What happens when that slightly off-putting collection of shaggy musicians and ne’r-do-wells from down the block get a-hold of their grandparents Christmas albums?
When Mark Browning and his raggle taggle collection of lo-fi, alt.folk friends get together, creativity abounds. “White Christmas”, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, and “O Holy Night” and a half-dozen other seasonal classics are dismantled and reconstructed in a manner that is a bit off-putting but also strangely attractive. Quite experimental, the set holds together well. On some songs, such as “Silent Night”, accompaniment is kept to a minimum and the song appears to be little more than a singer hunched over his guitar. Other tracks are more elaborately arranged, as on “Good King Wenceslas” with organ and other instruments seemingly multi-tracked around tape loops that hint at the familiar melody.
One admires their brass at taking a run at beloved tunes in the manner they do.
Listeners get a better understanding of the project when the original numbers are examined. Neither “Xmas in the Jailhouse” (“I spent Christmas in the drunk tank”) nor “Christmas with the Band” (“Wrapped up all the dope and tied with bows ready to smoke, Socks tied to the dashboard with bungee cord, got cookies, beer, and jam sandwiches”) are likely to become standards, but they do reveal the perspective of the group: the glorious Christmases of yesteryear, as magical as they appear in memory and movies, are not something that everyone can relate with.
This is made poignantly apparent in the decision to include “Arthur McBride”, a mid-19th century Irish folk tune centering on the likely fate of poor lads recruited into British army. The ballad, which I wasn’t previously familiar, is provided with a more than impressive performance, and will make it onto my annual Christmas compilation.
Folk? Roots? Indie Rock? Alt.country? Ox is a band, a collective, that defies categorization. Not always focused, with this set the band has created an impressive and ambitious collection of modern alternative Christmas sounds. Endearing is Silent Night & Other Cowboy Songs. Seek it out.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.