Sufjan Stevens “I Saw Three Ships”

Listen to this track by concept-wielding orchestral-folk auteur and major Christmas music fan Sufjan Stevens. It’s “I Saw Three Ships”, an eminently seaworthy Christmas carol as it is featured on his 2006 Songs For Christmas boxset

The song comes from a long-running project from Stevens, a prolific recording artist used to putting together home recordings in short order. Initially, the recordings were meant as gifts to friends and family. Hey, it was Christmas! But, eventually the songs recorded for the series of EPs over the course of five years that made up this set of recordings began to coalesce into a bona fide project fit for a release meant for a wider audience – us.

Walking through the mall while Christmas shopping this year, you might think that Christmas music is a fairly limited subject for a whole boxset from a guy better known for his concept albums of original material that comes from unique angles. But, there’s tons of Christmas music out there that isn’t as well known as some of the songs you’ve heard in the mall lately. And Stevens decided to write some original songs to boot, arguably matching the spirit of those traditional tunes. This added up to 42 tracks of Christmas cheer!

The Songs For Christmas project spans five volumes, recorded from 2001 until 2006. The box in which the material was collected includes stories, posters, stickers, and comics. It’s a Christmas morning all in one box. And while he was at it, Stevens went and recorded one of my favourite Christmas tunes of all time, and one of my favourite versions of it, too.

So, just what makes this version so compelling, exactly? Read more

Jon Anderson Sings ‘The Holly and The Ivy’

Listen to this track by high-voiced Yes frontman, and holiday season enthusiast Jon Anderson.  It’s the Christian-meets-pagan holiday favourite, and sang straight-up, “The Holly & the Ivy” as taken from Anderson’s 1985 Holiday-themed (sort of) LP Three Ships. This is a sort of stealth Christmas album, in that it also features some wintry, yet not specifically Christmas-related original songs by Anderson alongside traditional Christmas carols.

The song is clearly derived from a pagan past, with images of the titular holly and ivy having once been important elements to the religions of the late Roman empire, and also of Druidic religions that dominated the British Isles before they were Christianized.  This suits Anderson’s milleu perfectly, having been an old hand at using pan-religious imagery and language in his songs, both with Yes and without.

But, what of the songs on this album? Read more