The Christmas EP
Justin K. Rivers
Johnny Desolation Records
I re-uploaded my Christmas album from last year, in case you didn't get it the first time around, or want to subject yourself to it again. Here's the track list:
- Here We Come a Wassailing (trad)
- Snowcar in a Streetstorm (Rivers)
- Song for a Winter’s Night (Gordon Lightfoot)
- Silver and Gold (from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer)
- The Year of 88’ (Christopher Shaw)
- Karaoke (Rivers)
- Long Distance Carol (Rivers)
- This Is That Time (Jack Jones)
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (the original version)
- Christmas in the Trenches (John McCutcheon)
- Nicholas (Rivers)
- Give Yourself to Love (Kate Wolf)
As many of you know, I despise Christmas music for the most part, because it is barren, lifeless, and repeated to death. These songs I think capture the more honest essence of the season.
"Song for a Winter's Night" is one of my favorite songs of all time. Gordon Lightfoot's imagery perfectly captures Winter. I remember first hearing that song on a Christopher Shaw album, and then later as the title track for an album by my all-time favorite band, The Foothills Trio. That's the same album where I heard "Christmas in the Trenches" for the first time...I remember that first time hearing them live, at the Festival of Trees down at the Amsterdam Mall, in the space where The Present Company used to be. Just brilliant.
"The Year of '88'" speaks to me because, unlike many of the songs that tell about the people who went West, this one talks about those who stayed behind, and the hardships they endured. Another classic by Christopher Shaw.
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"...this is the ORIGINAL version of the song. As written, it was too dark and depressing to be included in "Meet Me In St. Louis." Judy Garland apparently asked for it to be re-written and made happier, which is the version you get in the movie. This original is not as well known, and is rarely recorded. But it's better, frankly. Because it's honest.
I end with Kate Wolf's "Give Yourself to Love," which I first heard years ago from Susan Trump at Caffe Lena. It has nothing to do with Christmas specifically, but then, if you think about it, the Holiday is supposed to be about love. And perhaps these days, with everything so overwhelmingly commodified, the only way to access "the true meaning of Christmas" is to abandon Christmas-specificity altogether.
I'm particularly proud of my original tunes. "Long Distance Carol" is a phone call to an old friend. I just entered the song in an online songwriting contest.
"Nicholas" is from the perspective of Santa Claus. I was thinking a few years back about the logic of Santa. I concluded that if he were real, he would not be a happy person. Just think about it - if everything you believed in and stood for was mercilessly corrupted by the corporate machines of the world, if nobody believed in you, if you could never retire or escape from the madness, if you were immortal, if you could fly around the world every Christmas eve, and see all of the despair and suffering below, how could not feel the same way?
Also, a special shout-out to the lovely Miss Anna Harris, who created the album cover for me.