The12 Roots Songs of Christmas- #4

Tonight’s Roots Song of Christmas takes us to Texas; for me to have gone this long without some mention of  Texas singer-songwriters is a feat.

Songbird Kimmie Rhodes has been recording rich, original Americana for a couple decades, and during that time, 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. I believe I first encountered her on Austin City Limits, the rose between several thorns named Willie, Waylon, Kris, and Billy Joe. I’ve been an admirer ever since, and have written about her a few times including here and here.

untitledIn 2010, Rhodes did something pretty rare- she created a dynamic and compelling Christmas album Miracles onf Christmas Day including but with two standards of the season- including a beautiful rendition of “Carol of the Bells”­- and an interpretation of Patty Griffin’s “Mary.” The rest of the material is original, and I dare say each of the songs has something more than a little special about it. Her songs pull listeners into warm embraces of emotion strengthened by reminiscences and hopefulness.

Her greatest achievement within this collection may be “One More White Christmas,” a song in which the hopeful pines -eloquently and without cloyingness- for additional time with that special someone: “That would be the greatest gift for me…one more white Christmas with you.” Knowledge that Rhodes’ husband Joe Gracey passed the year following the release of this plea makes the song that much more poignant.

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. And “One More White Christmas” is its crowning achievement.  Listen to it here.

This evening’s non-roots Christmas song is one that even I sometimes overlook. Rachel Sweet was

Sweet , early 80s
Sweet , early 80s

my first ‘favourite’ female singer, I think. I can’t recall any other female in my small collection of cassettes, albums, and 45s prior to 1979 who had grabbed me the way she did from first listen; prior to Sweet, I was all Springsteen, The Who, and Three Dog Night. And David Dundas. Sigh.

If I am not mistaken, “Silver Bells”- released in 1995 and drawn from the Stuart Saves His Family soundtrack- was the last excursion into the commercial music realm for Rachel Sweet, a singer I’ve followed since the summer prior to high school. I suspect the song had been in the can for some time previous to its release as by 1995 Sweet had left music far behind to embark on a career in television acting (including an appearance in the greatest Seinfeld episode of all time, “The Contest”) writing (Sports Night) and production (most recently, Hot in Cleveland).

Sweet, left, set of Hot in Cleveland
Sweet, left, set of Hot in Cleveland

With a voice triangulating Brenda Lee, Suzi Quatro, and Sammi Smith, Sweet never had significant sales or chart action, although her first album has become a bit of an underground classic in some quarters; Maria McKee wrote about Fool Around in a 2007 edition of MOJO within the “Last Night a Record Changed My Life” feature. Still, she gives “Silver Bells” some rare swagger and swing, transforming the staid MOR number into something a bit spectacular.

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