by Laura Stanley & Michael Thomas
It’s that time of the year again! Stop listening to Madonna’s version of “Santa Baby” and check out these great new songs and holiday collections from some great Canadian artists.
The Hamilton duo of Laura Scarlett and David Disher are known for doing mostly cover songs with unique twists, so it’s excellent that they decided to breath some life into four classic Christmas songs on That Christmas Feeling. Scarlett’s full vocals are complemented by Disher’s heavy, electronic arrangements, It’s this great combination that makes their version of “O Holy Night” more intense than the song is on its own, and with a surprisingly gentle ending. “Deck the Halls” gets a heaping helping of percussion and odd sounds, while “Coventry Carol” gets an extra dose of gloom with a huge, synth-tastic arrangement that’s almost dizzying. Top that off with the original “Wake Up! It’s Christmas,” and you’ve got a pretty solid collection.
Swim Good – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
The insanely prolific Jon Lawless has steadily released quality songs throughout the year under the Swim Good name, and he’s finishing off the year with a new spin on an old Christmas classic. This version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” somehow seamlessly blends synthesizers and banjos, while the video takes VHS-quality clips of outdoor Christmas decorations interspersed with footage of playing the banjo. Look out for a cameo from Snoqualmie’s Blake Enemark.
Corb Lund – “Just Me and These Ponies (For Christmas This Year)”
On the darker side of the yuletide, Corb Lund has penned an original, countrified Christmas song for all the lonely people on Christmas these year. In the song, which features some very nice strings throughout, Lund sings about a very sad Christmas, where ponies are his only guests. The video just adds to the sadness, featuring shots of horses and Lund playing as a Christmas-themed set behind him slowly goes dark.
It’s hard to believe that more than 70 years later, musicians are still managing to make classic Christmas songs “their own.” Easily one of the most stunning Christmas collections released this year, London’s Danielle Fricke brings a minimalistic and vulnerable edge to four songs that should have been done to death by this point. “O Holy Night” is cut in half into an ambient, wordless dreamscape; “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” guts the song’s inherent schmaltz with a sharpened candy cane and pares it to unbridled sentiment; “Silver Bells” is as beautiful as the first few flakes of snow and almost as quiet. But the highest praise has to go to the warm and endearing rendition of — wait for it — “Santa Baby.” You’ve got to hear it to believe it.
Bahamas – “Christmas Must Be Tonight”
As part of CBC Music’s 12 Songs of Christmas, Afie Jurvanen and co. aka Bahamas perform The Band’s classic Christmas song, “Christmas Must Be Tonight. Originally appearing on Brushfire’s This Warm December compilation, the band plays a warm, in a way only Bahamas is able create, live rendition that’s perfect for slow dancing underneath a mistletoe.
Hawk and Steel – “It’s Christmas!”
Alt-country band Hawk and Steel give us the best present of all, an original and not so jolly Christmas song. Charmingly capturing the not so idyllic situations that Christmas (and the gathering of the family) can create, like when, “that crazy aunt, at the dinner feast said something kind of racist about the middle east,” Hawk and Steel have made an excellent addition to anyone who doesn’t have the festive spirit and is “already thinking of next year.”
Truly a documentation of a local music scene with a Christmas theme, Riviere Sounds presents a 10-song compilation of Christmas covers from the town of Caronport, Saskatchewan. Every song brings something slightly different to the table, while focusing on songs more on the hymnal side of Christmas. Jenna Nash on “Of the Father’s Love Forgotten” brings a beautiful vocal-only treat. Megan + Dan Jensen bring a cute ukulele-driven atmosphere to “Joy to the World,” while Lowana Wallace makes “Ding Dong Merrily on High” very jazzy.
Penny Blacks – “Wonderful Christmastime”
The Saint John’s rock band Penny Blacks roughen up the Paul McCartney classic “Wonderful Christmastime” for a fun Christmas treat. Significantly cutting the cheese factor of the original McCartney recording, Penny Blacks’ rendition is sans synth and is kicked up a notch thanks to a faster pace, grittier vocals, and some nifty guitar solos.
Soda Pony – “Christmas in the 80’s”
Whitehorse band Soda Pony slipped in a seasonal song in their Debut Self Titled Album released earlier this year. “Christmas in the 80’s” goes by with a leisurely pace, lots of distortion, and seasonal descriptions such as “there’s eggnog in my liquor.” I can’t help but compare it to the home videos from the 80’s dug up each year that are fuzzy because of the VHS quality and other alcoholic related reasons.
Perhaps the favourite holiday tradition of us owls, UK site The Line of Best Fit has once again delivered a fresh installment of Ho Ho Ho Canada, now in its sixth year. As usual, it’s a treasure trove, featuring new tracks from Mike Feuerstack, Fresh Snow and Charlotte Cornfield. Felicity Williams will stun on “This is What I Want,” Tony Dekker will charm and confuse singing the Burning Hell’s “Last Winter,” and The Once will fill the room with the beautiful a cappella “By the Glow of the Kerosene Light.”
The Royal Oui – “Up on the Housetop”
Earlier this year, Michael wrote that boy-girl duo The Royal Oui have “an easy chemistry.” In their version of the children’s Christmas classic “Up on the Housetop,” that chemistry is once again in full swing. The Royal Oui’s cutesy rendition is warm, folky, and good for kids young and old.
Spencer Burton – “Silent Night”
Bearded bard Spencer Burton knows exactly what the remedy for Christmas stress is: quiet folk music. Hoping “these songs bring peace unto your home during a time of unwanted family drop ins,” Burton’s rendition of “Silent Night” is a soulful one. And with the gentle sounds of layered guitars and Burton’s hushed vocals, this is a combo that is bound to quell anyone’s nerves. By downloading “Silent Night,” you will also receive “Blackbird’s Song,” a wintery track that is on his newest record Don’t Let the World See Your Love.
For a nice poppy and slightly romantic tune, Treasa Lavasseur is joined with some sweet guitar and drums for the breezy “Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas!” Lavasseur’s clear joy for the holidays shines through on this one, with a repetition of “I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year” toward the end. The song is available on iTunes.