It is a vexed question – when to put the tree up? Some do it in November, some wait for Christmas Eve and some don’t have a tree at all. And really it’s all about what suits you best. For some, they are just an annoyance, for some a relentless reminder to get presents bought, for others a colourful part of the season and for yet others a happy reminder that the Yule goes back into long pagan roots connecting with spirits of nature. Or some mix of those. Whatever they are, the trees are a long-established ritual of the Winter, a bit like Jingle Bells Friday itself. And do we have some picks for you this week. We do, we really do, have some picks for you this week. Let’s see if we can find something tree related, no promises.
Starting this week with The Dodge Brothers the band which includes well known film critic Mark Kermode on upright bass, as well as band mates Mike Hammond (guitars, lead vocals, banjo); Aly Hirji (guitars, mandolin, vocals), and Alex Hammond (washboard, snare drum, percussion). The skiffle/country/blues/retro-rock and rollers really like Christmas – this is just one of their four singles released this Winter. ‘I can’t wait for Christmas‘ is somewhat more down tempo than that title might suggest, but it’s weary lonesome heart is undeniable.
Something we haven’t featured too much this year is carolling – not just the singing of carols, but the strolling from house to house in order to do that. Well, that oversight ends now with a new video from A Winter Union featuring their new song ‘Minstrels.‘ A Winter Union have recently released their new album – the first for seven years – called ‘Sooner After Solstice‘, it’s a mix of old and new songs given a transatlantic folk twist by the bands members. Who, you may ask – only members of Gilmour & Roberts, the Willows and Hannah Saunders & Ben Savage recording together as a folk solstice supergroup. They are out on tour right now.
Oregon band, The Hackles made their Celtic Connections festival debut back in January, the show stood out as a highlight for many – Americana UK’s Paul Kerr for example revealed they had given him “goosebump moments.” It had been “ a gig to savour,” he said – “three superb musicians and singers, playing a set which was at times hypnotic.” And who are we to argue with that? It turns out that after touring around the UK, The Hackles went on to hook up with their good friend, Alela Diane for her big London show, and toured with her in Europe, and that’s when the seeds were planted that would result in the recording of their new Christmas album entitled ‘It’s Always Christmas Somewhere.’ And although we’re not convinced that that is strictly true, there’s no arguing that this version of ‘Good King Wenceslas’ is particularly pretty.
We can go a little further into self-back-patting by noting that Vancouver’s The Matinee like to remind people that Americana UK said of them “if you think of The Eagles you won’t be far away from their sound…” and here they are with a Christmas cover of ‘Last Christmas‘ given a weeping guitar makeover. There will be sleigh bells….
Now, whilst we’re thinking of heartbreak and lost love and, yes, of Canadians, would be a great time to mention Tara MacLean whose song ‘Kiss In December‘ is another example of all three of those. As Tara MacLean told us “The song was inspired by a kiss I had many Decembers ago that changed my life. When I was feeling heartbroken years ago, I wrote this song’s lyrics in the form of a poem. The east coast of Canada in the winter is a tough season to be alone and missing someone, but there is also something romantic about it.”
A nice touch is that Tara MacLean reunited with a past collaborator, Catherine MacLellan for this song – and she also produced it. Even nicer – if you like musical continuity stories – their fathers were a touring duo when they were growing up. True fact.
Now, we’re going to be honest with you – we thought we were going to let you down this week. The constant stream of requests for more Yuletide Winterval banjo tunes tells us how much you adore Yuletide Winterval banjo tunes. But, going through the files – searching under solstice, Christmas, Yule and all permutations and cross-referencing with banjo (obviously) we were struggling. And then we recalled someone after our own hearts, someone who is very, very into Christmas and on his social media likes to push the boundaries, asking questions like “How much Christmas music is too much?” and “How early can you start playing it? (Like, October?)“. Andy Thorn, who tours with Leftover Salmon, has a new album of his banjo instrumentals of seasonal songs – it’s called ‘High Country Holiday‘ and it’s an essential listen for the Christmas banjo enthusiast (that’s you people). We may sample it’s delights again before the big day arrives, well, we’ll see.
Well, no trees after all. But this has been quite a folky Jingle Bells Friday – the next one, shall we go a little rockier?