Cajun Christmas. Joyeux Noel, Bon Chrismeusse (drops Dec 4 – Independent) that effectively translates & reinterprets standard Christmas songs into French-Cajun styles. Christmas songs rendered in an old vintage & potent style (especially cut 2 by Megan Constantin & Kelli Jones who perform in French, but its message comes through universally).
Courtney Granger does a slurry & exciting “Merry Christmas, Baby,” in French. The horns sway & deliver. Wonderful sax/guitar exchange & upright piano dynamic. Great arrangement. Something original. Available here: https://chasjustus.bandcamp.com/album/joyeux-no-l-bon-chrismeusse
The Juno Award-winning Canadian progressive folk-roots group Leahy sing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” (drops Nov 27 – Speak Music) with Denise Leahy’s haunting voice. Slow with piano & violin Denise’s voice is spiritual & powerful without any bombastic showboating. It’s all that’s required to feel the holiday spirit. Available at their website. https://leahymusic.ca
Cuban musicians Sweet Lizzy Project have a charming EP — So This Is Christmas (digital only/Nov 20/ Mono Mundo-Thirty Tigers). “This Christmas I’m Not Coming Home,” has Lisset Diaz’s power & beauty. With a diversified vocal, she is commanding. Each cut has something to recommend it. Covers of The Pretenders’ “2000 Miles,” John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” & 2 originals bookend the release. Songs aside, this band is worth exploring. https://www.sweetlizzyproject.com
Lauren Calve has a country-Americana storyteller tune “Christmas Is Where the Heart Is,” (dropped Nov 12 – Independent). Her lustrous vocal has an ample traditional sound & carries the holiday spirit in her voice. The band adds a sentimental tint. Available on Spotify. https://laurencalve.com
Finally, New Zealand’s Tami Neilson covers Willie Nelson’s chestnut “Pretty Paper,” (dropped Nov 13 – Outside Music). Melancholy & effective, rendered with angst that made a career for Patsy Cline. For sentimentalists, this is a beauty. https://www.tamineilson.com
Artists Under the Radar Part 2 will appear in December. Have a safe Christmas & whatever holiday you choose to celebrate…with goodwill.