catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 23 :: 2003.12.05 — 2003.12.18


Winter delights

Now that the holiday shopping season has begun, prepare to be Mannheim Steamroll?d by all kinds of loud and lousy music that?s supposed to get you in the Christmas mood. The weeks leading up to Christmas are filled with the jingle jangle of sleigh bells ‘the official theme sound of Christmas’, set to hip hop, techno or rock’n’roll beats. In shopping malls around the country, Bruce Springsteen declares the coming of Santa Claus with a “baby, I was born to run” fervor that seems a little over the top, a little more like Paul Revere’s urgent: The red coats are coming!? than the long slow ache of “O Come, O Come Emannuel.”

In order to combat the Christmas clamor that will lead to yet another long, cold, dark winter spent indoors, you?re going to need some good music, some warm and cozy stuff — like a good Gligg that will get you through. The best place to start is A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The crisp ‘O Holy Night’-ly tone of the record is set immediately as Guaraldi’s gift for lyrical simplicity is applied to the classic ‘O Tannenbaum.’ When the deep rich bass and warm drums kick in, the listener enters a wonderful world where age-old Christmas traditions are genuinely reincarnated in a new American jazz form. Guaraldi is able to create this new Christmas-y world without lazily relying on the sonic associations that come easily with bells or Spanish guitar. Instead, the San Francisco jazz composer known for his Grammy-winning ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind’ boldly makes use of Brazilian rhythms, bluesy chords and an up-close piano sound to establish a unique, but clearly identifiable, Christmas landscape.

Another excellent Christmas album is Over the Rhine’s The Darkest Night of the Year, which was reviewed by *cino last year. The album deserves to be mentioned once again. As Rob Vander Giessen-Reitsma so adequately stated,

Instead of a collection of happy Christmas ditties, uninspired traditional arrangements and sappy new Christmas originals, OTR’s The Darkest Night of the Year is a work that evokes wonder and invites reflection — The band uses acoustic instruments, guitar, piano, cello and bass, to set the quiet, contemplative tone. Instrumentals are interspersed among the vocal songs, featuring two mood pieces by guitarist Ric Hordinski that are perfect soundtracks to a walk in the snow. Multi-instrumentalist Linford Detweiler, on piano, and a guest cellist take turns playing lead on the other instrumentals. Karin Berquist’s lead vocals are a perfect compliment to the non-traditional arrangements of songs like “Silent Night,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” And the original songs, “Thank You My Angel” and “Mary’s Waltz” sit so well next to the well-known carols that I was left wondering, upon first listen, where I had heard the songs before. Over the Rhine captures the quiet, less stressful side of Christmas and encourages the listener to take a few minutes to ponder the miracle of a virgin birth, the miracle of a boy who was both God and man.

While we’re following the ghost of Christmases past, we might as well recall another excellent winter CD that was also reviewed last year by *cino. Bjork’s Vespertine is crisp as January air and fresh as new snow. Kristin Sybesma Elgersma points out that the album is not only about ice and snow, but is actually made up of these things, since Bjork used recordings of boots in the snow and music boxes of wintery landscapes to make up the rhythmic sections of songs on Vespertine. Vespertine’s first song, ‘hidden place,’ invites us into Bjork’s world, her winter sanctuary, coating our senses in globs of dripping candle wax, shuffling cards, crackling flame, shifting of bed sheets, and snow gently falling beyond the window. The artist uses playful language to weave a cocoon of closeness for the listener. Vespertine asks us to wonder and meditate along with the singer, especially on ‘Cocoon,’ about the strange intimacy of bearing another human being within a meditation very much in keeping with this Advent season.


As winter continues to go on long after Christmas you might also benefit from Joni Mitchell?s Blue, Tom Waits’ Alice and Nick Cave’s No More Shall We Part. These albums seem to make a whole lot more sense when the air is frigid, the rivers are frozen and the earth is buried under fifteen feet of pure white snow. Rather than getting drunk on the Christmas spirit that is pumped through the speakers at malls and poured into television advertisements, you will find genuine warmth and lasting Christmas cheer by sipping the goodness of these great wintery albums.

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