What’s with Christmas music?
Last week, I trotted on down to the Triple Door here in Seattle (a fabulous little cabaret-style venue downtown) to catch a number of local singer-songwriters in the round (Jesse Sykes, Damien Jurado, Mark Pickerel, Star Anna, John van Deusen, several others). It was a special holiday-themed show, or was billed as such. Most of the artists simply played their most depressing material, thinly veiled by the occasional reference to winter. Someone covered Joni Mitchell’s “River.” Others played minor-key Christmas carols like “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “We Three Kings.”
Granted the music was great, for the most part, but it was all a big downer. I went in expecting Christmas cheer and came out feeling bummed about seasonal depression.
Last night at the Moore Theater, I hunkered down for another three-band bill for a holiday-themed show. This one was a bit more upbeat – Grace Potter & the Nocturnals went crazy, dancing about and unleashing their hair-banging. Brett Dennen did is own special dance moves (like a Gumby chicken). Brandi Carlile and her band dressed up in Christmas lights and Santa hats, except the cellist Josh Neumann, who wore reindeer antlers. But then she closed her set with a song about suicide and a super-sad cover of “Hallelujah” (in my opinion, one of the actually good cover versions). She noted that a significant number of people experience depression around the holiday season, and those people deserve their songs, too. Fair enough. People giggled.
It’s true, granted.
When I go looking for good holiday-themed roots songs, I’m faced with more of the same. Granted, there’s Asylum Street Spankers’ great live Christmas album from a couple of years ago. (I particularly enjoy their rendition of “You’re a Mean One Mister Grinch,” and “Zat You, Santa Clause?”) When trimming our little gold-tinsel tree this weekend with my roommates, I found myself putting on Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart because it was at least mildly festive with its ornate instrumentation and impeccable backup singers, even if it does sound at times like Dylan’s the emotionally complicated, duplicitly cheerful old dude in the corner, taken to serenading the waitresses.
I’m wondering what your favorite holiday music is. Any recommendations for folks like me who love introverted singer-songwriters AND have holiday cheer?