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christmas-tree-1856343_1280It’s almost like somewhere a gargantuan holiday music factory is just pumping them out, songs that are largely indistinguishable from the regular commercial fare but for their obligatory invocation of Santa, mistletoe, and snow.  But buried amongst the dreck are always some well crafted seasonal tunes, if you’re paying attention.  Over the past year I’ve set aside any good holiday material I’ve run across for this very special Hooks for the Holidays blog entry.

nick-loweLet’s begin with that classy poprock elder statesman, Nick Lowe.  Considering he once eschewed the idea of recording a Christmas album as ‘vulgar, tawdry commercialism,’ his finished product is pretty impressive.  Quality Street squeezes subtle hooks out of clever covers and new material.  Though Lowe was once the quintessentially mercurial poprock artist, he has honed a more laid back, almost jazzy crooner sound over his last few albums.  Quality Street continues in this vein.  Check out the instrumental backdrop to Boudleaux Bryant’s classic, “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away” – arranged to perfection like expert miniature painting. Other highlights include Ron Sexmsith’s “Hooves on the Roof” and Lowe’s co-written composition with Ry Cooder, “Dollar Short of Happy” (the lyrics on the latter are hilarious).  A lot of critics like Lowe’s sardonic “Christmas at the Airport” but my faves would have to be the raucous reworking of the traditional “Rise Up Shepherd” and Lowe’s own quietly moving “I was Born in Bethlehem.” Rise Up ShepherdI Was Born in Bethlehem

Cheeky is a not uncommon approach to holiday music, meant to deflate a bit of the earnestness surrounding the whole ‘birth of a saviour’ thing.  And no one flouts overweening sincerity like Jonathan Coulton.  His “Chiron Beta Prime” is the perfect antidote to treacly sentiment, documenting the poor Anderson family’s travails on a robot mining asteroid.  Robot overlords, soylent green pies, and redacted holiday messages: what could be more perfect this year?  On the other hand, we’ve got earnest covered too.  Canadian David Myles is just sooo nice, every mother’s dream date for their respective boy or girl.  “Santa Never Brings Me a Banjo” is lovely tale of disappointed expectations.  Actually, Myles has a whole album of Christmas tunes that is pretty solid.  Check out the wonderful bouncy lead guitar line and jazz vocals on “Sleigh Ride” or the exuberant fun of “It Snowed Last Night.”Chiron Beta Prime

For something a bit different, Franco-American indie hipsters Freedom Fry have a fun rollicking tale with “Oh Santa (Bad World).”  Seems the naughty list has gotten a bit too long and Santa is calling it all off this year.  Forget that empty parental threat to cancel Christmas, this is much bigger – and the live version here sounds just like the recording!  English band Farrah do a nice Paul McCartney re-invention on their 2008 release “Santa Don’t Go.”  Now I’m having a wonderful holiday time.  On the poppier side of poprock, two great singles: Allie Moss’ wistful “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and Schuyler Fisk’s upbeat and cheery “More Than I Wished For,” which bears the distinctive stamp of Tim Myers’ collaboration.Santa Don’t GoMore Than I Wished For

winterWe began the year with Quiet Company, an amazing band from Texas, so it seems only fitting to fit a few selections from their terrific 2012 seasonal EP, Winter is Coming in here.  This band loves the holiday, as evident from the series of house concerts they are doing throughout their home state this month.  Here you can see they excel at both commercial and traditional Christmas fare, delivering fantastic versions of both “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

Holiday music focuses us on the better part of our natures at year’s end, an entirely laudable goal.  And while you’re feeling warm and fuzzy, extend that good feeling to Nick Lowe, Jonathan Coulton, David Myles, Freedom Fry, Farrah, Allie Moss, Schuyler Fisk, and Quiet Company electronically via this interweb thingy.