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December 2010

IRISH CHRISTMAS ALBUMS

IRISH CHRISTMAS ALBUMS -  HORSLIPS/THE CHIEFTAINS/MOYA BRENNAN

Three Christmas albums with a Celtic feel for your seasonal listening by three of Ireland’s most legendary acts.

 Drive The Cold Winter Away

Horslips - Drive The Cold Winter Away

Horslips were the biggest Irish band in Ireland in the seventies fusing folk and rock like no one had done before or since. Drive The Cold Winter Away is their most acoustic album. It is very folky, very Gaelic and very, very good. These guys could play and on these songs for cold Decembers their concertina and fiddle player Charles O’Connor shines through with versatility and finesse. As Horslips did in the first half of their short but prolific career they bring a lot of history to the music and have found Manx, Gaelic and English songs and a couple by Turlough Carolan a seventeenth century Cavan based harpist and songwriter who mixed folk and classical. There are carols and seasonal pieces as well as When A Man’s In Love which seems to be just done because it fitted.

Paul Leader’s Christmas Day Playlist

The Piper in the Meadow Straying

Drive The Cold Winter Away

Do'n oiche ud i mbeithil (That Night in Bethlehem)

 

 Bells Of Dublin

The Chieftains - The Bells Of Dublin

The Chieftains Christmas album was done as they embarked on a few years of collaborations and it benefits from such a project. Kate and Anna McGarrigle brings a French shade, Elvis Costello some dark shades in St Stephen’s Day Murders, Rickie Lee Jones’s voice makes O Holy Night simply a revelation and Jackson Browne’s Rebel Jesus is simply one of the best modern Christmas songs drawing in the Mayan Indians! Sometimes The Chieftains can be just a little too trad for me but the guest vocalists soften the sound. Another album with a Christmas Eve mood to it and no lack of depth particularly on Browne’s Rebel Jesus. I have blogged it before - http://stocki.typepad.com/soulsurmise/2009/12/the-rebel-jesus-jackson-browne--when-i-shared-with-my-facebook-friends-that-i-was-doing-a-sunday-night-event-at-my-chur.html

Paul Leader Christmas Day Playlist

Rebel Jesus

O Holy Night

An Irish Christmas 
 

Moya Brennan - An Irish Christmas

Moya Brennan is the real theologian in this mix. With her family this Donegal Gaeltacht speaker made it famous as Clannad but her sister Enya blew out the rest of the family by challenging and sometimes beating U2 in world side sales. Moya has some of Enya’s sound and indeed her version of Silent Night in Irish is not unlike her sister’s. On this album Moya gets chance to share her own Christian faith with some freedom. That signature ethereal airy sound and layered voices are made for these Christmas tunes; musically elegant and theologically eloquent.

Paul Leader Christmas Day Playlist:

Do You Hear/Don Oiche ud i mBeithil

Oiche Chuin (Silent Night)


Horslips - Live at the O2

Horslips O2 

I have written before on this blog about how vibrant an experience it was to be at a Horslips’ gig in the seventies. I feel I got very fortunate as I came late to the play seeing them for the first time in Bundoran in June 1979. I was able to repeat that sweat soaked t-shirt experience again that December standing for a moment and taking in the phenomenon that this band was. It was old Irish jigging and reeling and the communal feel of set dancing brought into a new age of rock with precision playing and great songs filled with the myth and history of the nation. I think I got only one more Belfast gig in the Ulster Hall before the band split in 1980.  

There seemed no chance of a return of the dancehall sweethearts and certainly not after nearly thirty years when out of the blue, due to an exhibition of old merchandise, Horslips reformed in 2007 and an acoustic album of old favourites arrived, followed by a brilliant movie of their glory days. The movie showed them tripping across a show band Ireland like John The Baptist straightening the crooked ways for the arrival of U2! One step at a time, in the domino effect of that exhibition, and it was pretty much written in the Irish stars that a full blooded reunion gig would happen and sure enough by December 2009 they were filling Dublin’s 02 and Belfast’s Oddessy with the fans who had yearned for decades for such a moment.

The live album just released shows that they didn’t disappoint. There is something about Horslips’ musical fusion of Irish trad. and guitar driven rock that transcends the past and the present and sits wheresoever you want to place it. One of the wonderful things about this record is that it brings the two differing Horslips’ sounds and sets them together. Horslips fused rock and Irish trad. but their early albums were more about adding rock to trad. where later on they added trad. to rock. Here those two approaches are placed in the same 120 minute set and everything is a little more seamless blending as they work in general through the years from the King Of The Fairies beginning to the Shakin’ All Over Final encore.

All in all this record of their O2 comeback reveals what a great band of players these guys are and what versatility they showed in the vast amount of music they produced in just one decade. There are tunes that transport you to the western edges of the island, caught with in a wee pub session with the best Irish folk band in then you are swept away to The Ulster Hall circa 1979 and the very floor is bouncing to a full on rock sound with fiddles swooping and swirling around it. There are guitar riffs to die for and the fragile subtlety of the folk tunes. If you’re looking for a negative then perhaps the vocals are the only thing that seems to have aged slightly but when you get into an eight minute version of I’ll Be Waiting you remember what a guitar hero Johnny Fean was; oh my word! Elsewhere O’Connor concertina and fiddle is quite remarkable and Lockhart’s flute on Trouble With a Capital T; well that was the riff and rhythm that we bounced to! Trouble has to be one of rock’s finest live moments!

Horslips covered a lot of Irish history in their work, or at least the myth and legend of it in their albums like the Tain or the trilogy that sees arrival in Ireland (Book Of Invasions), famine and emigration in Ireland (Exiles) and the following of the Irish in the United States (The Man Who Built America). The band itself has their place in Irish rock history and this is an historic record of the reformed band’s comeback gigs!

Soul Surmise Interview with Horslips' Jim Lockhart

review of Horslips' Roll Back


THE KILLERS - JOSEPH (Better You Than Me)

Killers Joseph 

It can’t have been easy. You are the humble, quiet village carpenter, respected for your work and life and your fiancée tells you that she is pregnant. She then tries to tell you that she has not been unfaithful but that God has caused the pregnancy! Then you have a dream that assures you that it is all, honest from God, true! Any holy man would struggle to come to terms with such an eventuality but you, Joseph! Joseph has often been over looked in the Christmas story. Not for him the adulation that Mary receives. Even my daughter Jasmine, when she was about five or six, said to me, “Dad I get Mary... and God... but where does Joseph fit in!”

The Killers, with the help of Sir Elton John and Neil Tennant from The Pet Shop Boys (making it the only Pet Shop Boys related song I own!), give Joseph his due and more than that issue a challenge and inspiration to us all. The song asks Joseph, who is given an understandably shell shocked demeanour throughout (Well your eyes just haven’t been the same), if it is tough dealing with the rumours, change of life plan and the fame. The Killers’ front man Brandon Flowers, who has a committed Mormon faith, concludes that it’s “better you then me, Joseph” recognising the strength of faith and character that Joseph needed to play his role in the changing of history.

The chorus is a challenge to living out that faith:

“From the temple walls to the New York night
Our decisions rest on a child
When she took her stand
Did she hold your hand
Will your faith stand still or run away
Run away.”

The song then moves from the objective story to the subjective challenge of Flowers’ own faith:

“From the temple walls to the New York night
Our decisions rest on a man
When I take the stand
When I take the stand
Will he hold my hand
Will my faith stand still or run away.”

The song at this point moves from a carrier of story to a call to commitment type song. Joseph becomes the example of a human being asked to do big things for the salvation of the world. His faith stood still. Like Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down he didn’t, in the face of all kinds of abuse and fear and terror, back down. And so, what about us?

 


Lyric For The Day 13.12.10 from Calvary by Ricky Ross

Pale Rider 

“A Baby comes, folks don't sleep
Those shepherds keep you up later than you meant to be
One child's grows and people notice
he's breaking chains
and making poor folks' lives so heavenly
(the way it's meant to be)

I don't need to know what everyone sees
different roads will take you where other paths lead
I'm not even trying to get as far as Calvary
Calvary...”

-      From Calvary by Ricky Ross

This might be my favourite Christmas song. Why? Well there is lyrical subtlety, seasonal feel and theological insight. There were a few songs on the Deacon Blue frontman’s solo album Pale Rider that touched on Christmas but this one took the meaning head on. Drawing out images of Christmas present and in the original Biblical nativity scene Ross with a gentle couple of phrases articulates the revolutionary nature of the scene; “he's breaking chains/and making poor folks' lives so heavenly nails.”

Yet, I guess you’ve noticed, the song is not called Bethlehem but Calvary. Why for? Well Ricky shared with me on my old radio show, where I had him right across the sound desk as I listened to this for the very first time, that the Church he grew up in always had Jesus on the cross at Calvary before he had had time to grow up. As I have put it in sermons since, the life of Jesus is not a fast route from Bethlehem to Calvary but a slow road through Calvary where we pick up all the lessons of his life to live out in post resurrection Kingdom bringing rebellion! So let us not get as far as Calvary just yet. Let us linger awhile round the potent truth of the incarnation. What Ross achieves is a song as gentle as God landing on earth as a baby in a bed of straw But with all the invisible impact that shook the world to its core!


Up/Down Load For Christmas - The Moody Blues; December

December MBs 

OK! I have pondered this one for a few days. This is probably have posts accusing me of sell out! This is not the Moody Blues’ greatest moment, indeed perhaps their blandest, but don’t stop reading quite yet.  There is something about that Moody Blues’ sound that fits the Christmas season. It is the soundtrack for curtains closed, fires burning, tree lights on, a few mince pies and a glass of something warm. On December, their last studio album in 2003, The Moodies have blended the traditional carols, like In The Bleak Mid Winter and Bach’s In the Quiet of Christmas Morning; more recent secular songs like Lennon’s So This Is Christmas (named it wrong though!) David Essex’ Winter’s Tale and even Bing’s White Christmas; and finally their own take on the season with three Hayward and two Lodge originals.

Where it wins is the ability for it to bridge the generations. Sufjan and Mr Zimmerman might freak the oldies out but there is something about the smoothness of this Moodies’ album that might sneak through. It is on the original tracks where we find some lyrical interest. Hayward’s I Believe In Christmas finds something that points to a better world in the Spirit of the season and even prays but it’s Lodge who has his own Christian faith who pips his old partner in depth of snow! His Spirit Of Christmas has us in the present day middle east in need of the wise men and shepherds and seeking heaven to move closer. The highlight for me on this record is On This Christmas Day where Lodge sings a lament to someone who has had a tragic experience at Christmas. Lodge says he will remember them and asks most powerfully, “Is it heaven that has the final world/With the world at your feet.”

There are three phases of the Moody Blues. There was the short 65 Denny Laine centred pop band with their hit Go Now. The new 1967 5 piece (Hayward, Lodge, Pinder, Thomas and Edge) who created what the fans call the band’s “core seven albums” was certainly the band that brought critical acclaim for those psychedelic sixties spiritual searching concept records. On Mike Pinder’s departure and Justin Hayward’s success with Jeff Wayne’s Forever Autumn the band probably sold out to commerce above musical pioneering.  So, I am not sure that this isn’t just my own guilty pleasure album, but I have had it on quite frequently this particular year.

Paul Leader Christmas Day Playlist

On This Christmas Day

Spirit Of Christmas


WHO AM I TO FIND YOUR LOVE

(I wrote this one for a youth event way back in the nineties and performed it with the mighty Duke Special singing with me... name dropper!) 

 

Who am I to find the one who has and will and can do all things

Unable to move

Unable to do sustain himself

At the breast of a teenage girl

 

WHO AM I TO FIND YOUR LOVE

 

Who am I to find the one who knows all there is to know, who decides what knowledge is

Unable to speak

Unable to answer

Just a cooing, crying bawling little bundle of baby

 

WHO AM I TO FIND YOUR LOVE

 

Who am I to find the one who fills the entire universe, before and beyond the stars

Confined to a moment

Confined to flesh and bone

Having his nappy changed by a carpenter

 

WHO AM I TO FIND YOUR LOVE

 

Who am I to find the God of heaven and eternity,

Leaving the company of angels

Leaving the absence of sorrow and pain

And with wild and holy nerve becoming vulnerable to germ and death squad

 

WHO AM I TO FIND YOUR LOVE

 

Who am I to find the King of Kings and Lord Of Lords

Becoming lower than all of us

Becoming the last of the last of us

To be the servant who sets us who should have been slaves free

 

WHO AM I TO FIND YOUR LOVE

 

Who am I to find the One who is holy holy holy

Be found in dirt and filth and straw

Be found in danger and a refugee

That we might find safety in a place beyond all fear

 

WHO AM I TO FIND YOUR LOVE

 

Who am I to find in this stable the indescribable truth

To find in this manger unbelievable gift

To find in these swaddling clothes a spectacular reality

That this baby is the gift of Christmas

A Saviour who is Christ the Lord

 

WHO AM I FIND YOUR LOVE


Up/Down Loads For Christmas: Andrew Peterson - Behold The Lamb Of God

Behold The Lamb 

Andrew Peterson took the Biblical story telling part of Rich Mullins legacy and has ran with it to great aplomb.  Peterson is a crafted songwriter in the traditional sense and has been able to weave Biblical story to song as no one else perhaps in his generation. His Christmas album started as a live extravaganza with friends like Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Jill Phillips, Ben Shive, Andrew Osenga and Randall Goodgame. The collective continue to tour this suite of songs every December; you can even buy the video.

It is a carefully constructed story of the incarnation from thousands of years before the birth to reaching beyond the manger though crosses are not mentioned just yet! If you minted the CD onto vinyl there are two sides. Side One is the Old Testament looking ahead to the Deliverer’s arrival, culminating in a haunting and musically intricate instrumental of the Carol O Come O Come Emmanuel. That beautifully describes the yearning among God’s people for this big arrival.

Side Two is then the New Testament story beginning courageously with Matthew’s Begats; and yes he succeeds. The nativity is spelled out and in no better song than Labour Of Love which smashes the cosy view of Christmas and focuses on a teenage girl, away from her mother, in a outdoor space giving birth with only a carpenter to help. It is a staggering story so often lost underneath tea towels on children’s heads that we have confined this incredible theology to.

Peterson has created an authentic record of the season. Where many of our carols get it very wrong, check the temperature in Bethlehem and bleak and mid-winter it will not be, Peterson gives us an opportunity to sneak a look at the real Christmas scene. Essential part of the Uploads/Downloads!

For the Paul Leader Christmas Playlist:

Deliver Us

Matthew’s Begats

Labour Of Love


Songs For A Healthy Soul - I Believe In Father Christmas by U2

Bono 

Now here is a song. Kept off the number 1 spot for Christmas 1975 by the phenomenon that was Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Greg Lake’s acoustic song of fragile beauty was deemed a “secular carol.” I didn’t play the song for thirty years, dismissing it as an anti-Christ angle on the Christmas season with its,

“They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
And they told me a fairy story
‘Till I believed in the Israelite.”

Then out of the blue for Christmas 2009 U2 do a video version to raise funds for the RED Campaign. Now wait a minute Bono. You can redeem a lot of things but Lake’s atheist anthem?

Well they do. Changing the line to “But I believe in the Israelite” Bono neither loses his faith, in their cover version, nor the opportunity to use a song to make a powerful statement. When you are listening to U2 you take one thing as read; that they have thought through the song and their use of it. They never leave a line or word to chance in their very carefully crafted artistic intent.

U2 turn this song into a close relation of their own song Peace On Earth. They are asking what good this Christmas is to the millions starving or going without clean water or anti-viral drugs. It becomes a protest song in the Old Testament style of lament. When interviewed about the song, Greg Lake never mentions an atheistic agenda. For him it was a pronouncement against the commercial side of Christmas. The last line is the prophetic preacher’s punch and much more potent with the U2 cover version: -  

“They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
Hallelujah noel be it heaven or hell
The Christmas you get you deserve.”

What Christmas do we deserve? Is it the commercial madness, the material waste, the crammed ‘holiday’ schedules, the road rage, the gluttony and the greed? Or is there something else in there? Is there a heaven in there under the wrapping, tinsel and stuffing to be found in the midst of the hell? For me U2 have redeemed the song as they attempt to redeem the season and link the celebration of incarnation with the awful crisis of AIDS across the world.


Lyric For The Day 8.12.10 from Happy Xmas (War Is Over) bu John and Yoko

Happy Xmas 

“So this is Christmas

And what have you done

Another year over

And a new one just begun”

 - from Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John and Yoko

It seems appropriate on the Thirtieth Anniversary of his death to have a Lyric Of The Day from John Lennon. Credited to both John And Yoko... and The Plastic Ono Band... and the Harlem Community Choir, this might just be Lennon’s second finest moment to Imagine. It has Christmas simplicity, a trait of Lennon’s sing along political anthems of the time, but a profound and weighty underbelly. Lennon replaces Christ with X in the title and in a song of peace for the Christmas season finds no use for the birth of the Prince Of Peace in the body of the song.

 However, though Christless in lyric, there are intentions in Lennon’s message that the Christian can shake hands with. It is an anti war song... the “war is over” lyric being pointed at the Vietnam War and the weak and the poor and every colour and race are almost prayed for.

 For me, every Christmas for thirty eight years, this is the song that I review my year with. Before and after my own discovery of the Christ child I have asked the same question, “what have we done?” What did the year hold? As another begins what can we fix? John and Yoko are asking big questions with big consequences but the simplicity of their song includes all of us in making the world a better place. Like Imagine the hope of the piece lacks the substance that the real import of the Christmas season would bring. The hope of a world rid of fear has little foundation if its only the words of a song...


Lyric For The Day 7.12.10 from Labour Of Love by Andrew Peterson

Behold The Lamb 

“It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labour of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labour of love...”

          From Labour Of Love by Andrew Peterson

This is one of my all time favourite Advent songs. For a few a reasons. First of all it is a beautifully crafted song and tender in its purpose of revisiting the manger birth. That would be me one of my other reasons; it breaks into the warm fuzzy comfort of Christmas and smashes to pieces, in the gentlest of ways, the nonsense that this was a lovely silent wintry wee night in a picturesque wee village and this baby “no crying he make.” This gives us some reality of the situation.

My third reason is that it gives Mary her place in the play; not always so in Protestant circles. In Peterson’s song, sung on the record by Jill Phillips, we find a meek young girl in an utterly unpleasant circumstance. I remember being at an Iona Christmas event in Glasgow and John Bell saying that when he shared the Christmas story with some mature inner city Glaswegian women they were drawn to how Mary was away from her mother at this vital time of her life. I’d never heard that in a sermon; men haven’t actually access to the entire truth! It is only one of many scenarios in this scene that shows that for Mary this was not an easy, theologically romantic evening. It was part of the self denial and cross she lifted when she responded in the affirmative to the angel. Her life was no longer hers but God’s; from here on it would be a labour of love! Peterson brings that out superbly.