Sunday, November 30, 2008

Holiday Music: Bruce Cockburn

As we emerge from the Thanksginving weekend and enter into the high holiday season, I must admit that I am a total uncrtical fan of holiday music (primarily Christmas tunes given my upbringing). I have a kind of embarassing amount of holiday music and I am really pretty resistant to hearing too much of it during December. Don't ask me to listen to a single track before Thanksgving, but after that, it is my primary set of music.

As a result, it will be unavoidable for me to not write about it since it will represent the majority of what I will listen to for the next month. However, in the interest of hopefully keeping the small random group of TR readers coming back, I have developed a kind of "advent strategy" to posting about holiday music. I am going to limit myself to one disc a week leading up to Christmas. My goal is to give you one pop/rock influenced album, one jazz, one classical, and one "classic" holiday disc--the last category providing me the opportunity to post on anything I want as long as I deem it a classic. See how that works?
Okay, so let's get started. My first offering is Bruce Cockburn's 1993 release simply named Christmas. If you like Cockburn's music and you like holiday tunes, this is a must have. It is all acoustic, just in case you were worried that Bruce might bust into one of his rocking rages where he tears into the commercialism of the holiday--his point is more subtle here. This album is focused on the history of this music and on conveying a real sense of belief in the best of this season.
He travels through music to give us 16th century Spanish music, to "The Huron Carol" from the 1600's in Jesuit influenced Canada, to a host of traditional carols. But this is no world-music disc as the music really feels like a group of musicians sitting around with guitar, fiddle, dulcimer, harp, accordion and more re-telling these stories and celebrating something quite spiritual through their interpretations of these songs.
The arrangements are the key with gospel and blues being the driving genre. Cockburn's folk sound (here with a heavy dose of French-Canadian feel) mixed in with his usual story-telling orientation creates a certain sound that is simple and joyful.
Here are a few samples. The first is "Early on One Christmas Morn" which Cockburn reports first hearing on an anthology of early gospel recordings--this one by The Cottontop Mountain Sanctified Singers (dig that name!). The second is one of my favs "I Saw Three Ships". Lastly, there is "Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes" which you will quickly recognize as "Angels We Have Heard on High" which is a traditional French carol from the 18th century, but as Bruce notes has a "rhythmic groove . . . written right into it."
I think these will give you a sense of what makes this album so special.

Early on One Christmas Morn Buy Album
I Saw Three Ships
Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes


Lisa B. said...

Oooh, pleased to know about this. I LOVE the Huron Carol, have a simple (enough) version to play on the piano, so will definitely look this up and give it a full listen. I also love Christmas music, but refuse to listen before Thanksgiving. Looking forward to more of your picks. Have you got the Roches We Three Kings? That's one of our (whole family's) absolute favorites.

CPS said...

The Roches? I do not. Do tell!