Monday, December 13, 2010

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Okay, honesty check: it’s been…a while…since I’ve written anything. 

Thankfully, I have a plethora of previous writings to pull from so that the site keeps getting updated. I was trekking along there at a nice little writing clip for a while, and then…poof. Well, more like “pow” than “poof;” I think it’s just been the combination of emotional turmoil in my mind and heart that’s kept me from really finding enough internal peace to be able to write. I’m trying to break through this, but it’s not easy.

Also, I feel so incredibly UN-festive this holiday season that we might as well be walking around buying gifts to celebrate Columbus Day.  I feel neither holly nor jolly. And this, as much as my writer’s block Great Wall of China, needs to change.

Enter the iPod.

So, to help try and get myself into something relatively approximating the feelings one is supposed to have at this time of celebrating the birth of Christ, the joy of being surrounded by friends and family, and the stress of being surrounded by friends and family (can’t have one without the other) – here for your reading enjoyment are some suggestions for not only quality holiday music, but also suggestions to download to use to drown out the noise of said family and friends.

The albums listed here are in alphabetical order, not in order of preference. And good luck hunting down some of these albums. Some are what we like to call “collector’s items.”

Bethlehem Skyline, Volume I: Okay, I’m man enough to admit that I bought this album (a) because it was on sale AFTER Christmas last year, and (b) because one of the bands on here is called Circleslide. However, I have come to love two tracks on this album in particular: “How Many Kings” by Downhere, which I find myself listening to year-round, and the ONLY cover of “Mary, Did You Know?” (by Jason Gray) that I can stomach.

The Broken Christmas: Adam Again. Ojo. 4-4-1. If the names of these bands mean anything to you, man – are YOU old, and a bit of a CCM geek. Yes, some of the songs on here are so dated in their versions that they’re painful to listen to, but so many of the songs are so hauntingly dark and beautiful that they reflect the bleakness of the season coupled with the promise it holds better and more poignantly than any other Christmas album ever has or ever will again. Released in 1988, it’s VERY hard to find, but well worth the price.

Celtic Christmas I and II: I have no clue why I bought these, but man, am I glad that I did. They’ve become my default albums to listen to around the house as I need to have something playing that is comforting, soothing, and relaxing.

Christmas (Various Artists): “Winter Wonderland,” as performed by a mariachi band and sung by Steve Taylor, HAS to be listened to in order to be believed. Another gem from 1988, this was released to highlight the artists on Sparrow Records at the time. White Heart’s “Little Drummer Boy” has the singular distinction of sounding timeless (in the arrangement), inspiring (with Rik Florian’s vocal range), and oh-so-80’s (with the choice of the keyboard and drum machine). This has since been re-released, so you might be able to download a few tracks.

City on a Hill: It’s Christmas Time: This is kind of a mixed bag – if you like modern Christian artists (Jars of Clay; Caedmon’s Call; Sara Groves), you’ll love 99% of this album. For me, the duet of Michael Tait and Leigh Nash singing “O Holy Night” – my favorite Christmas carol, BTW – makes the CD. Two VERY powerful vocalists who gave a very reserved performance on this track.

The Darkest Night of the Year: The first Christmas album that Over the Rhine put out. OtR, for those of you keeping score at home, is probably my favorite band still touring (yes, surpassing even U2). Get. This. Album. You will thank me. It’s the perfect album to listen to in the background, as you have a glass of wine and watch the snow falling outside. And for some reason, it always makes me tear up a little with how quietly majestic the songs are, reflecting the bleak midwinter coupled with promise.

Noel: In 1995, what could have been better than an album featuring The Choir, Riki Michelle, Michael Pritzl (of The Violet Burning), and Buddy & Julie Miller? Nothing. That’s why I bought it. In 2010, what could be better than me smiling at the lineup of artists on this CD and remembering that they served as tether for me to stay true to my faith even when I was not? Nothing. That’s why I’ve kept it. The covers of the Christmas tunes on here tend to skew towards more traditional arrangements, and sometimes, that's just what you may need.

Snow Angel: As Darkest Night was reflective of the musical style of OtR when it was released, so Snow Angel is of the “modern” music of Over the Rhine. …which basically means it’s a cleaner, better-recorded album, with a strong folk music influence. And I will always listen to “White Horse” and remember standing outside in the freezing cold with Ashley while we waited to get in for me to see OtR for the first time in concert when we traveled to KY to go see them while we were dating.

Wintersong: It’s Sarah McLachlan. It’s wonderful. It’s amazing. It’s something you need to own.

So – what do YOU enjoy listening to during this season? Are there any albums or songs that make you think, “Hey – this is Christmastime.” 

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