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.

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Paul Kelly – How To Make Gravy

 

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Happy Anniversary Ann Heiden

December 20, 2017

Ann Heiden is the smartest person I know.
Whenever I need to have a difficult conversation with a client, I ask her what I should say (and frequently will write it down word for word).
She married me 25 years ago today — and she has stuck with me all these years.

(I married up.)

On the night of my 25th wedding anniversary you’d think I would not feature a song from a band named Scouting For Girls.
You’d think.

They actually got their name as a play on words from the 1908 Scouting handbook, Scouting For Boys (so it’s not that bad).
The song is Christmas In The Air (Tonight). It’s a great tune.

“Hopelessly in love with, the girl here by my side
On a cold dark Christmas night”

Happy Anniversary Ann

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Scouting For Girls – Christmas In The Air (Tonight)

The Light of Christmas Day – Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

December 19, 2017

As a movie, Love The Coopers was a bomb at the box office and the reviews were not kind either. It did have one redeeming factor, a song from the soundtrack featuring Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, The Light of Christmas Day.

Plant we all know from his Led Zeppelin days and his subsequent solo career.

I first heard Krauss when I was working at Barnes & Noble back in the mid-90’s. She’s a bluegrass artist for the most part — but that really pigeonholes her. She a well-rounded singer and musician. (BTW, she was born in Decatur, IL and grew up in Champaign, IL.)

In 2007, Plant and Krauss teamed up to record the award winning album, Raising Sand. Raising Sand won five Grammy Awards and was Rolling Stone magazine’s #55 on their list of the 100 Best Albums of the 2000s.

The Light of Christmas Day was their first collaboration since.

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Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – The Light of Christmas Day

The Importance of Mary

December 18, 2017

On May 25 of 2011, a Timothy Dalrymple published an article at patheos.com titled, Everyday Transcendence: Patty Griffith’s Mary in which he discussed the importance of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Dalrymple is an evangelical and stated evangelicals “have done a spectacular job avoiding Mary. ” Paraphrasing  Christianity Today’s Scot Mcknight,  Dalrymple says Mary has “become little more than a delicate piece in a Christmas crèche, whom we bring out without comment at Christmas and then wrap up gently until we see her again next Advent.”

Raised a Catholic, I belong to an evangelical church and I cannot argue Dalrymple’s point.

Mcknight powerfully explains who Mary really is:

“Mary utters poetry fit for a political rally, goes toe-to-toe with Herod the Great, musters her motherliness to reprimand her Messiah-son for dallying at the temple, follows her faith to ask him to address a flagging wine supply at a wedding, and then finds the feistiness to take her children to Capernaum to rescue Jesus from death threats. This Mary followed Jesus all the way to the Cross—not just as a mother, but as a disciple, even after his closest followers deserted him…Like other women of her time, she may have worn a robe and a veil, but I suspect her sleeves were rolled up and her veil askew more often than not.”

Dalrymple argues evangelicals should not ignore Mary but in doing so “miss out on some extraordinary parts of the New Testament; we miss out on a deep and rich vein of theological and spiritual insight that Christians of many stripes have mined over the centuries; and we miss out on a powerful image of biblical womanhood.”

How does the Patty Griffin song fit in?  Dalrymple puts it this way:

“That last point [on the powerful image of biblical womanhood], most fundamentally, is why I choke up when I am washing the dirt from my daughter’s legs, or the yogurt from her hair, and Patty Griffin’s “Mary” drifts out from the speakers.  The young Mary — the one who was “highly favored” and, when charged with an extraordinary task from God, responded “I am the Lord’s servant” and “my spirit rejoices in God my savior” — that’s who I want my daughter to be as a young woman.  The older Mary — the one who followed Jesus to the cross and wept at his feet, the one he loved so much that he provided for her welfare even from the cross, and the one who cared for the body of her crucified son, and ultimately the one who lost her sons for the sake of the kingdom and yet persevered in her faith — is who I want my daughter to be when she has matured in body and soul.”

“God favored Mary and chose her to be the Theotokos, the bearer of God the Son, the incarnate Word.  If Mary is not the bearer of God, then we are not saved.”

That’s a pretty powerful argument.

And it’s a great song.

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Patty Griffin – Mary

 

Jars of Clay – Hibernation Day

December 17, 2017

Derived from the bible verse “But we have treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us,” (2 Corinthians 4:7) the band Jars of Clay formed in the early 90’s when all of the band members were attending Greenville University in southern Illinois.

By 1994 Jars of Clay had signed a record contract and began getting noticed. Adrian Belew, then the guitarist for the prog rock band King Crimson heard the band and offered to produce a few of their songs (Liquid and Flood).

In 2007 they released Christmas Songs a record AllMusic.com says is a “highly nontraditional treatment of holiday themes, though one that will suit fans of the band from almost any era.” While JesusFreakHideout.com said, “Jars Of Clay’s Christmas Songs may be the best modern Christmas album to come along in a long, long time.”

Tonight I’ll feature a live version of Hibernation Day (from Christmas Songs) and then a Jars of Clay live take on the Phil Spector classic,  Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Both cuts come from the NoiseTrade Eastside Manor Christmas 2013 Sessions (which I featured earlier in the month here and here). The excellent Eastside Manor record is a free download – and every track is good.

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Jars of Clay – Hibernation Day

Jars of Clay – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

Pressed For Time So A Blast From The Past

December 16, 2017

Way back when I started this blog there wasn’t nearly as much content on youtube as there is now. And if you did upload something, youtube was much more lax regarding copyright laws.

Nowadays, their algorithm detects copyright infringement within seconds of an upload. That’s a good and a bad thing. Good for the artist. But if there is a song from an artist that isn’t on youtube and you try to upload it, chances are really good google will slap you down post haste.

So way back when, I uploaded several songs and they’re still there and have thousands of views. Don’t ask me how. I have no idea.

I’m a bit pressed for time today so I’m going to feature several songs I’ve uploaded through the years.

  • Carol of the Bells Medley from the amazing Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir
  • The Chieftains featuring Burgess Meredith – Don Oiche Ud I mBeithil
  • Steve Goodman’s live and off the cuff Winter Wonderland
  • Curt Smith’s This Is Christmas (originally from the TV show Psyche)

Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir –  Carol of the Bells Medley

The Chieftains featuring Burgess Meredith – Don Oiche Ud I mBeithil

Steve Goodman – Winter Wonderland

Curt Smith – This Is Christmas

A Couple Songs About Obligate Hemiparasitic Plants in the Order Santalales

December 15, 2017

In other words, a couple songs about Mistletoe.
According to legend (and wikipedia), in Norse MythologyLoki tricked the blind god Hodur into murdering Balder with an arrow made of Mistletoe, being the only plant to which Balder was vulnerable. Some versions of the story have mistletoe becoming a symbol of peace and friendship to compensate for its part in the murder. That Loki is always up to something it seems.

Apparently Mistletoe became part of Christmas traditions starting in the 18th century.

“When at Christmas in the hall / The men and maids are hopping,/ If by chance I hear them bawl /Amongst them quick I pop in./ All the men, Jem, John, and Joe,/ Cry, “What good luck has sent ye?”/ And kiss beneath the mistletoe/The girl not turn’d of twenty.. ” song by George Colman the Younger in the musical comedy Two to One (1784)

Those dudes are lucky they lived long ago. They’d get arrested for that behavior nowadays.

Enough of the history lesson. Tonight I’ll feature two songs that sing of the hemiparasitic plant, Mistletoe (The Christmas Sweater Song) from Tenth Avenue North and Under The Mistletoe from Never Shout Never.

Tenth Avenue North is a Christian band from Florida. They released an interesting Christmas record in November of this year, Decade the Halls Volume One. Each song on the record is recorded in a style from each decade beginning in the 1920s all the way through 2010. Interesting concept they actually pull off fairly well. Mistletoe comes in the aught-years of 2000 and is much in the style of Weezer.

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Never Shout Never is a band from Joplin, Missouri. They released The Xmas EP in 2013. Under the Mistletoe features Dia Frampton. If you’re a fan of The Voice, Ms. Frampton was the first runner up of season one of the program.

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Tenth Avenue North – Mistletoe (The Christmas Sweater Song)

Never Shout Never – Under The Mistletoe featuring Dia Frampton

The Rankin Family – I Wonder As I Wander

December 14, 2017

The Rankins are a Canadian musical family group of 12 hailing from Nova Scotia. As siblings got older, went to school and started families of their own, they would be replaced by younger siblings. I mean 12 kids — it’s not like they didn’t have a bench.

The group has won many Canadian music awards, including 15 East Coast Music Awards, six Juno Awards, four SOCAN Awards, three Canadian Country Music Awards and two Big Country Music Awards.

In 1998 the female part of The Rankins (Heather, Cookie and Raylene) struck out on their own to make a Christmas record, Do You Hear. It’s really a hit and miss effort — I mean, they cover Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree. (On a side note, Rockin’ Around has been covered hundreds of times. I’ve often wondered if the artist doing yet another cover of it says to him or herself, “MY cover is going to be the BEST!”)

Anyway there are a couple of really good tunes on this record. And unfortunately, the videos from it on youtube are blocked in the US.

I’m left with featuring a live track of the sisters singing I Wonder As I Wander. The video is a bit dated but it’s a very energetic cover of the old classic.

Heather, Cookie & Raylene Rankin – I Wonder As I Wander

Feels Like Christmas To Me

December 13, 2017

Liz Longley started writing songs at a very early age and first performed an original song in front of a crowd when she was nine. She began recording a demo record while performing in clubs, competitions and local festivals while in high school (where she also played clarinet and was a drum major in the marching band).

She attended Berklee College of Music and was taught by Livingston Taylor (James Taylor’s younger brother) and John Mayer. During her time with Mayer, all of the students had the opportunity to play an original tune for him.  No pressure right?

“I got so nervous I didn’t know what the heck to play for him,” Longley excitedly recalled. “So I played this song (called “Queen,” available on 2009’s Somewhere in the Middle) that was kind of new. … But he gave me advice on how to restructure it and where to change a chord. And then the next day I remember we were in the studio and he came in and it was a morning where we’re all just like eating our breakfast and he was like spinning around in his studio chair and started singing one of my songs that was on my MySpace page (that still exists) and it was just unreal to hear someone like John Mayer singing back one of my songs, saying he couldn’t get it out of his head. I think I cried right on the spot. … I had to text my mom right away.”

Longley has won several songwriting competitions including the BMI John Lennon Songwriting Scholarship, the International Acoustic Music Awards and the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

Her music has also been featured on several TV shows including Army Wives, Switched At Birth and MTV’s Scream: The TV Series.

In December 2013 Longley released Feels Like Christmas To Me. It’s a lovely song available only via her bandcamp site (for a buck). I’ll feature it tonight.

Happy Hanukkah

December 12, 2017

Holly Montgomery is a singer/songwriter/bass player from the Washington DC area via Louisville and L.A.

Last year Montgomery wrote and released a project called Eve Rising. The project came about when Montgomery decided she wanted “an alternative to the dreidel dreidel dreidel song to teach kids at Hanukkah.” According to the liner notes, “The songs range from sounding like Alice in Chains and/or Weezer and/or Renaissance madrigals. Her Jewish-themed music is completely modern, completely original and in English.”

I’ll feature a couple songs from Eve Rising tonight.

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Eve Rising – Light The Lights

Eve Rising – The Miracle of Hanukkah

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