electricland: (Christmas tree)
No link today.

However, we do have this live version on YouTube:


Canada is peculiarly rich in girl folk groups: Dala, the Be Good Tanyas, the Wailin' Jennys, and of course the Good Lovelies spring to mind. Here the Good Lovelies perform what amounts to two versions of the classic New Year's Eve song.

There are in fact many many versions of Auld Lang Syne. The Beach Boys did one. Mariah Carey did a whole EP of remixes, which is a little terrifying.

Here's a little history of the song:

Auld Lang Syne is one of Scotland's gifts to the world, recalling the love and kindness of days gone by, but in the communion of taking our neighbours' hands, it also gives us a sense of belonging and fellowship to take into the future.

It is one of the many folk songs from the great Lowland Scots tradition collected and fashioned by the pen of one of the world's greatest songwriters. Burns devoted the last years of his life to the song tradition, and often a mere fragment from some old ballad was transformed by his alchemy into a memorable love song or Scots poem. With Auld Lang Syne, though, the brilliance was already there; this is the Bard's first mention of it in a letter to Mrs Dunlop in 1788:

"... Light be the turf on the breast of the heaven inspired Poet who composed this glorious fragment."

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Another confession: in general I am not all that fond of Rufus Wainwright. He's very talented but I have a particular horror of whiny tenors. And yet... I quite like this. Go figure. Apparently this song played a fairly major part in his rise to fame thanks to this Gap commercial:



We sang this for choir last year, which was fun; harmonies crunchy enough to be interesting.

Obviously we are sort of out of sync again. When I made up this mix it was a general holiday-season mix and New Year's seemed an important part of that.

Took the day off. Today I have some last-minute shopping to do, and I MUST set up my poor tree! How about you?

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Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong are never wrong, and they're particularly right together. Ella's solo version is also lovely.



The other seasonal jazz classic is of course "Baby, It's Cold Outside." It's acquired unfortunate overtones but I'm still fond of it. Here's a great version by Meaghan Smith and Buck 65.

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This is another song that needs no introduction. Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders also put in a well-deserved appearance in the Women Who Rock documentary mentioned on Day 16; she truly is a phenomenal talent, and even if this song has only the most tenuous connection to Christmas, it's still a classic.



This has more covers than I expected: KT Tunstall, Coldplay. I see nobody messes too much with the arrangement. (Maybe the Mighty Mighty Bosstones - I haven't listened to any of them all the way through, I have to admit.) Not to be confused with (I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles by the Proclaimers.

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So remember back in the introduction to this Advent calendar I mentioned that former Beatles suck at Christmas songs? It doesn't seem to apply to their wives: this is a Yoko Ono song, and it's amazing, although I admit I like this cover better than the original.

From this interview, in which Thea Gilmore also has trenchant things to say about depression:

Yoko Ono's "Listen, The Snow Is Falling" evokes an idyllic Christmas card of the mind, a kind of universal Yule, and Gilmore's minimal arrangement lends it an air of weightless meditation.

"I didn't even know the song," Gilmore admits. "I was on tour with the Waterboys and I was talking to Mike Scott about covering his song 'December', and he said 'yes you can, that's great, but go and listen to this Yoko Ono song because it will really suit your voice'. So I listened to it and I loved it and I thought it was just beautiful. Everyone said 'you can't do a Yoko Ono song! What's the matter with you!' but it's gorgeous, and it comes at a point on the album where it really needed to draw breath and just stop. I think it really works as that."

Cuddle up in a blanket, close your eyes, and let her sing you to sleep.

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We're a bit chronologically challenged again; St. Stephen's Day is better known in these parts as Boxing Day. This song is all about that point in the Christmas season when you are sick and tired of all your relatives and contemplating (or indeed committing) murder. Incidentally if you can imagine a fouler drink than Tia Maria mixed with Irn-Bru, your imagination is a dark and frightening place.

This song also has the distinction of having introduced me to TWO of my new favourite Christmas albums - and quite by accident at that. Last year as I was poking about iTunes for new Christmas music, I came across an iTunes playlist that mentioned a duet by Kirsty MacColl and someone else that wasn't Fairytale of New York. I knew there was no way in hell there would be another Kirsty Christmas duet that I, and more to the point Freeworld, hadn't heard of, but I checked it out anyway. It turned out to be Thea Gilmore's rollicking rendition of this song (with Mark Radcliffe). So that introduced me to her. Then I went poking about the Internet for more information and came across this thread on an Elvis Costello fan forum, which contains any amount of interesting trivia, and thus introduced me to The Bells of Dublin and this (original) version of the song. (I trust this is all perfectly clear?)

Just for fun, here's Thea doing her version live and solo:



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Very late today, sorry! I went to the Sing-Along Messiah this afternoon and it was, as always, delightful. And I bought shoes. Alas that my very long to-do list remains mostly in the imperative and not the past.

This is the Ramones. I don't need to introduce them, right? Somewhat problematic video:



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electricland: (Christmas tree ohi)
This link from yesterday's post mentions this documentary. Some kind soul on YouTube has put it up in 6 parts:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
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This, of course, is the Christmas song for cynics and skeptics and thwarted romantics. It was kept out of the No. 1 spot by the Pet Shop Boys when it came out in 1987, but has since triumphed - how often do you hear from the Pet Shop Boys these days? Precisely.

Multiple videos for this one. The original (see Matt Dillon?):



Plus a live version:



Here's a 1987 interview with Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl:

Kirsty: Christmas is obviously a time for overdoing everything at once and regularly. Doesn't everybody? I don't want to bump into anyone sober, that's for sure. The best hangover cure I can think of is giving away all your money to the poor. Then they can get drunk and you can't.

Shane: Boxing Day is traditionally the day for that. Boxing Day used to be when the tradesmen came round and you gave them a box. Hence the name. After three days of drinkin' with a bit of sleep thrown in I start again. I've got two failsafe hangover cures.

Kirsty: Hair of the dog cures, I'll be bound.

Shane: Naturally. The first one is a port and brandy. A nice warming drink which settles the stomach and lines it for the day ahead. The other one is a lunchtime cure - a pink gin. Those two cure anything, especially if you chase one with the other.

Kirsty: Champagne makes me feel better. As long as you can drink champagne you know you're not actually dead.

Well said, Kirsty, we lost you much too soon.

For more Shane/Kirsty goodness, I encourage you to go find Lorelei as well.

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Monkey See recently had a great post on Darlene Love that pointed me towards the equally excellent Women Who Rock documentary. I recommend that you read and watch both. The bit that stayed with me particularly was her story of how she had quit music and was cleaning houses for a living. She was scrubbing a toilet when one of her songs came on the radio. Could you have, she asked, a clearer sign from God that she was meant to be singing?

I gather her Letterman performance of this song is an annual tradition, so here's one:



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Listen here. (MySpace link today - not on Grooveshark again.)

Week 3 begins. Now we enter a chipper, somewhat modern part of our Advent calendar! This track was one of many on a free online compilation last year, Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada Deux. I really like it - it's peppy yet somehow yearning.



Bonus: Chad Orzel's annual list of Christmas songs that don't suck. Many are already favourites; I'm going to have to check some of the others out.

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Here we have a second song from Thea Gilmore (she also kicked off this whole mad experiment). I realize it still lacks a week to midwinter, but I was more concerned with musical flow than calendar accuracy when I put this together. Sorry!

This review in Northern Sky gives a bit of the history of this song:

Considering herself a cynical person eleven months of the year, Thea reserves the right to be 'squishy' in December and confesses that she makes a special effort to celebrate it and so why not celebrate it with a themed album and tour? "I love Christmas, I'm a real Christmas freak so it sort of made sense; I had a song that I really wanted to put on an album and so it just made sense to explore ideas and themes of winter and just enjoy my feelings about it as well."

The song in question was Midwinter Toast, which was inspired by a comment made by the radio presenter Janice Long who had said to Thea "I'm so fed up of playing the same old shit on the radio at this time of year; why doesn't anyone write Christmas songs anymore?" Rising to the challenge, Thea went on to write Midwinter Toast but at the time, had nowhere really to put it, therefore it was never actually recorded.

Luckily, she went on to write a bunch more Christmas-and-winter songs and the result was Strange Communion. I for one am thankful, and I salute her Christmas enthusiasm.

Live video here (warning, sound quality is about what you'd expect of a cellphone video, but it's still good):



Cheers as well to the plaid flannel.

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Bells of Dublin again! I can't seem to find a video of this version, but here's one featuring an ACTUAL BOAR'S HEAD (or reasonable facsimile thereof):



Mainly Norfolk says:

The ancient ceremony of the Boar's Head Carol was performed for many years on Christmas Eve at Queen's College, Oxford, but now on a Saturday shortly before Christmas, when old members are entertained at a “gaudy”. The College Choir processes into the Hall during the refrains, stopping each time when a verse is sung. When the boar's head is set down on the high table, the Provost distributes the herbs among the choir and presents the solo singer with the orange from the boar's mouth.

Does it not just seem like a very Oxford carol? Mainly Norfolk also quotes John Kirkpatrick thus: "Interesting fact: Songs like this which combine workaday English and scholarly Latin are called “macaronic”. Blessed are the pasta makers!"

Sang this in choir last year - the men did the verses and we all chimed in on the chorus. Great harmony parts.

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Now we go secular again! This one is great fun to sing - in fact I suggested it for our choir this year because I like singing along to this version so much. (And we're singing it twice - once on its own, and once in a Vaughan Williams medley.)

We've already heard from Loreena McKennitt with Emmanuel, and we've had another type of door-to-door carol with the Old Waits Carol. Apparently wassailing is done by farm labourers while waits were night watchmen.



A couple of tidbits: this is roughly 18th-century, and in at least one written version the names of the horses & cows were left blank so singers could fill in the appropriate names for where they were.

Many kind people have written more than I can possibly quote about wassailing:

Sorry, that's a terrible cop-out, but it's late on Sunday night. (And yet as I write this, I'm watching A Victorian Farm Christmas and they are singing this very song. Thank you TVO for tying this whole evening together for me!)

Your very good health. Waes hail!

*Mumming isn't limited to England either: Newfoundland mummers

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Here's another entry from The Bells of Dublin. I believe this is the first time so far we've repeated an album; I warn you now that it won't be the last.

I loved Thelma & Louise when it came out. (Still do.) I saw it a bunch of times in theatres and bought the soundtrack. The song I liked best was Marianne Faithfull's Ballad of Lucy Jordan, which I wrote out and memorized. I'd never come across her before (of course I was 17, there were lots of things I'd never come across before). Later, in university, I bought Faithfull: A Collection, which is a fantastic compilation and also has excellent liner notes (I slightly regret mainly moving over to iTunes for my music purchases, because I love liner notes, and not all artists make them available online).

If you listen to Faithfull: A Collection, what's perhaps most striking is the contrast between most of the songs on the album and the last track, As Tears Go By, released when she was 17. Her voice is so clear, almost carefree, compared to the magnificent wrecked growl it became. What a life the woman has had, and good on her for surviving Mick Jagger and a struggle with drug abuse.

Anyway, here she is with the Chieftains, in great form.



She collaborated with them again on their Long Black Veil, singing Love is Teasin' (which, incidentally, has the same tune and some of the same lyrics as The Butcher Boy, which Kirsty MacColl sang for the audiobook version of Patrick McCabe's novel of the same name).

Wikipedia points out that the tune is a variant of "Greensleeves"/What Child Is This. I NEVER NOTICED THIS BEFORE, and this version doesn't play it up. But I kinda see it. Not quite as strong a family resemblance as some. We sing this (surprise!) for choir.

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Everybody's heard of Great Big Sea, right? Legendary Newfoundland band, they've been around for 20 years, Alan Doyle was in that terrible Robin Hood movie with his buddy Russell Crowe, I don't need to introduce them, right? Good. I'm fond of them.

For videos today, we have the option of good sound quality with boring album cover visuals, but I think instead we'll go with crappier sound quality and a live show:



You could call this a standard. I have versions by the McGarrigles, Maddy Prior and June Tabor, and Loreena McKennitt (as the Seven Rejoices of Mary), and there are many more. I've sung it in choir as well, although my fave version probably remains the one my choir director and two friends did (with bodhran) - heavily based on this version, but with women instead of men.

Mainly Norfolk doesn't have a lot to say about it:

June Tabor and Maddy Prior sang this English Christmas traditional in 1976 on their album Silly Sisters. The album's sleeve notes commented:

Learned from Vic Legge of Bodmin. Arrangement by John Gillaspie, folklorist of this parish, who informs us that verse six is an interpolation from the Seven Dolours of Mary.

(Incidentally, I came across a used copy of Silly Sisters for cheap quite by accident two years ago in Montreal. It's great.)

I love all the versions. I confess I partly used GBS's version to get a little more male-female balance onto this mix, but it's also a really striking arrangement, and again, harmony vocals!

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No link again today, sorry.

On the mix I made, today's entry is "Christmas Trilogy" by Finest Kind. I had never heard of this group until I went to Newfoundland this summer; my friend Esther had bought their CD For Honour And For Gain, which is full of splendid stuff, including John Barleycorn Deconstructed which I heartily recommend to anyone who likes singing harmony.

However! "Christmas Trilogy" isn't on Grooveshark (I am afraid of their TOS, as I explained on Day 5), nor does it appear to exist anywhere on the Internet in audio or video form. (Although I did find this excellent post featuring another good Christmas playlist while looking for it, so all is not lost.)

So today we are having a fill-in song: "Goodnight Persephone" by Alejandra Ribera. Fittingly, or at least symmetrically, the ONLY place this seems to exist is on YouTube. I wish she would put out another CD! Or put this out as a single!



Once again, CBC gets the credit for introducing me to this incredible performer. Her voice is so distinctive and powerful; I can't immediately think of another singer quite like her. I'm pretty sure she sang this at Sounds of the Season last year. It's not strictly a Christmas song, but it is a winter song. I hope you like it.

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Another day, another confession. Until this time last year, I had never seen A Charlie Brown Christmas. No, it's true! (I have many pop-cultural blind spots.)

Then my choir sang a version of Christmastime Is Here and, after some rough spots at first, I discovered it was good. Then the movie came on TV and I watched it and, as you might expect, loved it. Here's a video of the relevant part (spoiler warning in case anyone else is as out of it as I am):



It's just heartwarming, dammit. *sniffle*

Apparently the words are Methodist (by Charles Wesley, 1739) and the tune is adapted from Mendelssohn (1840ish). I wonder if they sang it in the intervening 101 years, and if so, to what?

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I have a confession to make: I am a bad Canadian and have not yet fully embraced Sarah Slean. On the other hand, some of her stuff is just incredible and it's possible I just haven't spent enough time exploring her repertoire. (I adore So Many Miles. I'm pretty sure Fresh Air played it to me; they're very good at slipping songs under my radar before I'm fully awake.)

I just realized something: I think Andy Barrie is to blame for putting me off. He called her "just delicious" once, which creeped me out. A one-off thing; most of the time he was perfectly uncreepy. Sorry Sarah!

I'm still a bit on the fence with this track, but it's growing on me; I kinda like the doom-laden sound and the fuzzy guitar. Also, I am ever a sucker for harmony vocals, so that helps. A live, piano-and-vocals-only version:



I'm quite impressed that the tune has stuck around for 400 years. Of course, it is lovely.

So, we're a week in! Anyone have any predictions? Complaints? Suggestions for next year?

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Now we move into a somewhat more rollicking mood. I've always liked the sing-along, call-and-response feel of this song. Thanks go out to my friend Shannon, who put it on a Christmas mix some years back and reminded me of its existence.



Also, I prefer Bruce Cockburn's rendition of "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" to that of the Barenaked Ladies. THERE, I SAID IT.

There are a couple of interesting notes on the song at the bottom of this page. Apparently it hails from St. Helena. Cool...

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