It's December, which means the holiday music is out in full force. Particularly if you are a friend of mine.
My friend Jay Bonfatti used to do a special holiday CD and hand it out as a gift to his friends at this time of year. He did it for about 16 years, going from cassette to CD. They were always a treat, as Jay had such a wide range of musical interests. When Jay died, I figured I'd do a CD as a small tribute to him.
Here we are then, in year four of making such compact disks. I still get a laugh out of the idea of my friends throughout the country all listening to the same music that I picked out. One is even using it in her family's store as background music. Nothing like picking out flowers to "Christmas is Cancelled." The job of coming up with a playlist is in some ways easier and in some ways harder than ever before.
First of all, more music arrives every year, and a lot of it is available on line for free. Such websites as Stubby's House of Christmas does a great job of keeping up with all of it, and his genuine enthusiasm shines through with every mini-review. But on the other hand, I still have to listen to a lot of it in order to find out what's good and what's not worthwhile for my purposes. That means the new Bruce Springsteen CD, "The Promise," hasn't been thoroughly played yet. Call it a 2011 resolution.
It also means I'm a year ahead of everyone. The 2010 disk was made last December and then stored away. I've been working on 2011 for the last six weeks or so; I barely remember what was on 2010.
The reaction to the 2010 disk has been pretty funny. There are certain songs that jumped out of the speakers when I first heard them, demanding to be heard again. That includes "Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas" by the Eels (you should hear the punk rock version sometime, featuring the brief comment, "Baby Jesus, born to rock"), and "The Christmas Song" by BR549, a country band I once heard open for Brian Setzer. There are others but you get the idea.
But few people mention those songs when saying how much they enjoy the music. I had a friend lean back before the start of a funeral and say, "The Drifters' version of White Christmas is the best ever." So you never know. And that's great.
Now comes the gift mentioned on top. With 2011 in the proverbial can (if you have heard of more than five of the groups, I'll be impressed), I'm still listening to new, interesting tunes for down the road. Donnie Iris has made a most remarkable version of "The Hallelujah Chorus." He did all of the voices himself. In other words, he put down something like 84 tracks over the course of four months to come up with a song. A critic described it as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir meets Queen, and that's pretty close to the truth.
What's more, you can get it for free on his website. Call it a preview of 2012.
And happy holidays.