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The Annual Rumination on Christmas Music, Part 1

By admin Published: December 2, 2008

Faithful readers of the Beacon Journal and this blog are well aware of my obsession with Christmas music. Because the bride has a no-Christmas-music-before-Thanksgiving rule, I have been piling up some new releases but only recently began delving into them. Have found a fair amount of redundancy, and one CD I am mildly obsessed with. ...


The object of obsession is Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Come Darkness, Come Light," above.

I've been a good enough (if sporadic) fan of Carpenter to know that, for all her success with uptempo songs ("I Feel Lucky," Lucinda Williams's "Passionate Kisses"), there has always been a more low-key, thoughtful, somewhat downbeat current in her body of work. And "Come Darkness" leans that way, softly acoustic, with songs that are not all holiday cheer. (Sample lines: "When dreary Christmas decorations/Line the streets and filling stations/Dime-store Santas can't disguise/Their empty hands and empty eyes.")

The melancholy is cut by happy feelings; the song quoted about is also about love. But "Come Darkness" is a refreshing piece of holiday music. On her Web site, Carpenter says she had long been asked to do a holiday album with familiar tunes and held out until she could tackle Christmas her way. And her way is better.


Digging into the vaults, I've also been listening quite a bit to Joan Osborne's "Christmas Means Love," lots of bluesy and gospel-tinged material with that lovable Osborne voice. Picks to click: the title song, "What Do Bad Girls Get," "Santa Claus Baby."

And have begun an extended revisiting of "The McGarrigle Christmas Hour," featuring Kate & Anna, next-generationers Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright, and friends like Emmylou Harris.


The McGarrigles will always be in my permanent mental playlist for, among other things, "Kiss and Say Goodbye" (not the Manhattans song) and "Heart Like a Wheel," but I also like their Christmas collection which, again, is a departure from the 10-chestnuts/2-newbies that seems to define many Christmas efforts. Some nice work by Rufus W on "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve," and there's a good rendition of Jackson Browne's "Rebel Jesus."

Of course, a lot of this is on the mellow side. But when I need a little pepping up, I turn to the big-band version of "Merry Christmas Baby" credited to the Four Tops, but vocally consisting only of the Tops' Levi Stubbs, who passed away this year. Makes me miss him all the more.

I'll have more thoughts about holiday tunes as the season goes on. Your suggestions and enthusiasms are welcome in the comments section.

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