Monday, 15 December 2008

Playlist = Alternative Christmas Songs

To say I'm bored with the Christmas songs that you find on the radio at this time of year is an understatement (even 'Fairytale of New York' is failing to hit the spot). This year, along with the Cockburn track from my previous post, I've put together a mini-playlist of alternative songs to wile away the Advent nights.

Firstly, the excellent Fleet Foxes' 'White Winter Hymnal' (Fleet Foxes, 2008) is a worth a listen - see video below. I have no idea what it's about - although there are some fairly outlandish theories around on various sites. I pick this for the winter, snow theme and the great sound of the voices. It just somehow gives me that Christmassy - cold on the outside - warm on the inside feeling. The video is great, too.

Secondly, and yes it's Dylan again, 'Three Angels' (New Morning, 1970). My Dad put me on to this one. It is a funny song and I like the little story. Check out the words here.

Thirdly, Teenage Fanclub's 'Guiding Star' (Bandwagonesque, 1991) is a great track off a fabulous album. Yes, the lyrics aren't the best in the world, but if you're looking for something different for Christmas you might like to give it a go and join in the 'communal carol singing' here...

And finally, it appears that Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' is about to become a Christmas number one in the UK after it's been released by the X Factor winner! This song, great as it is, doesn't have that Christmas 'thing' about it - although the words 'Love is not a victory march, but a cold and broken hallelujah' could sum up the circumstances of Jesus' birth pretty well. But I've written about that already.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Bruce Cockburn>Cry of a Tiny Babe

Let me begin by clearly stating that I'm no expert on Bruce Cockburn. I've met real fans of his music who have all 27 (or whatever it is) albums and believe me in comparison I can't really call myself a fan. My brief flirtation with Cockburn's music began and ended with one album - Nothing But a Burning Light - which was given to me by one of my university band members back in the early 1990s. Our lead singer was a massive Cockburn fan and we covered what I think is the best track from that album - 'Mighty Trucks of Midnight'. My only other encounter with Cockburn came while watching children's TV with my son, who was a big fan of Franklin. When the theme song came on, I recognised the voice but took ages to place it. One day I watched the credits and yes it was written and performed by Cockburn (listen here).

Anyway, there's a song on Nothing but a Burning Light that is a pretty straightforward retelling of the Christmas story. In my endless quest for songs that shine a light on the Christmas season 'Cry of a Tiny Babe' is a worthy addition to the canon. What I really like about this track is that as well as moving away from the traditional images around the nativity story, Cockburn introduces a personal element into the drama as it unfolds. And the chorus is great:

'Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe'

For the last couple of Christmases it's struck me how important it is just to tell and retell the Christmas story. It's shocking the increasing number of people I come across who don't really know it. So, thanks to Cockburn I can remind myself again of it through his song - and importantly there's barely a cliche in sight.