Archive for the ‘singer/songwriter christmas’ Category

Pax Hominibus Bonae Voluntatis – Noel: Christmas Eve 1913

December 24, 2017

On a long drive home from far western Iowa (four miles from South Dakota) I was listening to the St. Olaf Choir on some Minnesota Public Radio station. I asked Siri if she could name the tune they were singing, and she did!

It was Noel: Christmas Eve 1913. I thought, “hey, that’s a John Denver tune”. Lo and behold, it’s a Robert Bridges poem that the Director Emeritus of St. Olaf’s Choir, Kenneth Jennings put to music years ago (AND it’s a John Denver tune). There isn’t a video of the choir singing this interpretation but I found a site with a player and I’ll link to it in the usual spot below. More on John Denver below as well.

St. Olaf Choir
St. Olaf Bookstore

(Please note Noel: Christmas Eve 1913 by the St. Olaf Choir is only available via the St. Olaf Choir bookstore. The other links above will send you to Christmas music from the choir.)

Composer and orchestrator, Lee Holdridge adapted the Bridges poem and set it to music for John Denver as part of the 1979 ABC TV special, John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. I don’tknow when Jennings wrote his version for choir so no idea who came first. They are related only in they are interpretations of the same poem.

I like them both.

Here is the original Bridges poem:

Noel: Christmas Eve 1913

Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis 

A frosty Christmas Eve
when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone
where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village
in the water’d valley
Distant music reach’d me
peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds
ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above
with stars was spangled o’er.
Then sped my thoughts to keep
that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching
by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields
and marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels
or the bright stars singing.

Now blessed be the tow’rs
that crown England so fair
That stand up strong in prayer
unto God for our souls
Blessed be their founders
(said I) an’ our country folk
Who are ringing for Christ
in the belfries to-night
With arms lifted to clutch
the rattling ropes that race
Into the dark above
and the mad romping din.

But to me heard afar
it was starry music
Angels’ song, comforting
as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderly
to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me
by the riches of time
Mellow’d and transfigured
as I stood on the hill
Heark’ning in the aspect
of th’ eternal silence.

Robert Seymour Bridges
(If the link above does not open, try here.)
 John Denver – Noel: Christmas Eve 1913



Traveling Day (Three Songs Tonight)

December 23, 2017

A few years ago I discovered that December 23rd is the busiest traveling day of the Christmas season. On this day I try to find songs about people coming home or missing those that aren’t. I’m featuring two that fit both categories nicely. And one that is close.

First up is a beautiful tune from Caroline Pennel. If you’re a follower of the TV program, The Voice, you might recognize Pennel as a contestant from season five of the show. Her song tonight is titled This Year and also features vocals from the very talented Aaron Espe who I presented on December 9th of last year.

This Year
“This year I´m coming home instead of staying wishing I was there
This year I´m gonna be there for all”

Next up is I’m Coming Home from Robert Shirey Kelly, a Nashville based singer/songwriter (I’d write more about him but his ‘about’ pages on his website and his facebook page share very little information). The song is excellent nonetheless.

I’m Coming Home
“I guess you could say that I’ve been waiting
Since around the 26th of last December
I’ll be home by Christmas Eve”

Last year was the first Christmas my wife and I spent as empty-nesters. Consequently, I expanded the traveling day theme to include melancholy songs about parents missing their kids. The final song tonight is a cover of Toyland from the band SHEL. If you’re just considering the lyrics of Toyland, then it fits neither category. The accompanying video from SHEL however features a young lady who discovers someone’s long forgotten stuffed toy and then seeks out its owner. Lovely cover and very sweet video.

SHEL by the way is a folk quartet from Fort Collins, CO featuring the sisters Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza. They write, direct and shoot all of their own videos (which is a feat). In 2015 their song, Exactly What You Wish For was featured in a Toys r Us ad. Watch it here (tearjerker alert).


Caroline Pennell – This Year (featuring Aaron Espe)

Robert Shirey Kelly – I’m Coming Home

SHEL – Toyland

How To Make Gravy

December 21, 2017

For years there was no need to go any further than John Prine’s Christmas In Prison to find the best song about Christmas and prison. This year, I found a new one, How To Make Gravy by Paul Kelly — and it’s a sad, tear-jerker of a song.

Being a fan of the singer/songwriter genre, I had heard of Paul Kelly but never really gave his music a listen. He’s an Aussie and has been writing and performing since the mid-70’s.

Kelly has won 14 ARIA Awards (Australia’s Grammy Award) six Country Music Awards of Australia and many others. He was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame alongside the Bee Gees.

In 1996, Kelly was asked to write a song for Australia’s annual Spirit of Christmas album, a compilation record performed by Australian artists and musicians with all proceeds going to the Salvation Army. (A new Spirit of Christmas record has been released every year since 1993. Pretty cool.)

Kelly originally planned on covering Robbie Robertson’s Christmas Must Be Tonight but the song had been recorded for the project two years earlier by another artist.  He decided to write an original instead.

 “I had a rough tune I’d been kicking around with the band at sound check, but was having trouble getting started on the words. Kelly’s inspiration for the lyrics was subsequently drawn from Irving Berlin‘s White Christmas, where “Irving intensifies the feeling of Christmas by not being there.” He advised the record producer, Lindsay Fields, “I have a Christmas song but it doesn’t have a chorus and it’s set in a prison”. Fields was overcome with emotion when he first heard it and convinced the Salvation Army’s selection group to accept it for the collection.”

How To Make Gravy is the result and the song tells the story of a man in prison who is writing a letter to his brother lamenting how much he will be missing his family’s Christmas celebrations.

How To Make Gravy was nominated for Song Of The Year in the Australian Performing Rights Music Awards (APRA) for 1998.

It’s a great tune and my favorite new find of 2017.

Official Website


Paul Kelly – How To Make Gravy


I Am Gonna Make It Through This Year If It Kills Me

December 31, 2016

I always try to close the year with at least one version of Auld Lang Syne. I found a wonderful Andrew Bird version but I bumped it to 2017 (the Lord willing). I bumped Bird because I discovered a brilliant rendition from Hey Rosetta!, the very talented Canadian Band I featured back on December 23.

However, prior to that…The Mountain Goats.
The Mountain Goats is (yes ‘is’ is correct) a band originally made up of one guy, John Darnielle. Since back in 1991 Darnielle has recorded and released hundreds of songs many of which are categorized as “lo-fidelity” recordings (he recorded the songs into a boombox and onto cassettes and released them as is). After developing a cult following, Darnielle was rewarded with a recording contract and eventually formed the band.

In 2005, The Mountain Goats released the album The Sunset Tree, a recording Darnielle penned following the death of his abusive father. Tonight I’m featuring the song This Year from that record. It’s not a happy song but the “I am going to make it through this year if it kills me” seems to fit well as we head into 2017.

And quickly back to Hey Rosetta! (the exclamation point is part of the name btw.) They released a four-song Christmas EP back in 2012 (A Cup of Kindness Yet). The EP features a lovely rendition of Auld Lang Syne titled New Year Song.


lend me a walking stick and i’ll lean on it
and i’ll walk on out through the snowbound yard
past the neighbours on the lawn, drinking last year out
i’ll leave this town, cut the year off clean

cauterized by leaving, sick and tired of living last year

roll out the tarmac and baptize the aircraft ‘escape and loss’
and push me off

the cold can bleach us out and freeze our doubt
so all that you knew becomes muffled and mute

i’m done with this all this standing stiff
when i move my mouth only snow comes out

euthanized by whiteness but i’ll arise, despite this last year

so roll out the tarmac and baptize the aircraft ‘escape and loss’
and push me off

should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?

for auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

And that’s a wrap for 2016. Thanks for following this blog. I hope you’ve discovered a couple of new Christmas tunes for your holiday playlists. Remember you can easily follow and message me via Facebook.  Lord willing, I’ll see you back next year on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday November 23rd). Happy New Year!

The Mountain Goats

Purchase This Year

Purchase Hey Rosettas! New Year Song

This Year – The Mountain Goats

New Year Song – Hey Rosetta!

Eddi Reader’s Take On Baïlèro

December 30, 2016

Chants d’Auvergne (Songs of the Auvergne) is a collection of folk songs from the Auvergne region of France arranged for soprano voice and orchestra or piano by Joseph Canteloube between 1923 and 1930. The songs are in the local language, Occitan. The best known of the songs is the “Baïlèro”, which has been frequently recorded and performed in slight variations of Canteloube’s arrangement, such as for choir or instrumental instead of the original soprano solo. Baïlèro is commonly referred to as The Shepherd’s Song.

Eddi Reader is a singer/songwriter from Scotland. I featured her version of Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve last year. In December of 2006 Reader released the record Peacetime. On it is her take on Baïlèro. In the record’s liner notes Reader says she learned this song as a child and rewrote the lyrics for a Christmas concert where the band of the Coldstream Guards were available to accompany her.

The Shepherd’s Song

snow, a blanket of snow has fallen
and I’m calling for my little lost ones
only in my arms you’ll stay
far from harm’s way

hold each other tight you’ll be alright
I was once a lost one
out abandoned in the snow
but now I know

near, I will appear beside you
when you’re falling, oh my little lost one
and in my loving arms you’ll stay
far from harm’s way

and in my loving arms you’ll stay
far from harm’s way

Whether it’s one of the many takes on the operatic original version, or Reader’s lovely take on The Shepherd’s Song, it’s a song you should have in your Christmas playlist.

Eddi Reader

Purchase The Shepherd’s Song

The Shepherd’s Song Eddi Reader

Dedicated To All The New Empty Nesters Out There

December 24, 2016

My wife and I became empty nesters this year, as did my neighbors and a few people at church. Tonight’s post is for all of the empty nesters however old or young who are missing having their kids around. I’ll feature two songs, Everything’s Changed At Christmas But You and Who Knows Where The Time Goes? It’s gonna be a melancholy Christmas Eve.

Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors are led by the husband/wife team of Drew & Ellie Holcomb. The band formed in 2003 and have released ten records including A Neighborly Christmas in 2007 and Another Neighborly Christmas in 2012. There are but two original songs on both — one is Everything’s Changed At Christmas But You. I’ll let an iTunes reviewer describe it:

OMG, Everything’s Changed at Christmas but You, is the most touching holiday song I have ever heard. It makes me cry every single time. An absolute holiday staple!

“Now the kids are growing old
They’ve got stories of their own
No more hiding presents in the closet
No more waiting up all night
Staring at the firelight
Little footsteps giving way to sight
Where there once were many stockings
Now there’s only two
Everything’s changed at Christmas but you”

Everything’s Changed At Christmas But You should be in your Christmas playlist. 

The second song I’m featuring is Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes. Denny wrote the song in 1967. It was discovered shortly afterwards by Judy Collins who recorded it and released it as the B-side to Both Sides Now in 1968. The song has been covered by dozens of artists including Nina Simone, Nancy Griffith, 10,000 Maniacs,  Kate Rusby, Sinead O’Connor and many more.  I was going to feature Renee Fleming’s wonderful version of it but decided to back to Sandy Denny’s original as it really holds up well.  Denny btw is the female vocalist who teamed up with Robert Plant on The Battle of Evermore on Led Zeppelin’s fourth record. Denny died tragically in 1978 as the result of complications after falling down stairs and hitting her head.

Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors

Purchase Everything’s Changed At Christmas But You

Sandy Denny

Purchase Who Knows Where The Times Goes?

Everything’s Changed At Christmas But You – Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors

Who Knows Where The Time Goes? – Sandy Denny

Unto Us plus 2 from JJ Heller

December 14, 2016

Indie music and radio favorite JJ Heller released her first full length Christmas record in November this year. It’s titled Unto Us. (I featured a Heller Christmas single on December 16th last year.)

She and her husband hail from California and have had several Christian radio hits including Your Hands and What Love Really Means. Heller credits the great Patty Griffin (who wrote and sang the wonderful tune, Mary) as one of her main influences.

Unto Us is mainly an album of covers and like thousands of other artists, i feel she struggles to come up with fresh arrangements. To her credit, at least one of her covers strays from the usual suspects. Count Your Blessings from the movie White Christmas is very well done and may be the best track on the record.

Tonight I’ll feature the two original Heller tunes from Unto Us, the title track, Oh To See Christmas and her cover of Count Your Blessings.

JJ Heller on Facebook

Unto Us

Count Your Blessings

Oh To See Christmas

You May Not Have Heard of Him, But You’ve Probably Heard His Music

December 9, 2016

Aaron Espe is a Minnesota born artist who while not being a household name, has had a prolific career. In addition to his six records, Espe’s music has been featured on several television shows and many ads.
Tom Horton Coffee
Payless Shoes
The University of Minnesota
The documentary Where the Yellowstone Goes
Gray’s Anatomy
Animal Planet
Quite a list (and I’m sure I missed a few).

In 2008, Espe released Christmas Songs a collection of covers of fairly standard Christmas classics. I’m not featuring anything from that recording tonight.

Instead, I’m featuring the title track from his latest EP, Through Frozen Forests. It may not even be a Christmas tune (but tell that to Sainsbury’s and Tom Horton). And on a night where the cold snap is beginning. it’s a perfect song.

More on Aaron Espe on Facebook and his website
Buy Through Frozen Forests on Amazon and on iTunes

Through Frozen Forests – Aaron Espe

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