Home / Music / Radio Free MP3, Christmas Edition: The Very Most, Standard Fare, Blue Skies For Black Hearts, Neil Diamond, & Bob Dylan

Radio Free MP3, Christmas Edition: The Very Most, Standard Fare, Blue Skies For Black Hearts, Neil Diamond, & Bob Dylan

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It's Christmas time kids, and that means Christmas music. You can't turn on the radio these days without getting lambasted with a dozen schmaltzy renditions of everything from "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer" to "Silent Night." I have a very hate/love hate relationship with Christmas music. For most of my years I detested every bit of it, but marriage has calmed the anger and I've come to enjoy, nay love many of those songs. When done well Christmas music can be beautiful, nostalgic and even fun. Frank Sinatra. Bing Crosby. John Denver and the Muppets. These are the harbingers of Christmas. Or they should be. Leave the schmaltz to someone else.

In today's edition of "Radio Free MP3" I'm bringing in some fresh crops of Christmas. We have new versions of classic songs and new songs that might someday become classic. Give them a listen, I think you'll find this a lot better than the same old junk playing on your radio.

"Away in a Manger" – The Very Most
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Idaho's The Very Most take this stately traditional hymn and turn it into a spry swing dance. With its jangling guitars, splashing jingle bells, and tinkling horns you'll feel more like you are at a wild New Years party rather than a stately Christmas Church. A Savior might have been born, but when we're having this much fun, you likely won't care.

For extra cool points the song includes a very old instrument called a Doucaine which according to the band has only made in onto three other pieces of recorded music in the history of recorded music. Truly a Christmas miracle!

You can stream their entire Winter record here. Learn more about the band and hear other, non Christmas songs at their Myspace page, website, and blog.

"Tinsel Politics" – Standard Fare
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You know this is not your typical Christmas article when one of the songs featured contains lyrics like this: "I don't even know why this is on my mind/I'm not even a Christian. And Hanukkah comes early this time/we'll still be in school." This is Christmas as lament. A conversation over whose family is to be visited over the holidays. Most couples have had this conversation. Repeatedly. Christmas not only brings religious celebrations, and happy times passing presents around. But loneliness and arguments. Fights over where you went last year, whose turn is it to go this time. Etc. So why shouldn't some Christmas songs bring the sorrow with the joy?

With songs as brilliant as this one I dare say they all should. Standard Fare it certainly is not. The lyrics lament, but the music sparkles with plenty of "ooo-aaahs" thumping percussion and check out the guitar rave-up at the end. Pure indie rock goodness. Emma Kupa's vocals are a mix of punk rock and croon. It is unusual and utterly lovely at the same time.

Dig their Myspace for more.

"Wishing You A Merry Christmas" – Blue Skies for Black Hearts
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If you like the sound of John Lennon's "Happy X-Mas (War is Over)" but get tired of it being overplayed by the radio this time of year then "Wishing You A Merry Christmas" is the song for you. Employing a very Lennon-like soundscape and some rather familiar vocals Blue Skies for Black Hearts have created a wondrous bit of holiday cheer without falling into a vat of cheese.  

Keeping it politically correct (or perhaps making ironic commentary on political correctness) the backing vocals make sure that not only are they wishing us a Merry Christmas but a Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, new year, and generically a good holiday season. The whole thing is an updated version of the classic Christmas song. Slightest of edges, slice of irony notwithstanding its a fun Christmas song that the kids won't roll their eyes upon hearing at the next Christmas party.

See more of Blue Skies for Black Hearts on their Myspace and webpage. "Wishing You a Merry Christmas" comes from the album XO For the Holidays II.

"The Chanukah Song" – Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond might just be the king of Christmas schmaltz. By my count he's released 17 bazillion Christmas albums, all of them featuring "Little Drummer Boy." My mother used to play them back-to-back-to-back-to-back starting about mid October. How I made it out without committing candy-cane suicide is better left to the scientists. I'm actually a fan of Diamond as an artist, but his Christmas albums are atrocious. So is his version of Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song" but at least there's something perversely hilarious about it.

And because it just isn't a Christmas show without Bob Dylan, here's the video for his version of "Little Drummer Boy"

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About Mat Brewster