‘Tis the season for merriment and covers of great Christmas songs from centuries past. *Today I learned: Joy to the World was first published in 1719. We all have our favourites, and in the spirit of sharing, here are some recent gems (in no particular order) for you to belt out after one cup of eggnog too many.
1. Coldplay – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. You know what I love about this song? The quiet, understated mix of piano and Chris Martin’s English accent. So very quaint. Did I mention this is my favourite Christmas tune? Weird coincidence it's first. 2. Amy Winehouse – I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. Oh that voice, still haunting us from the great beyond. Amy brings her signature jazz flare, dropping notes high and low, and conjures up a swanky Speakeasy decked out in evergreens and twinkle lights.
3. First Aid Kit – Blue Christmas. Stripped down to the bare bones of vocals and acoustic guitar/keyboard, this adorable sister duo puts a folksy spin on the holiday classic. Their harmonizing is off the charts too – go ahead, grab a friend and try it yourself. 4. Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone - Baby It's Cold Outside. It's hard to redo a classic done so well as this one; you gotta love the Bing Crosby/Doris Day or Johnny Mercer/Margaret Whiting versions. But Zooey and Leon pull it off, retaining that feel for 1950s courtship while making it memorable with their contrasting vocals.
5. Florence + the Machine – Last Christmas. Oh, Flo. Calling upon her much loved harp and guitar, Florence and the gang bring us a classic that feels very fresh. Her powerful vocals beautifully match the plinking of each harp chord and make you feel those previously overlooked lyrics. "I'll give it [her heart] to someone special..." *Note: Excessive drinking and this song should be done with caution.
6. Weezer - We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Released in 2008, Weezer's "Christmas with Weezer" album packs traditional holiday carols with a punch. This particular song rocks with the electric guitar, really emphasizing the "we [abso-f@#$%*#$-lutely] wish you a merry Christmas" so many of us wish we could write in our Christmas cards.
7. My Morning Jacket - Silent Night. With a departure into the soft and soulful, My Morning Jacket delivers a gorgeous Silent Night that is reminiscent of Mr. Neil Young. Really, just a beautiful rendition.
8. Jack Black and Jason Segel – Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy. A College Humor Christmas classic? Yep.Initially released asa spoof on Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s version, this Jack & Jason Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy actually, seriously rocks. I already knew Jack could sing, but Jason is a recent emergence in the actor-singer universe. Together with some animation, a serious drum beat and electric guitar, these dudes bring some spice to the season.
9. Bright Eyes - White Christmas. Take it down a notch with Bright Eyes and their peaceful, snuggle-up-in-a-snuggy cover of White Christmas. Alternatively, it would make a great song to watch snowflakes fall with. 10. The Eurhythmics – Winter Wonderland. Okay fine, this one isn’t a recent discovery, but it’s just so good I couldn’t not put it on here. So pull on your neon patched ‘80s winter coat and take that GT sno -racer for a spin to this holiday treasure.
So there you have it - some (potentially) new songs for your holiday track. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Holidays!
Chet Atkins is no longer the household name he was in the 1960s, when he was all over TV and radio with his guitar. But every year, the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society packs a Nashville hotel. This year's gathering was the 27th.
"I saw the list of countries this year, and it's like New Zealand, Japan, Poland," says Pat Kirtley. "And the common bond is the music of Chet Atkins."
Kirtley has performed at Chet Atkins Days for 22 years. He's a veteran finger-style guitarist who attributes the very possibility of his career to Atkins.
"Chet made it OK to be a solo guitar player," he says. "It's not that there weren't solo guitar players before him — but there weren't that many. Chet took solo guitar to everybody."
Even to this day, young devotees are embracing Atkins' style. Ben Hall, a 22-year-old from Okolona, Miss., showcased at this year's convention. Hall uses the tricky right-hand technique that Atkins adopted from Kentuckian Merle Travis and refined in the 1940s and '50s.
"It revolves around a bass note," Hall says. "The fingers ... Merle used one, Chet thought Merle was using two. So he used two and three and sometimes a handful of fingers. They play the melody. And there's famous stories of so many great guitar players along the way who play other styles listening to this and saying, 'I had no idea that's one instrument.' "
Atkins made his first solo recordings in the mid-1940s, but it would take him until 1955 to land his first hit, "Mr. Sandman." He was 31 by then, and more than a decade into his professional career. Born in the Appalachian town of Luttrell, Tenn., he'd acquired a hard-to-play Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar when he was about 10 years old.
Chet Atkins performs on the Grand Ole Opry in 1956.
Inspired by Travis and jazz guitarists George Barnes and Django Reinhardt, Atkins practiced obsessively in high school and then sought work. Carolyn Tate, chief curator of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exhibition, says it was a struggle at first.
"He knocked around on the radio circuit for a good long while," Tate says. "Your radio popularity in those days was based on the number of cards and letters that you got in. And he was just so shy, nobody was writing in for him — and so when times got tough, they would get rid of Chet."
Then, a connection with one of the seminal early country-music groups changed everything. Atkins began backing up The Carter Family (then known as The Carter Sisters) at the end of the 1940s. When the Carters were asked to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1950, Atkins came with them and quickly established himself in Nashville's new recording scene. He backed Hank Williams in "Cold, Cold Heart" and Elvis in "Heartbreak Hotel." And on records like Jazz from the Hills in 1952, Atkins and his fellow Music Row pickers breached the limits of country sessions and swung with the best of them.
"He'd launch into some kind of brand-new jazz style of playing or something that nobody had ever heard before, all because of all the things that had entered his head up to that point," Hall says.
Hall says Atkins was open to all the great music of his era, and cites a letter Atkins wrote to his sister from New York City.
"He said, 'I've heard some great music since I've been here. I even heard a guy named Art Tatum — you know, the fellow who plays such fine piano.' That tells you all you need to know about how curious Chet's ears were," Hall says.
Atkins would bring the city to the hills and the hills to the city for the rest of his career. As a recording artist, he made nearly 90 studio albums and released more than 100 singles, featuring intricate arrangements of everything from old fiddle tunes to calypso music to Beatles covers.
Atkins also enjoyed a long, influential career as a music executive. As head of RCA Records in Nashville, he became one of the architects of the so-called Nashville Sound. That fusion of country with string-laden pop rankled some traditional music fans, but it opened up new markets and helped Music City thrive in the 1960s.
Atkins performs on The Johnny Cash Show in 1970, with a poetic introduction from Cash himself.
Tate, the Hall of Fame curator, says the exhibition aims to tell those stories, while also letting visitors glimpse the private Chet Atkins.
"Folks that knew him and went to the house spoke of him being the consummate tinkerer," Tate says. "There were very few of his guitars he hasn't put a drill to or a saw to or put a big hole in it, or just made it his own."
The museum reconstructed Atkins' home workbench and filled it with the voltage testers, vacuum tubes and other things that were on it when he died in 2001. Country star Steve Wariner, a longtime Atkins friend and protege, says it's the perfect unifying symbol.
"I had goose bumps," Wariner says. "It's exactly the way it looked at his house when you walked into his control room."
Wariner recalls bringing over an electrified classical guitar whose bridge had become separated in a hot car. He'd hoped for advice about where to get it fixed.
"And he lays it up on his workbench, loosens the strings and pulls them apart. And he reaches over, and he's grabbing tools," Wariner says. "He takes the bridge off it, and I'm like, 'Oh my god, he took my bridge off.' And he says, 'Just leave it with me.' So Chet fixed it for me. Didn't charge me a penny, of course. And I'm thinking, 'How cool is that? Chet Atkins working on this guitar?' "
Over the last decades of his life, Atkins stepped back from the business and made more time to record and perform — with symphony orchestras, at the White House and at home. When he appeared on Johnny Cash's short-lived variety show in 1970, Cash introduced the legend with a poem he'd written just for the occasion:
The hands of the baker and the candlestick maker Are those of a skillful man. The thread of the tailor, the ropes of the sailor Are tied by knowing hands. The watchmaker's eye, and the light to see by And hands that are calm and sure Make the tiniest springs do the tiniest things And long has the skill endured. It matters not the job you've got As long as you do it well. The things that are made by plans well-laid The test of time will tell. But how can you count or know the amount Of the value of a man? By the melodies played and the beauty made By the touch of Chet Atkins' hands.
Do you like a chicks voice packed with original punch and saturated with folklore style? Prepare your ears to fall madly in love with the sound of Florence and The Machine. I had not heard this band until recently on VH1 and I'm assuming neither did the rest of you. If you did have the listening pleasure, your fortunate and the rest should be envious. After watching and listening to their music video Shake It Out, I immediately searched for more as if I was on a music hunger strike. It didn't take long before I was a full blown Florence junkie. Florence Welch's voice reminds me of Jem mixed with Annie Lennox and an extra angry Sarah McLachlan sprinkled on top. Other band members include Robert Ackroyd, Christopher Lloyd Hayden, Isabella Summers, Tom Monger, and Mark Saunders. These soulful professionals are London natives and recently came onto the mainstream scene in 2007 thanks to the BBC. Their lyrics are bold and edgy without the usual and catchy American phrases. I cannot get enough of her voice that rings fire like the red on her head. Their debut album Lungs was a top-selling album in the U.K. along with their newest album Ceremonials, another must buy. I look forward to many more albums and anticipate great things from these guys. Indie rock gave birth to a romantically dark and beautiful sound...
I’m talking about us, but I guess in a big-picture kind of way I’m really talking about the Stooges, about Raw Power. Actually, throw that shit on if you can, and then brace yourself, because from here on out it’s gonna get a little messy.
If you are who I hope you are, there was a time when you wanted your life to sound like Led Zeppelin, the Stones, or the Ramones. Maybe not so long ago there was a time when, you and me, we really thought we could make that happen.
Of course it never did. Instead we wake up every morning to find ourselves trapped inside episodes of Friends or Frasier or Raymond – whichever makes you yawn first. You’re Joey, I’m Chandler, Phoebe’s holed up in some corner of the Central Perk trying to coax some god-awful avant-garde hippie bullshit out of her six string, and we’re dealing with it. We deal with it every day – the rerun and the routine. We’re network-syndicated laugh-track chowder for mommies and daddies and yuppies and graduates and whatever other Netflix-watching/Wegmans-shopping working stiffs we thought we’d always be able to keep at arm’s length. We thought our self-awareness and our meta-this/meta-that would protect us from all that shit.
But we were wrong.
We thought we would always be able to suspend reality with a careful balance of irony and rock & roll. Again, we were wrong. Like long-time lovers that begin to resemble each other, reality is saturated with irony to the point that it’s getting trickier and trickier to tell the two apart. As for the music, that’s in danger too. Deep down we all know it, even if we can’t quite pin the tail on the problem. Somewhere down the line, rock & roll has downshifted from the threat to the threatened, and it scares the shit out of us.
Or maybe, just maybe – even though nobody asked for our permission – we grew up.
In light of that, I want to confess that I don’t think we believe in anything anymore. I get the feeling that you and I woke up one morning and were surprised to find we had no opinions or convictions at all, only regurgitated arguments we could conjure at the quick of a dry-heave and bounce off each other if we were forced to do it. One morning we woke up, and, just like that, it was over. There was a time when we had something to say, even if it was stupid or inane or both. Now we’re nothing more than an embarrassing carnival act, a bunch of parrots cut loose in a mirror maze where we’re left to squawk and mimic each other and flap around like a bunch of dummies.
That’s the back way home. My friend got me there in six words:
“Welcome to adulthood. It sucks here.”
That’s the truth of it, clean and simple. Adulthood. It really does suck here. I don’t know what this place is all about, but I can tell you this: they caught us with our pants down, and then they robbed us blind and threw us into this shit-hole. I can’t tell you for certain who nicked what and so forth, but I’m pretty damn confident something went down because I sure as hell know I didn’t waltz in here on my own volition. That thing we’re missing – innocence, ingenuity, immortality or what have you – it’s gone. Long gone. They took it, like a bunch of goddamn thieves in the night. Whatever it was, they’ve got it now, and we’re never getting it back.
Believe me when I say that’s what happened. Believe me when I say that’s how we ended up here instead of wherever we’re spirited away to when we listen to The Stooges, when we listen to Iggy Pop. Believe me when I say we’re pissed off, even if you’ve never taken the reins of an angry thought in your life. Believe that when you dial up the volume on that rock & roll to ten and zero in on where and who you are, right here, right now, in this moment, you’ll find the guts to call out your own life in the most unexpected, rewarding way. Believe that you can call your shot and tell it like is, like you used to back in the old days. Set aside the spineless jellyfish and unleash the street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm. Call your life by name. Raw Power. Own it.
In the 1950s, it was not uncommon for a band to make money off an ancient bit of technology known colloquially as an "album." People bought "albums" in exchange for money that was divided mostly between the store, the label, the distributor, and the band, which included not only the artists, but also producers and lawyers.
In the following 60 years, music hasn't died, but the old business model quite nearly did. People still buy solid, non-digital albums. Millions of people, in fact. In fact, vinyl sales are projected to hit 3.6 million in 2011, more than 10-times the figure from 1993.
But the vast majority of music we listen to comes out of the Internet, where most of it is free. How are bands supposed to make money off of clouds and $0.99 files? This extremely cool chart from the folks at Information Is Beautiful, based on a post at The Cynical Musician on digital royalties, explains:
It must have been 2:00 AM last night when I started rummaging through my parents’ basement—the place I like to call my post-college-can’t-pay-off-my-*&^%ing-student-loans apartment.I was fighting to salvage a record collection entombed somewhere amid piles of useless crap.
I’ll admit, I’d had a few drinks and my search was sloppy; I’d tossed broken Lego’s into a heap on the pool table, Candyland pieces lay thrown across the floor (not quite by accident), and my eyelids had swollen up like Kanye West’s ego from some kind of dusty Chinese wool frock my mom bought about eight years ago and whose purpose for being kept I’m still trying to decipher.
But I didn’t let my determination wane and it turned out the frustration was well worth the payoff when I finally unearthed those old stacks.Dylan, Moody Blues, The Beatles, The Byrds, all the greats were in there, and between my sheer joy and the one too-many Ranger IPA’s I’d downed earlier at the bar I nearly fell over with excitement.
Though, I could understand if you aren’t especially surprised by the titles I found; they’re fairly suspect names to almost any baby-boomer record collection out there. If you or your parents are older than fifty you probably already know this collection and have heard most of it.
Myself—I’ve had most of the albums that I found in my parents’ basement in digital form on an external hard-drive for several years now.We all know the drill: grab your portable device and head to your friends house to siphon an entire discography of your favorite band off his or her iTunes in thirty minutes or less.Whether we like to admit it or not, we’ve all worn the eye patch and captained the pirate ship at one time or another.After all, why not save time and money while getting access to thousands of free tracks?
But sometimes we need to remind ourselves to return to those metaphorical backroads, those scenic routes where badass album art and fuzzy analog tones stand roadside with hiked-up skirts, thumbs out, and cardboard signs in hand reading “Take me home, baby, Take me home!”Sometimes you can’t get to the destination without making the journey, right?
I’m talking about the beauty of spinning vinyl, a medium that isn’t just great for nostalgic effect, but is a quintessential element of being a true music collector.Here are a few reasons why the extra work it may take to find and play vinyl is worth the effort:
1.True Blue Sound:
By definition original sound is analog.For example, when a musician is recording a guitar track the sounds being made before they pass into the microphone are analog.However CD’s and MP3’s are digitized versions of these sounds.
Digital recordings like CD’s take snapshots of an analog sound wave around 45,000 times per second in order to catch the closest replication of the real sound as possible.But what happens to the sound in between each snapshot?It doesn’t get recorded, meaning the whole sound wave isn’t captured.
With records this isn’t an issue because the sounds are physically mimicked within the grooves in the vinyl—picture it as a sound wave’s fingerprint.Vinyl achieves exact replications of the sound wave, thereby recording it without losing any information.That makes for a much truer listening experience.
2.Hear whole albums the way the artist intended:
It’s easy to hop online and pinpoint any song you could ever want to hear.This is one of the great benefits of that cool technology we have at our fingertips.But if you’re like me, sometimes when you’re listening to your iPod you get antsy and switch songs halfway through, or change artists in the middle of an album.
Sometimes we’re trying to get to work or rushing to the grocery store and we don’t have time to listen to a whole album all the way through so we skip to the songs we know we want to hear.
But songs are like ingredients in a sandwich; they taste great on their own, but they taste even better when put together.An album as an entity is just as important as the individual songs that it compiles.After all, the artist takes some serious time to choose which songs go on the album and in which order they appear.
Often times the songs are meant to cohere into a unified theme—any Pink Floyd album can serve as a classic example.We still see this in current music as well—Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky is a good example with its recurring lyrical and melodic themes.
A benefit of vinyl is that when we send it spinning we’re devoting ourselves to taking time to sit down and really listen. Obviously record players aren’t portable (though it would be badass if they were), and that means anchoring down for a bit.And because it’s much harder to jump to specific songs on vinyl than with a digital device, it’s easier just to play straight through an album.The result is a more comprehensive approach to hearing the artist’s project and message as a whole.
3.Experience the record, well, experience:
There’s something to be said for spending a little time in a record store.One can stumble across all sorts of goodies they never knew existed.Such is the beauty of being physically surrounded by music; you’ve really gotta’ sift when looking for an album and you might come across some really cool new stuff.
Not to say that couldn’t happen on the internet, but online search engines make it much easier to cut out the search all together.It’s convenient, but it can sometimes be a bit depriving.
For example, a lot of times online searches eliminate the fun of digging through amazing album artwork.Some of the most iconic images in pop culture have been found on album covers. Like Velvet Underground and Nico’s self titled album, which features the work of Andy Warhol. And who can forgetSgt. Peppers or Dark Side of the Moon?Chances are if you really love music you know at least one of these images.
If you’re interested in finding current album art that will blow your socks off, I’d recommend heading for the record store for a copy of Wilco’s new album The Whole Love.And you might find some others you’ll like as well. Plus, this Friday will be a great day to check out new releases at the store because it’s National Record Store Day’s “Back to Black” Friday.Iron and Wine will be releasing exclusive vinyl versions of live shows, Red Hot Chili Peppers will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Blood Sugar Sex Magik by releasing a limited edition double-disk red vinyl, and other artists like the Black Keys, Warren Haynes, and the Beatles will be taking part will special releases as well.
Laura Marling is an up and coming folk artist from England. Much like myself, she was born to a musical father and learned to play guitar at a young age. Marling has been performing since the ripe age of 16 and released her sophomore album, I Speak Because I Can, in March of 2010 at age 20.
One day, I was in my living room watching TV. We don’t have cable or anything, we have an antenna so we only get the local channels. Channel 3-2 is a music channel that I happen to watch a lot. All of a sudden, the sound of an acoustic guitar caught my attention. So, I watched.
The song playing was called Devil’s Spoke, and it was the first song I’d ever heard by Laura Marling. It was folky, but still intense. I noticed that Marling had the most interesting voice. It was a heavenly mixture of Alanis Morisette and Florence Welch. I couldn’t help but listen, not that I didn’t want to.
I got curious. So I whipped out my laptop, brought up Google, and downloaded all of her albums. I first listened to I Speak Because I Can since that was the album Devil’s Spokewas on. And let me tell you, it was the best decision I’ve made in weeks.
Where Devil’s Spoke was fiery and intense, Made by Maid was calming, much like a lullaby. This goes for a lot of the songs on this album. They’ll be soft and calming and then they’ll build up to a somewhat intense ending.
Alpha Shadows is quickly becoming one of my favorite songs. The strumming and plucking patterns of the guitar gave it a Latin/Italian flair. It also builds and falls repeatedly, so you’re never sure when it will end. The lyrics are intense. “…the gray in this city is too much to bear and I believe we are meant to be seen and not to be understood.”
Another favorite of mine is the title track, I Speak Because I Can. This song takes the best elements of this album and blends them into one perfect ending. It truly embodies everything this album is. It’s mature, intense, and calm all at the same time.
This album is full of passion and lyrics so mature and obscure that they need to be decoded. It’s full of emotional, winter-like lullabies. 5 out of 5 stars.
Music. Don’t you wonder who the first person to ever start singing was? What came over him? And how long did it take before his caveman buddies impaled him with spears, then cooked him over an open flame? Nevertheless, creating music is inspired work, something I always wished I could do. The beginning, middle, and end of my music career was the night I pulled up a barstool next to a couple of singer/songwriters, picked up a guitar, and pretended to strum along to an Allman Brothers song. The gig was up when they turned to me to play them out, and I promptly dropped the 6 string and headed for the door.
I’ve learned that creative outlets can cohabitate. Some of my most meaningful musings have been the byproduct of a John Denver refrain or the background score from an obscure film.
Songs can be our true sixth sense. They move us to act, and transcend our instincts. I hope you enjoy some of the work that has influenced me, for better or worse, and the stories behind them.
Song that stemmed a screenplay- Down In A Hole by Alice in Chains: One day, this story will play itself out on film. David Allen’s uncertain and self-conscience walk to his car will be scored to Layne Stayley’s 90′s admission of pain and deterioration. I can’t wait. Ryan Adams performs a hell of a cover to this one as well.
Song that makes me want to quit writing- Leave Me For Dead by Austin Collins: Musical purists will say that no one writes anything worth it’s weight in song paper anymore, but for every Imagine, there is a I Love You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. Collins’ stuff has always haunted me. This one, though, is wrought with poetry, and breeds common ground in an otherwise classified club. He seems to get us. “Poured into a pool of pain and pushed into the cries, again”. Christ. Why do I even try?
Song I wish I could sing as if no one had ever heard it before- Black by Pearl Jam: I’ll never forget watching Letterman one night in high school, and in the middle of his monologue, Eddie Vedder came down the isle unannounced, and joined up with Paul and the band for the “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life” part. There is a lot of crap from the nineties, I’ll be the first one to admit. But a few gems did emerge, and Black is one for sure.
Song to get the girl- La Cienega Just Smiled by Ryan Adams: Although an asshole, Adams is gifted. His albums are as unpredictable as my checking account balance, yet there are few like him, if any. I first heard this one while a closeted Felicity fan. Hey, it worked for Ben Covington, it might work for you too.
Best song about divorce- Changing My Mind by Bob Schneider featuring Patty Griffin: Nothing good comes from divorce, except this heartbreaker. As soon as I heard the flawless harmonics from Griffin, I was in. Schneider is at his vocal best starting at 2:42, and Patty does the rest. Awesome stuff, although I still haven’t figured out why he added the part at the end about the werewolf??
Song that brings me out of writer’s block- Reprise by Marcelo Zarvos from The Door In The Floor soundtrack: I’m a sucker for a good overture, and this one is stellar. The film is amazing, one of Jeff Bridges best. Watching him run from a crazed mistress throughout the Hamptons as the violins awaken will arrest you with irony. It’s sad, and that’s good, because there’s opportunity for redemption. Mine is best expressed while writing.
Song best suited for drawing attention to yourself- Goodbye To Love by The Carpenters: Next time you find yourself in the inevitable “greatest guitar solo of all-time” debate, throw in Steven Rubio’s wicked fuzz guitar riffs from this 70′s beauty. I won’t lie, you’ll be all alone, but there will be interest, so arm yourself with some history. The Carpenters had a lot of fans, and they didn’t appreciate it when the sibling duo added this feature to their antiseptic persona, which is why it’s so good. There’s one in the middle and the end, so give it the full run.
I look forward to some healthy debate, and hopefully some inspiring suggestions. It all comes down to what moves you, I guess. It took me over thirty years to find a passion, and it never would have happened without the creativity of strangers. You never know how the expressions of another could change you forever.
“Drop the act of getting by, and pray for shiny things” – Austin Collins