Lo, How the Carols are Overdone

December 12, 2011 § 3 Comments

By mid-December, even your favorite carol feels tired and drab – the silver bells less clear, the drummer boy a little slower. I’m picky about Christmas music as it is. I don’t like the bouncy jingles, sleigh bell effects, or pop star holiday albums. My associations with the holiday season are about the darkness of the evening against lit candles or a nearby fireplace, the warmth against the cold. As such, my list of seasonal music doesn’t usually include traditional carols.

But every now and then a musician’s version will capture my attention, reminding me not of the musician’s showcased voice, but the starry evenings they sing of, the moments of quiet reflection. And I can enjoy a new variation of an old melody. Here are four such renditions of traditional carols.

1. True to form, The Civil Wars take on minor and melancholy in this beautiful cover of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

2. The lesser-known carols always interest me (helped by their infrequency on the radio – you don’t hear Rihanna singing “Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella”). I like the jam feel of Megafaun’s “I Saw Three Ships,” the harmonica and banjo sound of  southern porches matching the gossipy nature of the song.

3. In the wrong hands, “Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming,” another lesser-known carol, could be in danger of simply plodding along, but Feist’s creativity adds to the piece (is there anything she can’t make beautiful?).

4. “Silent Night” has suffered from so many covers, but Priscilla Ahn manages to give it a completely fresh take. With her layered harmonies, I sense the calm, peace, and silence of the night.

Hopefully these carols don’t add to the noise of the season, but let you hear something new.

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§ 3 Responses to Lo, How the Carols are Overdone

  • Alyssa says:

    Also, another great Christmas album I’ve been listening to is from Sufjan Stevens. It is a 5 album set, easily listened to on Spotify, and like usual, his use of a variety of instruments really makes this overplayed music come alive. Enjoy!

  • Leah says:

    I picked up ten Christmas CDs from the library, and two were the “NOW Best Christmas.”

    My thought? Maybe there will be a hidden gem.

    My reality? Listening to pop artists repeat their OWN NAMES over and over again to the melody of the carols. Seriously.

    I did not think I liked Annie Lennox (and I don’t love her liner notes—correct name?) BUT, I did like some of her covers of the carols (the first three). She has a gorgeous tenor-ish voice (I know men sing tenor, but it took me a min. to remember Annie was female when I heard it…) that barrels through them with a different energy.

    On another note: The Paste Mix for Issue 22 includes a beaut by Seryn (“Our Love”) and some others. : ) You might like it.

  • Terry says:

    It is not Christmas until the St. Olaf College Choir sings. All else is prelude.

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