For many people, the Christmas holidays are a time to pull out scads of holiday albums and crank up those old, familiar Christmas songs on the player. For others of us, it’s a time to avoid stores and malls precisely because those old familiar songs remind us of times and people that are no longer with us. I confess I fall into the latter category; Christmas music is too often a painful reminder of snowy Christmases with my late mother at the piano.
But in my new life as a music blogger, I can’t avoid holiday music forever – and so I’ve jumped straight in, and found four projects that highlight the best that Christmas music can be. Whether you’re a holiday music junkie or an avoider like me, give these a try – I think you’ll be glad you did. I certainly am.
The O’Pears, “Quiet Now”
Toronto-based contemporary folk trio The O’Pears (Lydia Persaud, Jill Harris, and Meg Contini) have released a gorgeous holiday single, “Quiet Now.” Even if you have a strong holiday aversion as I do, give this beautiful song a chance… the group’s harmonies against lovely orchestration will win you over, I promise.
For those of you in the GTA, hopefully this song whets your appetite for more – and you’ll have the opportunity to hear the trio live. They appear at Toronto’s Burdock on 2 December, and in Guelph on 19 December at the Yuletide Show with The Lifers at Silence.
Bros, “A Very Bros Christmas, Vol. 1”
Following up from one of our favorite albums of 2016, Bros (brothers Ewan and Shamus Currie, better known as the core of The Sheepdogs) have dropped a Christmas surprise – in hard copy, a 7″ special vinyl release that came out last Friday as part of Record Store Black Friday in Canada. Thankfully for those who couldn’t score that, the songs are also available on streaming platforms.
“It’s Christmas Day” is a gently lilting tune, complete with jingle bells, while “These Things Comfort Me” is more reminiscent of the retro sound for which the Currie brothers are justifiably well known. (In particular, listen for the great bass line – very 1970s!) I could wish for the horn arrangements that made “Bros Vol. 1” so spectacular, but this is a totally grooving and delightful holiday listen all the same.
Tomato Tomato, “Pinecones and Cinnamon”
Want your Christmas music delivered with more than a touch of country rock and a healthy dose of Maritime joy and humor? Then Tomato Tomato’s new album, “Pinecones and Cinnamon,” is exactly the right choice for you. Traditional tunes like “Jingle Bells” (given a fun bluegrass twist) and “Go Tell It on the Mountain” are given a fresh panache, and the opening song “Christmas Keener” is a foot-stomping delight. (And listen for the closer, a medley of “Silent Night” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – think it wouldn’t work? Think again.)
I suspect holiday albums are often a challenge for artists – it can be difficult to make songs we know so well collectively interesting and new, but Tomato Tomato take up the gauntlet wonderfully here. A great album even for Scrooges like me!
Emilie-Claire Barlow, “Lumières d’hiver”
I was thrilled to find a hard copy of this terrific album this past weekend, but I’ve been listening to it online since its release earlier this month. If your tastes run more to jazz, look no further than this holiday collection from uber-talented Canadian jazz chanteuse Emilie-Claire Barlow. The album opens with “Combien de Noël,” a light and fun piece that should have you up and moving in no time.
The whole album is wonderful but some highlights include a lovely rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and a George Shearing-esque version of “Noël blanc” that won me over in about five bars, max. Totally enjoyable.