One last holiday post, though I promised otherwise. Because the holiday songs of Over The Rhine transcend the season. I saved the best for last.
I just re-discovered Over The Rhine, and they blew me away. The sweet breathy girlvocals, the moody guitar and piano, the exquisite musicianship and tonality. I'm a bit too much in awe to say much, honestly.
Post-folkers Over the Rhine have been around for fifteen years, touring with everyone from Dylan to the Cowboy Junkies. In that time, they've gone from a foursome to a married twosome, mellowed out significantly, and produced not one but two holiday albums: 1996 masterwork The Darkest Night of the Year, and last year's fan-only, absolutely mind-blowing Snow Angels, which didn't truly hit the mass market until this holiday season.
It was Snow Angels which recaptured my heart. Most of the album consists of heart-stopping originals: identifiably Christmassy, of a variety of types, all resonant with the best of the fireside yule. But it also includes two half-covers, new Christmas songs which start with or contain the kernels of traditional Christmas songs. I'm not sure what to call these, except so incredible, you just have to hear them.
For our final holiday post, then, a featurette: three Over The Rhine holiday songs -- one old, two new -- that are more than covers. Each uses the familiar as a starting point, adding lyrics, rechording the sound, twisting melodies beyond recognition. But this isn't like that tiny shard of Jingle Bells at the head and tail of Joni Mitchell's River. This is something new, on the far edge of the coversong, but still identifiably a cover. And it's gorgeous.
Look, I know it's late in the season to push holiday music. But I swear, I plan to keep Snow Angels on the turntable until February, at least. And new Over The Rhine album The Trumpet Child, too. You will too, when you hear them. Get them now.
Today's bonus coversongs are more true to their much more recently written original. But they're both sweet and sleek, just the thing for that last, late-Christmas afternoon light.
Bonus bonus (late addition): in case your Christmas isn't truly here until after the holidays, here's the best version I know of Blue Christmas, by Chaim Tannenbaum, off The McGarrigle Christmas Hour. (Do you think Chaim Tannenbaum is his real name? Translated, it means "tree of life".)