Shawn Colvin Sings “Love Came Down At Christmas”

Listen to this track by angelically voiced singer-songwriter and Christmas fan Shawn Colvin. It’s “Love Came Down At Christmas” as taken from her seasonally-flavoured 1998 Holiday Songs & Lullabies album , which is comprised of crisp and tender renderings of seasonal favourites, matched with restlful lullabies.

This song is a retelling of the Christmas story, infused with a sort of spiritual wonder. Yet, to me the ideas in this song are less about a religious message, and more about the universal themes of aiming one’s sights for greater awareness of, and connection to, those around them. What better message is there for this Yuletide time of year?

Aided by producer and fellow Christmas music fan Doug Petty, Colvin produced a record that put original songs alongside traditional holiday songs. The result is something deeply personal, yet accessible too.

But, where did this record come from, exactly?

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Bruce Cockburn Performs Christmas Song “Riu Riu Chiu”

Listen to this song by superlative singer-songwriter-guitarist and major Christmas fan Bruce Cockburn. It’s  “Riu Riu Chiu”, as taken from his album Christmas.  The song is sung in an archaic form of Spanish, telling the tale of an Almighty being who creates a woman, who then creates him in return.  Hmm.  That sounds kind of familiar.

Bruce Cockburn released his Christmas record in 1993, and even though I’m a big fan, when I heard about it I thought the worst.  I imagined folk-pop versions of  “Up on the House Top” and a cover with Cockburn in a sweater, basically.  Well, I needn’t have worried.  Cockburn had been planning this record since the early ’70s, the beginning of his career in fact.  He had loved Christmas music, more to the point the more spiritually oriented material, since childhood.  His dad had given him a homemade booklet of Christmas songs while he was a child.  He’d kept the booklet of course, which served as the album’s basis.

The record is no seasonal knock-off, and it’s clear that Cockburn threw himself into it.  As mentioned, this song is sung in Old Spanish.  But other songs are sung in Latin, French, and even in the Huron language, on which an expert, John Steckly, was consulted on phrasing and pronunciation.   A project like this might come off as kind of pretentious in the hands of a lesser talent, it seems to me.  Yet, what comes through is Cockburn’s enthusiasm for delivering music he’s clearly in love with.  He was clearly committed to it, and I’d argue that it is one of his best efforts overall.

There is a wintry, organic atmosphere to the record as a whole, and to “Riu Riu Chiu” in particular.  The song  is traditionally sung acapella. But, Cockburn uses a repeated descending guitar riff in tandem with Hugh Marsh’s violin lines, which really pushes it along without being intrusive. So, he’s added his own imprint to it, as well as presenting an old tale in the truest sense of the folk song tradition.  It comes off as reverent, but also kind of spooky too.  And strangely, there is an impulse to move to it, just because it’s so rhythmic.

Who ever thought an ancient tale of the Christmas story sung in archaic Spanish would be so funky?

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New Youth For Middle-Age

They say that 30 is the new 20, 40 the new 30 and so forth. In some ways perhaps this is must be a marketing ploy, extending the boundries of demographics to keep people buying toys. But, whether this is a by-product or a cause of this shift, I think the sentiments are true. Well, they feel true. I don’t feel as though I am the same as someone who was my age in 1979. For me, adults when I was a kid were solidly adults. They didn’t indulge in the things which a lot of people the same age indulge in now. Maybe that’s because there was less stuff to indulge in back then. But again – who knows.

I was watching Frosty the Snowman with Maya last night. She was less interested in it than I was. It was made in 1968, and is a firm part of my childhood. So I thought I’d pass it along. But, as it turns out, it’s still aimed at me. I know every frame of that little Christmas special.Heat Miser and Snow Miser It’s embroidered into the fabric of my Christmas expectations. The same goes for A Year Without a Santa Claus, possibly the first TV special I’d ever seen which anthropomorphized the two solitudes of nature – Heat Miser and Snow Miser. Now, I can use the word anthropomorphized in a sentence correctly. In 1978, I couldn’t. But, that damn TV special hits me in the very same way it did then – I love it.

Watching it with Maya is great; she sits with me and cuddles a bit. But there is a certain level of pleasure which comes out of having an excuse to watch it without feeling weird about still loving it. I just wonder if this is a sign of the times – when everything in our past gets thrown into the pop culture spin cycle to the point where “growing out of something” is a concept that our Western culture has grown out of. In this repect, it seems that 39 is the new 9. I think that this is promising in an age of war, political instability, environmental degradation, and general cultural uncertainty. Maybe our ability to be captured by wonder as we were when we were children will be one of the tools we’ll use to save ourselves.