Thursday, November 30, 2006

Christmastime is Here Again!

I'm back from a ridiculously long hiatus. Sorry about that--lots of stuff going on. Anyway, it's the holiday season again, and I've been wrapped up in my annual Great Christmas Music Buying Binge, iTunes doing a wonderful job enabling me by recommending new holiday albums every day. (Curse you, iTunes!)

I'm happy to report, however, that I've easily resisted the temptation to purchase Twisted Sister's "Twisted Christmas" album, despite iTunes' hawking it in front of me at every turn, mainly because I love holiday classics and don't think they need to be augmented by a screaming guitar riff and barnstorming metalhead vocals. But any Twisted fans out there ... knock yourselves out.

Last year, I posted a list of my favorite holiday tunes, augmented by a selection from my brother Tom, the family Christmas music connoisseur. This year, I thought I'd share some of my newest Christmas discoveries:

"The Little Drummer Boy," Mercy Me. I confess, I'm a Christmas sap, and "The Little Drummer Boy" always, and I mean always reduces me to a sodden, tissue-clutching mess. Every year, I avoid this song like nobody's business, not wanting to get caught doing the Ugly Cry in front of the makeup counter lady at Saks or at fellow passengers inside random elevators. ("He SMILED at him! *sniff* After he played his little drum! How great is THAT?" *SOB!*) But the song always manages to sneak up on me.

This year, my husband discovered this slightly rock-tinged "Little Drummer Boy" by Christian band Mercy Me, who managed to inject even MORE cheese into the familiar tune by belting out that bit about "shall I play for you?" at full voice, bringing it down for a soft, "Then he smiled at me." at the end. I'm tearing up even as I type this--which means you can point and laugh now. I'm used to it.

Gabriel's Message, Sting. Longtime readers know about my obsession with Sting. I am not so much over the moon about the man because of his looks--it's just the voice. Oh, that voice. How many times did I rewind Tivo when Sting was on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" playing "Fields of Gold" on the lute? Too many times, that's how many.

Anyway, "Gabriel's Message." Sting takes this not-too-familiar carol and puts it into four-part madrigal style, somehow managing to flavor it with a hint of old-school Police edginess that often goes missing from his later work. My new Favorite! Carol! EVAH!

Carol of the Bells, Moya Brennan. Clannad singer Moya used to be known as Maire Brennan until she apparently tired of slack-jawed yokels with no knowledge of gaelic spelling/pronunciation (like, oh, ME), screwing up her name. She just came out with a brand-new Christmas album this year, and it's so gorgeous, I can hardly stand myself. Her Clannad-styled Carol of the Bells is my favorite, but I adore the whole album with the white-hot fiery passion of a thousand Christmas lights.

Sou Gan, the Night Heron Consort. I discovered the Night Heron Consort while on a visit to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, VA, a few years ago. It was the Christmas season, and the Monticello gift shop suckered me in by playing a NHC CD as I ducked through. NHC is a little-known, pared-down Celtic group, and their Celtic Celebration 1 CD remains my all-time favorite Christmas CD of all time. So this year, I bought Celtic Celebration 2, which features more simple, elegant celtic arrangements of familiar carols and Celtic classics. "Sou Gan," from number 2, is an old Welsh lullaby. But the CD features plenty of well-known fare, including a lovely version of "The First Noel."

The Coventry Carol, Mediaeval Baebes. Generally, the Mediaeval Baebes annoy me, not in small part because of their insistence hawking their baebe-ishness to sell albums instead of their musical talent. But this haunting a capella version of one of my favorite carols redeemed them for me. The only thing that keeps this one from being perfect are the random trilled Rs, i.e
"Herod the king, in his rrrrrrrraging...."

Song for a Winter's Night, by Sarah McLachlan. If you're prone to the holiday blues, you might want to stay away from McLachlan's new "Wintersong" album, which is infused with so much of her trademark melancholy, you may just want to throw yourself under a Toys for Tots van after listening to the whole thing. Her cover of Joni Mitchell's "River," while lovely, is pretty much the musical equivalent of having an icy wet blanket dropped on your holiday-spirit-filled head. But I'll always have a soft spot for "Song for a Winter's Night," which does a fab job of conjuring up the feeling of being cozy in a warm house by a fire while it's snowing like mad outside.

"Do They Know It's Christmas?" Band-Aid. Another year has gone by, and time has not diminished my mortifying love for this craptacular song. Just as a reminder, here's what I said about it last year, which, sadly, still applies:

It's pedestrian, politically incorrect, and factually incorrect as well (seeing as the freaking NILE flows through Ethiopia, thereby making the lyric "no rain nor river flows" wrong). Also, seeing as Christianity is one of the two main religions of the country, of course they knew it was Christmas. A more appropriate title might have been "Do They Give a Rat's Ass That It's Christmas, Because There's a FAMINE Going On?" And the whole manner of referring to the people of Ethiopia as "them" and "the other one" always felt weirdly condescending to me.

But somehow, some way, I manage to ignore all of this whenever that blasted song comes on the radio, and I start belting out "FEEEEEEEED THE WOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRLD!!" along with Duran Duran, Boy George, George Michael, Phil Collins, et al. There it is--I love this song. I. Love. This. Horrible. Song. It puts me in a Christmas-y mood every year.

I'm so ashamed.

Any good holiday music recommendations? (Not like I need any more holiday music, but I thought I'd ask....)

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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