Sunday, April 6, 2008

Deep, Crisp and Even part one

I don’t think anybody who has been checking up on this blog would be too shocked to learn that I am not particularly drawn to collections of Christmas music that has a long list of all too familiar titles on the back cover. Unless I am already familiar with the artist, or perhaps the compilation is coming from a record label that has a reputation for mining the deep caves for jewels, when I am looking for interesting Christmas music to add to my collection, the more familiar it looks to me, the more likely I am to pass it up.

Granted, that probably means I have missed some really incredible versions of “Winter Wonderland,” “Silver Bells,” “Silent Night” and so many others along the way. So be it. Limited $$$$ means I have to be quite choosy, and the vast majority of Christmas albumbs I pick up are blind purchases. I don’t have time or money or even the storage space to be fooling around with just any compilation that has cover versions.

Another thing about cover versions is I often have my standard favorite with just about any given song out there. It’s hard for me to warm up to another version of “Holly Jolly Christmas,” for example, when I feel that Burl Ives nailed it already. Most cover versions are pale versions of songs people did better long ago, and I find the whole concept of somebody giving a half-rearended effort to a Christmas standard to be a complete turn off.

So when I come across a cover version that really stands out to me, I sit up and take notice. And I’ve failed to share a lot of those cover versions with you through the course of this blog so far because I’ve been busy focusing on mainly original Christmas music that I have found interesting. But there are good cover versions, and over the course of this coming month I am making this “Cover Versions Month” at the Twelve Months of Christmas.

I have compiled my favorites into one collection that I’ve titled “Deep, Crisp and Even.” The name of the compilation comes from a cover version of Good King Wenceslas that is included in this collection (those words are part of the lyrics.) (Which reminds me…there’s not nearly enough songs out there about the Feast of Stephen!) 32 tracks in all, and I am going to share 8 each week this month. By the end of it, I will included full cover art, disc art, and tray card art so you can print your own CD case if you’d like and the collection will be complete.

So onto the first eight tracks…

01-Ich Bin Chimp-Mary's Boy Child

To me, there has never been a better version than that by Boney M. It may be a radio standard, over played at the holidays and heard just about anywhere you go. But there’s something about that song that just is so perfect…like the stars aligned when Boney M recorded their version of that song. Every other cover version has failed to really come close to Boney M’s version. They try, they get close, but fall short. Ich Bin Chimp doesn’t try to sound like Boney M’s version, which is why I guess is why I love this version so much that I chose to kick off my collection with it. Ich Bin Chimp totally makes this version their own and brings it up to a new standard. This comes from the online compilation, “`Tis the Season to be Filthy.”

02-Tom Tom Club-Il Est Né (trad.)

I have to admit I never heard this song before I purchased Tom Tom Club’s CD “Mistletunes.” But this is a traditional French Christmas carol, so I am sure others have performed this song in the past. And while this may be my first exposure to the song, I am betting money that it’s better than most of the versions that came before it.

As an added bonus, I did find a slightly older version of this song that’s not part of my compilation, but a great thing to share nonetheless…it’s the song performed by Siouxie and the Banshees. A solidly great version as well…

03-Casiotone for the Painfully Alone-Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone first came to my attention through their My Space page and it came apparent to me they were friends to some great Christmas music. This is perhaps the only cover version I’ve found by them, and it’s pretty well done.

04-Morgan Fisher-Good King Wenceslas

This is the song I take the title of my compilation from. Good King Wenceslas has never been much of a real favorite of mine. It’s been more of a curiosity…Why do we only have one song about the Feast of Stephen when it’s a Christmas tradition for many? I’ve heard capable and acceptable versions in the past, but this one really takes it to a whole new level.

I came across Morgan Fisher completely by chance. For a while now I have owned Pillows and Prayers, a collection of punk rock singles put out by Cherry Red Records from 1981-1984. While it does not have any Christmas songs on the compilation, it did strike me that Cherry Red Records must have put out some Christmas songs in its time on this planet. So a Google search away was Claws, by Morgan Fisher. Apparently, this was released on Cherry Red Records sometime back in the day, and I tracked down a copy on CD put out by Blueprint records in 1997. Great, great stuff. It’s a collection that I would never have found normally because it doesn’t have Christmas anywhere in the title or in anything you’d really search for online.

05-Abbey Garage-In the Bleak Midwinter

In the Bleak Midwinter has long been a Christmas standard with…well, pretty much standard cover versions. This comes from a compilation I just tracked down this year: Get thee Behind Me, Santa. It’s hard to find, but well worth the effort. I am sure I will share more from this compilation later on.

06-Infant-Goodnight, We 3 Kings

Another selection from Get thee Behind Me, Santa.

07-Thunderbirds are Now-Winter Wonderland

I wish I could say where I found this, but I don’t recall. Online somewhere, that much I know. We are all familiar with the traditional version we hear on the radio at Christmas time, and that version is great. It became a classic for a reason. But Thunderbirds are Now make this song their own with this version.

08-Hugh Downs-I Wonder As I Wander

Yes, this is 20/20’s Hugh Downs. I Wonder As I Wander is a typically slow and plaintive song, and this really is no exception. In fact, it’s about as a traditional version as you’re probably going to find, and you may wonder why I included it here. Simply enough, because I like it; it’s beautiful in its stark simplicity and trumps any other version I’ve heard. This comes from Nick At Nite’s compilation, A TV Christmas Dinner.

More to come….

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for beginning this ... i'm also a big fan of christmas music and love it when somebody shares their coolest finds.