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Auld Lang Syne 2009

Another year over, and a new one about to begin.  A new decade, in fact.  I find it hard to believe how fast time has been passing.  It certainly doesn't feel like it was ten years ago that I was sitting home with my parents watching a "top 1000 videos of the millennium" countdown on CMT (yes, the top 1000 videos of the previous 1000 years, even though television itself had only been around for a very tiny fraction of that time - I guess everyone had to get in on the millennium hype!).  My life has changed immeasurably in that time (for the better, by far), and I'm really looking forward to what the next ten years (and beyond) will bring.
One thing that definitely hasn't changed, though, is my love of music.  That is what keeps me blogging about music, and I'm always glad to hear from people who appreciate the music I post about.  Thank you for reading this blog for yet another year, and I'll see you again sometime next November (of course, you are more than welcome to check out Totally Free Music for some excellent non-Christmas music throughout the year; as always, I have no idea which direction that blog will take, but it is sure to be an exciting one).
Before signing off for the year, though, I'd like to point you to the new versions of "Auld Lang Syne" I came across this year, just as I have done for the previous two years.  Most of these versions were just included on Christmas albums that I downloaded, but I also took a quick look around for a few other versions this year, which is something I never did before.
First up is J.E.L.L.i.'s  "Happy New Year" from A Jolly J.E.L.L.i. Christmas (which I already covered in my Christmas Day post).  After a countdown, complete with party sounds, and a brief acoustic prelude, the song kicks into high gear with a truly rocking arrangement.  It's barely more than a minute long, but anyone who loves instrumental guitar rock should definitely check it out.
Another version that I already covered this year comes from Corbin Watkins' Incarnation album.  It is the second half of the medley "Do You See?/Auld Lang Syne", and it is one of the quietest, most minimal versions of this song I have ever heard.  Very nice for quietly contemplating the end of the year.
The last version that I came across during my normal Christmas music search this year is on the Lawrence compilation The More the Merrier Christmas.  Sam Billen, who organized the compilation, closes the album with a very laid back version of "Auld Lang Syne", which features some beautiful vocal harmonies.
A quick Twitter search turned up a few more versions, including a punk version from MxPx, a fun dance mix from DJ Josh Fernandez, a beautiful mellow version from electro-pop duo Measure, and a great country version from Vandaveer that starts as a duet but builds up into a full singalong in the second half.  As I've mentioned before, this is the first time I've ever gone looking specifically for this song (a sure sign that it's really becoming a favourite of mine), and I'm glad I did, as there are some excellent versions to be found there.  
And that's it.  Whatever you decide to do tonight, I hope you have a safe and happy end to 2009, and that 2010 will bring you everything you want and need.  I just can't wait to start saying "twenty ten" - I'm tired of pronouncing years starting with "two thousand". ;)  In all seriousness, though, this has been a really trying year for my family and me, and I'm hoping that the symbolic turning of the calendar will end up being a real turning point for us.  Happy New Year!


A handful of links for Christmas Day

Well, it looks like I have run out of time to write about free Christmas music for another year.  As always, though, I still have a ton of excellent music that I just haven't had a chance to do a proper write-up about  Much like I did with last year's "Stocking Stuffer" post, I'd like to post some links and brief comments on some of the other music that I've been enjoying this Christmas season.  There's no real rhyme or reason to this - I'm pretty much just flipping through my Christmas playlist and looking back at notes that I've made about various albums and songs.  

Hullabaloo's Holiday Hullabaloo is a short but sweet collection of fun Christmas songs (as well as a couple of Hanukkah songs) aimed at both the young and the young at heart.  Consisting of nothing but acoustic guitar and vocals, the arrangements are short and simple, and the words can all be clearly heard.  I've really enjoyed listening to it while playing with my 2 year old this year.
Canadian indie pop band Ohbijou have released a very nice version of Wham!'s "Last Christmas".  The female vocals and violin give it a pleasant sound that really helps it to stand out.
"Last Christmas" is also the first track on Sikora's The Sound of Christmas.  This EP has a slick pop feel to it, which is not a type of music that I listen to regularly, but I've still been really enjoying it - Christmas music just has that kind of effect on me.  "O Holy Night" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas" really showcase Sikora's voice very well, and he also does a nice version of John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" (here titled "So This Is Christmas (War Is Over)").
Jason Silver's ChristmaSongs features beautiful piano- (and occasionally acoustic guitar-) based arrangements of traditional Christmas carols.  "In the Bleak Midwinter" is very nicely done, as is "Joy to the World", which starts off as a slow ballad but soon changes to a more upbeat, swinging arrangement.
A Jolly J.E.L.L.i. Christmas by J.E.L.L.i. is one of the most fun albums I have come across this year.  It opens with a version of "Linus and Lucy" (from A Charlie Brown Christmas) that just rocks - it pretty much floored me when I first heard it.  "Happy New Year" does a similar thing to "Auld Lang Syne".  The album closes with "The 12 Days of Christmas", a song which I normally find pretty dull, but this one goes through a few style changes, including a funk breakdown and a big melodic rock outro, to actually make it fun and interesting.

And that is all for now.  I wanted to write even a few brief words about a bunch of other music, but I was even more pressed for time the past few days than usual.  I may do something unconventional and make another post before the end of the year, as I personally don't put the Christmas music away until around New Year's Day (otherwise I wouldn't get a chance to listen to any newly-acquired Christmas music until the following year, which just seems wrong).  Other than that, I'll be back sometime next week with this year's "Auld Lang Syne" post (yes, I managed to find a few more versions without actually searching for them).  Merry Christmas!


Free Christmas music from classical.com

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about classical.com's selection of free music on my other music blog.  I have continued to come back to that site each and every week since then, and I've downloaded quite a bit of excellent music from it.  This week's free album is a collection of Christmas music performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vaughan Meakins, and featuring a mix of singers and choirs.  There is a nice variety of music on the album, with some of my favourite songs like "Away in a Manger", "The First Noel", and "Good King Wenceslas", as well as some I've never heard before like "Shepherds Pipe Carol" and "Donkey Carol".

If you've never been to classical.com before, you will need to register for an account with the site before you can download anything; registration is free, and, among other things, it enables you to download free music from the site every week, so it is well worth doing.  The free downloads are typically kept on the site for two weeks before they get replaced by something else (although I have noticed exceptions, such as Beethoven's 9th symphony, which is still available after more than two months), so it's best to grab it as soon as possible.  Happy listening!


Artist Spotlight: Ballard C. Boyd

It's hard to imagine a ukelele-based Christmas album being anything but fun.  Ballard C. Boyd seems to be hell-bent on proving that theory, as he has been releasing a ukelele-based Christmas album every year since 2005.  I only discovered his music within the last week or so, after his latest album, Yule Kulele, was released; fortunately, the other 4 albums are also still available, so if this sounds like something you'd be even remotely interested in, you can head over to his website and download all 5 albums right now.
There are many obscure Christmas songs covered on these albums that I had never heard before, as well as more familiar songs like "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow", "The Christmas Song", and "Holly Jolly Christmas" (always a favourite of mine because of its inclusion in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, my favourite Christmas movie).  There are also a few original songs on most of the albums (all except the first), and Boyd even puts his own spin on some old favourites such as "The 12 Days of Christmas", which is updated as "The 25 Days of Christmas".  There are even a few "hidden tracks", including a cover of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls" and a mashup of Steve Miller's "The Joker" with Weezer's "Undone - The Sweater Song".  One of my favourite songs turned out to be a cover of Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas from the Family", which I had never heard before - the line "Little sister brought her new boyfriend, he was a Mexican. We didn't know what to think of him until he sang 'Feliz Navidad'" had me cracking up laughing as I listened to it.
Ballard C. Boyd's ukelele Christmas albums are definitely not the most traditional Christmas albums you will ever hear, but they will almost certainly be among the most fun.  You can download the MP3 files separately or grab a zip file for each album right here.  Happy listening!


Any requests before Christmas?

I think I've covered a diverse mix of music so far this year, and I really hope that people have been enjoying it.  However, there are only about five days left for me to write about Christmas music this year, but I still have a ridiculous amount of music left that I haven't written about.  I have actually been wondering if there is a particular type of music that anyone is interested in hearing, and if I have any of it, I'll write about it. 
It could be anything at all: a certain genre, like classical or metal; a certain artist; a certain song (perhaps rounding up different versions of one, like I did with "Last Christmas"); a certain instrument; traditional or original songs; funny or serious songs; Christmas music for kids - anything at all that you can think of, just post a comment here or send me an email about it.
I can't guarantee that I will be able to come up with a post for every suggestion, but at the very least I think it might help me to filter through the hours upon hours of Christmas music that I have once again accumulated.  Thanks!

Album Spotlight: Melissa Pierre-Louis - Touch Someone

While I certainly love traditional Christmas music, I also have a big soft spot for newly-written, original Christmas songs.  After all, there was once a time when songs like "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and even "Silent Night" were new and original; at the time, who could have known that these songs would endure for decades or centuries?  
A lot of artists write their own original Christmas songs, often as part of an album of more traditional songs; I've covered quite a few such songs here.  More rarely, an artist will write several new Christmas songs.  Melissa Pierre-Louis has gone a step beyond that and penned three of her own Christmas songs in three different languages as part of Operation Touch.  The languages are English, French, and Kreyol, with the latter two being a tribute to the artist's Haitian background.  "Touch Someone" (also known as "Lonje Men" and "Une Main" in the other languages) sounds the most like a "traditional" Christmas song, with the same kind of warm feeling that songs like "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" have.  "Sing We Noel" ("Fetebon Nwel" in Kreyol; this is the only song that doesn't have a French version) is much more exotic sounding, while "Thank You Immanuel" ("Mesi Emanyel" and "Merci Emmanuel") is somewhere in between the two sounds.
There's a lot of stuff on the Operation Touch site, but if you just want the music you can download it in either MP3 or WAV format (the latter is what you should get if you want to burn your own CD copy of the album).  Artwork and lyrics are also available if you poke around the menus a bit.  Happy listening!


Song Spotlight: Celestial - "Saving Up Her Wishes (For Another Christmas)"

I've been trying to avoid posting about single songs this year.  I haven't actually downloaded too many single songs as there are simply far too many of them for me to keep up with; I find albums, or at least bundles of songs, much easier to keep track of, listen to, and write about.  However, earlier this morning a song popped into my head from out of nowhere and simply would not go away, so I really have no choice but to write about it.  What makes it even weirder is that it is a song I haven't heard since last year - according to my last.fm library, December 12, 2008 was the last time I listened to it before today.
Celestial's "Saving Up Her Wishes (for Another Christmas)" is the song, and I actually downloaded it back in 2007, but for the last two Christmases I really had no idea what to do with it as far as this blog is concerned.  It's a fairly upbeat song with a nice jangly guitar sound and lyrics that I can't quite make out in their entirety; actually, I think it is precisely that combination of catchy music and unintelligible lyrics that kept me coming back to the song again and again but never writing about it.  However, I can make out plenty of references to Christmas, snow, and "angels in the snow", so it's definitely an appropriate song for this time of year.
The song is listed as "saving up her wishes" on the Music Is My Girlfriend Downloads page.  If you decide to check it out, please leave a comment here and let me know what you think of it.  Happy listening!


Album Spotlight: The Violet Burning - Violet Christmas Volume 1

One of my favourite Christmas albums from last year was The Violet Burning's Divine.  This year, they have made another Christmas album available for free download.  From what I understand, Violet Christmas Volume 1 is a re-released version of an older album, but I hadn't heard it before, and it's very nice to have it available alongside Divine.
An original song called "Room in my Heart" both opens and closes the album; the closing version is (called the "full length" version) is greatly extended.  It's a very mellow and beautiful song; I really like the lyrics in the chorus:  "Baby Jesus, there isn't any room in the inn but there's room in my heart."  The remaining songs can also be found on Divine, but the versions on this album are either live ones or different arrangements (or both).  I find the sound on this album to be much mellower than the rock-based sound of Divine; the one (big) exception is "The Little Drummer Boy", which starts off rather quiet but explodes about halfway through, with the vocals being almost snarled by the end.
If you enjoyed Divine, Violet Christmas Volume 1 is an album that you must download; if you haven't heard it yet, this is a great opportunity to check both albums out.  Happy listening!



Album Spotlight: Phil Vassar - An Acoustic Christmas

I tend to write about a lot of rather unusual Christmas music, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy more traditional and straightforward renditions of Christmas songs as well.  I guess I just think it's easier to find that sort of music - at this time of year, it's as simple as turning on the radio or walking into a store.  However, I'm sure that not everyone feels the same way, so I think it's time to write about some more familiar-sounding Christmas music.
Phil Vassar's An Acoustic Christmas fits that bill nicely, I think.  There are no surprises in the arrangements of its five songs, but I really love the way that Vassar's voice and piano playing complement each other (to be honest, though, I was surprised at just how strong his voice is - especially during the high note in "O Holy Night".  I know a few of his older songs, but I never really would have thought that his voice is this good).  His young daughter Haley joins him on "Away in a Manger", which is a really nice touch, but other than that, it's just Phil and his piano.  If you like being able to hear all the words clearly in your Christmas music, An Acoustic Christmas would make a very nice addition to your collection.
You need to give your name, zip code, and email address to get the album, but the site assures us that nothing naughty will be done with that information, as they "don't want coal and sticks in [their] stockings!!!"  The download link will be sent to the email address you provide.  Happy listening!

Album Spotlight: Frozen Silence - Christmas Carols

Back in October, I was searching Jamendo for more albums by a band called Silence is Sexy, as I was planning to write a blog posr about them for Totally Free Music (I still haven't gotten around to that post, though - perhaps early next year, though).  On the first page of the search results was an album called Christmas Carols by Frozen Silence.  I can't resist Christmas music, so I downloaded the album and gave it a listen, even though it wasn't even Thanksgiving at the time (and by that I mean Canadian Thanksgiving, which occurs on the second Monday in October).  
Christmas Carols has 10 songs clocking in at only 15 and a half minutes, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in its beautiful presentation.  Some of the songs, like "First Noel" and "Silent Night", are very familiar; others, like "Vom Himmel hoch", are less so, but they all sound great.  There is also an original song called "Frozen Christmas" that is very beautiful and actually fits with these older songs very well.  All of the songs are instrumental, and most of them are done on piano, but three songs are also repeated on acoustic guitar at the end of the album.
I think Christmas Carols would make a great soundtrack for any relaxing moments you may be able to find at this time of year.  I've actually had it in my lullabye playlist for my 2 year old since I downloaded it.  However you choose to listen to it, I hope you enjoy it.  Happy listening!


Album Spotlight: Corbin Watkins - Incarnation

At this time of year, I often feel like Marco at the end of Dr. Seuss's And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street: "There was so much to tell, I JUST COULDN'T BEGIN!"  Sometime around the beginning of December, a floodgate opens and I find myself downloading multiple Christmas albums and songs every single day; this goes on right up until Christmas Day.  I have so much excellent music to tell you about, but finding time to write about it proves to be difficult.  So even though updates haven't been coming as frequently as I would like them to be, there's a lot of good stuff in the pipeline, and I will get to it when I can.

Corbin Watkins' Incarnation was actually released last year, but I only discovered it this year after Tara from In Mansions (who is a friend of Watkins') told me about it in an email.  The album comes in two parts (like a record), both of which can be downloaded from Watkins' website.  My favourite songs on this album are some of the duets that Watkins does with Sarah Hovde.  She sings with him on most of the songs, including a great cover of "Mr. Grinch", and the interplay between their vocals gives songs like "Baby It's Cold Outside", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", and Watkins' own "Christmas Plans" a delightful, lighthearted, and just plain fun feel.

Other songs take on a more serious tone.  "Doxology" and "My Jesus, I Love Thee" (which also feature Hovde on vocals) have a very beautiful, atmospheric feel to them.  The final song on the album is a medley of "Do You Hear What I Hear" (called "Do You See?" here) and a minimalist, almost a cappella "Auld Lang Syne"; in between the two songs is a very moving spoken word passage featuring some excerpts from John 1.  Overall, I find the balance between the serious songs and the fun songs to be very well done, making this a great album for a variety of moods.

I hope you enjoy this one.  I'll try to get a couple of posts up over the weekend, but in the meantime, happy listening!



Album Spotlight: James Edwards - Christmas Bells

James Edwards' recently released Christmas Bells album is a collection of ten traditional Christmas songs arranged for solo classical guitar.  The end result is stunning in its simplicity.  For the most part, the arrangements are very faithful to the source material, but they are played with a great flair that makes them well worth listening to, no matter how many times you may have heard some of these songs before.

Even though it is not reflected in the titles, a lot of these songs are actually medleys of two or three songs.  For example, "Silent Night" begins with "The First Noel", and "A Merry Christmas" has elements of "Good King Wenceslas" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas".  I love medleys, and although these are short, they are still fun to listen to.

Christmas Bells is the type of album that can work in a variety of situations.  It makes great background music, but the songs are so well performed that you can hear new things in them each time you listen to them.  Personally, I have found that it makes wonderful lullaby music for putting my 2 year old to sleep.  However you choose to listen to it, I hope it helps to make your Christmas a little more special.  Happy listening!



Album Spotlight: A Garritan Community Christmas Volume 6

One of my favourite musical Christmas traditions has been continued for another year.  The 6th volume of A Garritan Community Christmas was released sometime in the last few days.  If you haven't heard anything from the previous 5 volumes, they are all still available on the same page, so you can check out anything you need to while you're there; also, you can read my reviews of the first 4 volumes and volume 5.
I'm always rather impressed at just how good these albums sound, considering that they are created entirely on computers.  This volume is no different - things like the organ sound in "A Child So Special", and the entirety of "JS Bach Christmas Oratorio", have a very authentic sound to them.  "O Come All Ye Faithful" features a choir at the end, and "I Saw Three Ships" is also sung; this is a particularly beautiful version of that song.  One of the more creative arrangements comes on "Carol of the Jingle Bells", which mixes elements of "Carol of the Bells" into "Jingle Bells"; the track is only 2:45 in length, but it goes through several different moods and is quite fun to listen to (I really like the waltz that begins at about 1:28).
If you've enjoyed the previous Christmas albums from the Garritan community, you will very likely enjoy this one.  If you've never heard one before, this is a great time to start.  Happy listening!


A few unavailable albums made available again

Early in the fall, I spent some time going through all of my old posts and making sure that the links still lead to what they should, i.e. free Christmas music.  Wherever that was no longer the case, I added the unavailable tag, as well as a little note at the top of the post, in order to prevent people from wasting their time if all they want is the music. Within the last few days, though, I've noticed that a few of the albums I marked as unavailable have actually become available again.  The original posts have already been updated with the new links, but here's a brief rundown of what's been updated and where you can find it now.
  • Fisher's December, which I wrote about here, can now be downloaded from here.
  • Joel Rakes' festive.mood.inducing.music series, which I wrote about here, can now be found here.  The first volume no longer seems to be available, but the fourth volume has been started and will see a new song released" every Monday during December leading up until Christmas Eve," for a total of 5 songs.
  • The first two volumes of A Familyre Christmas, which I wrote about here, can once again be downloaded.  Here's Vol. 1, and here's Vol. 2.
I try my best to keep all the links on this blog current and useful.  However, if you ever run across any links that are broken or otherwise don't lead to where I say they do, please leave a comment somewhere or send me an email.  I'll be back soon with some brand new music.  Until then, happy listening!


Album Spotlight: In Mansions - Peace on Earth

Every year, I end up downloading much more Christmas music than I have time to write about.  Sometimes I don't even get a chance to listen to it before Christmas.  I always hang on to it, though, and usually it ends up being some of the first music I put into my Christmas playlist the following year.  In Mansions' Peace On Earth was initially released on Christmas Day, 2008, so I never got a chance to listen to it last year.  I finally heard it for the first time last week, absolutely loved it, and began writing a blog post about it almost immediately.  I had a moment of panic when I realized that the EP was no longer available; however, I sent an email to the author of the site where it was posted (who also happens to be one of the artists on the EP), and a new link went live just a couple of days ago.
In Mansions is a duo consisting of Tara Ward and Graham Travis, and their arrangements and performances on Peace On Earth are smart, creative and very beautiful.  My favourite song is the medley, "Bring A Torch Jeanette Isabella / O Come All Ye Faithful".  "Bring A Torch Jeanette Isabella" is a song that I was not familiar with, but their version is absolutely gorgeous.  Every year I seem to discover at least one Christmas song that I had not heard before and then spend some time exploring different versions of it.  This will probably be one of those songs this year - the only problem is that I can't imagine any other versions being able to top this one, as it really is that beautiful!  The way it transitions into "O Come All Ye Faithful" is very nicely done.
Another highlight is an upbeat version of "Joy to the World" that is driven by acoustic guitar.  I also really love the version of "For Unto Us a Child is Born", which comes fom Handel's Messiah; they give it a very delicate arrangement, and I find Tara's vocals to be a little reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan.  The entire EP is well worth hearing - so far, I think I have listened to it more than anything else this Christmas season, and I only came across it about a week ago (it was in some files that I had backed up while trying to save my computer from a malware infection).  Please go check it out, and let me know what you think of it.  Happy listening!


Song Spotlight: Sofia Talvik - "Snowy White River"

An early Christmas gift arrived today in the form of Sofia Talvik's annual free Christmas single.  Longtime readers of this blog will likely recognize the name, as I posted about her last two Christmas singles on Christmas Day last year.  I enjoyed those songs enough to check out more of her music early in the year, and I've continued to keep up with her by following her on Twitter and on her website.  This Christmas single is something I have been looking forward to for a long time now, and it does not disappoint.
"Snowy White River" is a pretty little song, with the minimal instrumental backing allowing Sofia's multi-layered vocals to really shine.  I'm not entirely sure what the song is meant to be about, but I get a bittersweet feeling from listening to it; to me, it seems to speak about how a lack of faith can cause us to lose our way.  One of the things I really like about Sofia's music is that it is often very deep and can be interpreted in many ways, and I think this one is no different.  Indeed, this is not the kind of lighthearted fare that one normally associates with Christmas music; I'm sure I will still be thinking about this one long after it finishes playing.  IF it ever finishes playing, that is - I am finding it to be stunningly beautiful and have had it on repeat for quite some time now.  I think Sofia has really tapped into something incredible here.
If you're interested, you can also download free sheet music for the song in PDF format.  Please share your thoughts about the song in the comments - I always love to read comments about my posts, but I would especially welcome anyone's interpretation of this song.  Happy listening!


2 free downloads from Oprah

Just as she did last year, Oprah is offering some free Christmas music downloads from her website for a limited time.  This year it's only 2 songs instead of the 8 that were offered last year, but still, free Christmas music is always worth downloading. :)

This year's songs are "What Child is This", as performed by Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige, and "Silent Night" as performed by Sugarland.  I can't say that I've ever knowingly heard any music by either of these artists (Mary J. Blige excepted), so it's nice to be able to hear something new.  I was really impressed with Sugarland's take on "Silent Night"; it has a light country feel to it, and the vocals (which include one verse sung in Spanish) are excellent.

After hearing last year's sampler from Oprah, I was so impressed by Josh Groban's version of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" that I added Noel to my wishlist and ended up receiving it for Christmas.  I don't know if I feel quite that strongly about either of these songs, but I think I would definitely like to check out some more of Sugarland's music now.

These two songs will only be available until tomorrow (that's December 1) at 23:00 CT, so if you're interested in them at all, you need to get over to the site as soon as possible and download them.  Last year's songs ended up being offered again a few weeks after they initially went up, but who knows if that will happen again this year.  Go check them out, and happy listening!



Album Spotlight: Severe - The Punk Rock Advent Calendar

Okay, now this is just brilliant.  The Punk Rock Advent Calendar will be offering one free punk rock Christmas song every day from December 1 to Christmas Day.  According to an email I received from the artist, Jimmy Severe:
"Each song comes with its very own classic punk intro/riff/solo "borrowed" from a variety of all-time punk classics. Singalong with your turkey to the festive noise, whilst at the same time playing "Spot The Punk Cliché". The Ruts, The Ramones, The Pistols, The Jam and many, many more – they're all in there somewhere!"
I am not the biggest fan of punk rock in the world, so unfortunately many of these little "clichés" will probably be lost on me.  However, I do enjoy me some Clash, Ramones, and Pistols from time to time, and I obviously love Christmas music, so that makes this a winning combination.

In order to give people a taste of what is to come, the first five songs can already be downloaded.  If you're willing to take a look at the source code for the site, though, you can find a lot more than just the first five songs - there are in fact working links to all of the songs there.  I discovered this by accident, and I felt a little guilty about it, so I actually contacted the artist (who had initially emailed me to tip me off about the calendar) to let him know about it, and he said that it's all right to let people know about it.  So just like a real Advent calendar, the choice is yours whether to wait until the right day for your treats, or give in to temptation and take all of them now.  It probably wouldn't surprise anyone to know that I went ahead and downloaded them all at once, although I still haven't listened to all of them - I'll get around to that soon enough, though.

Among the first five downloads are some pretty cool versions of songs like "Stop the Cavalry", "Lonely This Christmas", and "Angels We Have Heard On High".  "Santa Baby" is in there too (for December 4), and its fake intro had me wondering if I had accidentally gotten my MP3 tags mixed up with another, more traditional version of that song, but then the drums kicked in, the tempo picked up, and everything felt right again - it's a nice little musical gag.  I get the impression that a lot of care has been put into rearranging these old songs into punk versions, as they all sound quite excellent.  Looking ahead at the tracks I've downloaded, I can't wait to hear what has been done to some of them, but I won't spoil anything for those who choose not to download them ahead of time.

Whether you choose to experience it all at once or a day at a time, as intended, I hope you find The Punk Rock Advent Calendar to be an enjoyable little treat.  If any punk rock fans out there happen to recognize any of the clichés in these songs, please share them here, as I would love to know what they are.  Happy listening!



Album Spotlight: Sebastian Wolff - "Keys and Lights"

So, I just had an entire post typed up and ready to go when I ran into a little problem: the music I was writing about, which I had downloaded just last month, was no longer free to download.  Rather annoying, but luckily I always have at least a few posts in varying stages of completeness.  This one, for example, was actually started way back in April when I downloaded Sebastian Wolff's "World of Goo" piano medley.  While browsing the artist's website, I noticed that he had a Christmas album available for download, so I made a little note of that.  I finally downloaded the album just a few weeks ago, and now I'll finish writing about it nearly seven months after I first started.

After hearing the "World of Goo" medley, my expectations for Keys and Lights were pretty high, and I'm happy to say that it really lives up to those expectations.  I've really developed a liking for solo piano works this year, so to hear these songs performed in this way is a real treat.  There is a really nice variety in the song selection, ranging all the way from traditional songs like "Silent Night" and "Carol of the Bells", to standards like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", to modern soundtrack material in "Believe" (from The Polar Express) and "Where Are You Christmas?" (from the 2000 version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas).  The songs are mellow enough to be listened to as lullabyes (which I've been doing for the last few weeks while putting my youngest son to sleep), yet full of such interesting and beautiful playing that you could give your entire attention to them and still hear new things each time.
All 18 songs on Keys and Lights can be downloaded directly from Sebastian Wolff's website.  However you decide to listen to them, I hope you enjoy them.  Happy listening!


Most popular content

Here you will find the most popular (i.e. most-viewed) content on this blog from the last week, from last Christmas ( i.e. November and December of last year), and of all time.  I have tried not to list old posts which mainly link to unavailable material.  I don't ever delete posts, so you can still read all of my old posts in the archives; please see the index for a handy quick reference to all of my posts.

Last updated 2009-12-14
Last Week
  1. Album Spotlight: James Edwards - Christmas Bells
  2. Album Spotlight: A Garritan Community Christmas Volume 6
  3. Christmas Day Stocking Stuffer edition
  4. Multiple Album Spotlight: A Familyre Christmas
  5. Album Spotlight: The Layaways - The Christmas EP
  6. Album Spotlight: The Violet Burning - Divine
  7. Song Spotlight: Sofia Talvik - "Snowy White River"
  8. Album Spotlight: Fisher - December
  9. Album Spotlight: Severe - The Punk Rock Advent Calendar
  10. A few unavailable albums made available again
Last Christmas
  1. Christmas Day Stocking Stuffer edition
  2. Song Spotlight: Auld Lang Syne (special New Year's edition)
  3. Song Spotlight: The Snowballs - "Song About Christmas"
  4. New Content: last.fm Christmas tag free downloads
  5. Album Spotlight: The Layaways - The Christmas EP
  6. Album Spotlight: The Violet Burning - Divine
  7. Album Spotlight: Barbara Gallagher - Love Came Down at Christmas
  8. Multiple Album Spotlight: A Familyre Christmas
  9. Multiple Album Spotlight: Garritan Community Christmas Album (vol. 1-4)
  10. Song Spotlight: "Last Christmas"
All Time
  1. Album Spotlight: Barbara Gallagher - Love Came Down at Christmas
  2. Christmas Day Stocking Stuffer edition
  3. Song Spotlight: Auld Lang Syne (special New Year's edition)
  4. New Content: last.fm Christmas tag free downloads
  5. Album Spotlight: The Violet Burning - Divine
  6. Welcome to the Free Christmas Music blog!
  7. Multiple Album Spotlight: Garritan Community Christmas Album (vol. 1-4)
  8. Album Spotlight: The Layaways - The Christmas EP
  9. Album Spotlight: M Iafrate - happy xmas, x is here
  10. Song Spotlight: The Snowballs - "Song About Christmas"

    Album Spotlight: Oh, Starling - "Joy"

    I will be the first to admit that I can be rather enthusiastic about Christmas music.  I listen to it at times of the year that are just unthinkable to some people.  In November of one year, I was listening to some Christmas music on my lunch break at work when someone commented on it, basically wondering why I was listening to it when it wasn't even close to Christmas.  When I tried to explain that I just liked the way it sounds, I received a response along the lines of "Well, you've obviously never worked in a retail environment at Christmas."  I guess the implication was that the endless repetition of Christmas music in stores at this time of year is enough to make anyone sick of it.

    Now, I have nothing at all against this attitude or the person who said it (in fact, he may be reading this on Facebook right now).  In fact, I can understand how being forced to listen to anything repetetively can turn someone off from it.  However, over the last three Christmases (oh wow, is this really my fourth year doing the free Christmas music thing?), I have had the opportunity to listen to a lot of different takes on Christmas music, and I can't help but think that if people were exposed to some of these unusual arrangements of otherwise familiar songs, they might be a little more accepting toward the whole idea of Christmas music.  Of course, I could be totally wrong about that, but at least I enjoy it, and I gather from some of the comments and emails that I receive that my readers enjoy it too.

    Oh, Starling have made their EP, Joy, available for free for a limited time.  On it, they have crafted some very refreshing arrangements of five familiar Christmas songs; refreshing, but no so radically different that they could not be enjoyed on the radio, or yes, even in stores that are playing Christmas music.  The acoustic instrumentation and slowed down tempos give a very relaxed feel to songs like "Joy (To the World)", "Silent Night", and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear".  Each song is given a lot of breathing room, and a lot of them are given extended bridges and choruses.  It's a great little release to listen to when you'd like to relax for a while, especially as things start to get really hectic in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  You're not likely to hear these songs playing over the PA of your favourite store, so it might be a good idea to load them onto an MP3 player for your own personal listening; it would be hard to feel rushed while listening to these beautiful renditions of familiar Christmas songs.

    Joy will be free for a limited time - one article I read about it said only until US Thanksgiving - so you should go download it now if you're interested at all.  The form on the site asks for quite a bit of information (email address, first name, country, city, and zip code, to be precise), so I would recommend reading the privacy agreement if you're at all paranoid about giving that kind of information out.  They did send me a couple of emails, but it is worth noting that the download link appeared on the site after I submitted the form - it was not emailed to me.  You can choose between MP3 and AAC formats; I chose MP3, which yielded a 37.3 MB zip file.  Happy listening!


    Artist Spotlight: Northern Light Orchestra

    Sometime in mid-June, I began getting references in my RSS feeds to a band called Northern Light Orchestra, which supposedly had free Christmas music available for download.  At first, I dismissed these blog posts as spam for a number of reasons: first, they were rather poorly written, as if they had been written in another language and then auto-translated into English; second, when I clicked on the links in the posts, I could never find the music that had been promised; finally, well... who writes about Christmas music in June anyway?  Still, I was curious, and as time went on, I began to learn a little more about Northern Light Orchestra.  When I discovered that musicians like David Ellefson (former Megadeth bassist), Dizzy Reed (Guns N' Roses keyboardist), Bruce Kulick (former KISS guitarist), and members of bands like Whitesnake, KoRn, and Quiet Riot were involved with the project, it became something I simply had to hear.
    After reading a couple of these blog posts each week for several months, I was finally rewarded in the last week of October when the link led to a page with actual downloadable MP3s.  I downloaded the MP3s and began listening to them immediately.  Since I had been waiting to hear this music for such a long time, I can't possibly think of a more appropriate way to officially begin the 2009 free Christmas music season.
    As might be expected given the musicians involved, Northern Light Orchestra's sound is primarily rock and metal based.  I was immediately reminded of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but I think that is more due to the fact that there just isn't that much rock-based Christmas music around.  My favourite song so far is "God Was Born a Baby", which starts off with the sound of a choir before launching into an excellent rock groove.  Just when it sounds like the song is over at around four and a half minutes, it picks back up for an epic guitar solo, which lasts almost two minutes, and then winds down with an orchestral outro.  "Joy to the World" features a great instrumental breakdown with a drum solo and soaring guitar leads.  There are mellower songs, too.  "Joseph's Song" has an adult contemporary feel to it, while "We Have Come to Worship" you is a nice ballad with gorgeous vocal harmonies.  "Goodnight" is a pretty little piano- and vocal-based lullabye sung to baby Jesus.
    There seem to be alternate versions of some of the songs on the band's iLike page.  "Joy to the World", for example, features some additional orchestration and vocal harmonies as compared to the version on the band's website.  This exemplifies the only real problem I have with NLO - namely, a great deal of confusion.  Their website states that their album, The Spirit of Christmas, contains nine songs, and that they have another nine songs in production "for next year" (not sure whether they mean 2009 or 2010 by that); however, the amount of songs available for download is neither nine nor eighteen, and the songs that can be downloaded have different album names and track numbers between the different versions.  It's not enough to stop me from listening to the music, but I can't help but feel how much better it would sound as an album with a proper track list.
    Though Trans-Siberian Orchestra may have popularized rock-based Christmas music with their trilogy of albums, Northern Light Orchestra proves that there is still room for more of this type of music.  Their take on Christmas music is a thoroughly enjoyable one - this is something that I would gladly pay for if given the chance to have it as a proper album.  I hope you enjoy it too - please leave a comment here or send me an email to let me know what you think of it.  Happy listening!


    Free Christmas Music Index

    Well, here we are in November again.  This is usually the time when I begin listening to and writing about Christmas music, and this year is no exception.  I've been listening to a few new albums over the last couple of weeks, and I'll be posting about them here as soon as I get a chance to write about them.  Before I start posting about new music this year, I wanted to put together an index of everything that has already been posted.  Posts are organized into a few broad categories which will hopefully make it easy to locate what you're looking for; if not, please let me know.

    Last updated 2009-12-14

    Free Christmas Music Resources


    The 8bits of Christmas (The 8bitpeoples)
    Beautiful and Unique Snowflakes (various artists) (unavailable)
    Christmas Bells (James Edwards)
    The Christmas EP (The Layaways)
    (Christmas is a) Time for Us (various artists)
    December (Fisher)
    Divine (The Violet Burning)
    Electric Fantastic Christmas (various artists)
    Emmanuel (Sarah Brown)
    A Familyre Christmas (various artists)
    The Gift (Hairy Larry)
    Green Christmas (Mojo Green)
    Holiday Hits 2008 (various artists) (unavailable)
    Incarnation (Corbin Watkins)
    Joy (Oh, Starling)
    Keys and Lights (Sebastian Wolff)
    Love Came Down at Christmas (Barbara Gallagher)
    MiMi Loves Xmas (various artists)
    Peace on Earth (In Mansions)
    Rhodes Christmas (John Conahan)
    Seriously Westcoast Vol. 2 - Happy Holidays (various artists) (unavailable)
    Sounds of Bethelehem (Jennifer Avalon)
    Tidings (Allison Crowe) (partially unavailable)
    Winter Wishes (various artists)


    "Last Christmas" (various versions)
    "Snowy White River" (Sofia Talvik)
    "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" (Gary U.S. Bonds) (unavailable)


    Quick Reviews

    Auld Lang Syne

    Auld Lang Syne 2007 (partially unavailable)



    Some questions for anyone who sees this post

    I use Google Analytics to track basic usage patterns for all of my websites and blogs, and one thing that I couldn't help but notice is that a lot of people seem to be finding their way to this blog lately.  Now, I don't think it's a secret that I am a huge fan of Christmas music, and I like to start listening to it as soon as I can, but that usually means after Halloween is over - I think September might be too early even for me!  However, I wouldn't be totally opposed to the idea of perhaps listening to a few albums and throwing some quick reviews on here in the meantime, if anyone would be interested.

    To anyone who comes across this post before November, I'd like to ask a few quick questions; if you could respond in the comments (or via email), it would really be a big help to me.
    • What were you looking for when you came across this blog?
    • Did you find what you were looking for here?
    • Would you like to see some new content on this blog before November?

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.  I'll be back to regular posting sometime in November, and possibly sooner if enough people are interested.