Roots music column, December 17, 2010

A Christmas focus this week in my Roots Music column. I had planned on reviewing 4 Christmas columns this weekend, but instead offered up the Ox review here at Fervor Coulee last weekend and the fourth album turned out to be so awful that I couldn’t even write about it. Kimmie Rhodes is always worth a listen as are Putumayo releases. 

Roots music column, originally published December 17, 2010 in the Red Deer Advocate

Kimmie Rhodes Miracles on Christmas Day Sunbird Records

Songbird Kimmie Rhodes has been recording rich, original Americana for a couple decades, and during that time has recorded with luminaries including Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Emmylou Harris. Over the course of a dozen albums, the Austin-based songwriter has used her impressive mastery of words and melody to pull on heartstrings in a manner that has established her as one of the finest under-recognized voices in roots music.

Miracles on Christmas Day is Rhodes’ first foray into holiday music and- much like last year’s offering from Mary Chapin Carpenter- pulls listeners into a warm embrace of emotion strengthened by reminiscences and hopefulness.

Inspired by Nelson, Rhodes vowed to write a Christmas song annually. She has packaged the finest of these with two standards of the season- including a beautiful rendition of Carol of the Bells­– and an interpretation of Patty Griffin’s Mary.

Amidst gentle shuffles augmented by some of Austin’s finest musicians, Rhodes captures the traditional trappings of the Christmas season within nine wonderful little compositions. Good cheer and mistletoe bring a Little Touch of Christmas while the hopeful pines -eloquently and without saccharine- for One More White Christmas with that special someone.

Wake Up Sleepy Town offers Tex-Mex flavourings while Angels Unaware finds the Christmas spirit in the most appropriate of circumstances.

Miracles on Christmas Day is that rare seasonal offering that stands on its own not only as a beautiful recording but as a thematic exploration that maintains significance outside of December.

Various Artists World Christmas Party Putumayo Records

One can always count on the fine folks at Putumayo to collect listenable and atypical Christmas sounds to inject life to holiday celebrations.

From the irie blessings of Jacob Miller’s Jamaican-flavoured We Wish You A Merry Christmas through to the Latin/Cuban jazz of Ed Calle and Arturo Sandoval’s instrumental interpretation of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, those seeking a more worldly view of traditional sounds need to look no further.

Charles Brown’s soulful Christmas Comes But Once a Year would sound apt no matter the season, while the Hawaiian spirit of Keahiwai’s Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree adds lightness of the collection.

Other favourite sounds stem from Brazil’s Jose Conde (Winter Wonderland) and Texas polka band Brave Combo (The Christmas Song). The highlight may well be Maria de Barros’s Alegria, a beautiful interpretation of Deck the Halls.

Mix in a bit of progressive bluegrass from Alison Brown, a touch of Mozambique via Costa Neto, and New Orleans’ essential Heritage Hall Jazz Band, and one has a Christmas collection waiting to become a favourite.

As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Best, Donald

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