Christmas by the Lake: Homespun Holiday Music

by Paul Whyte

It’s getting to that time of year where I’m almost obligated to review a Christmas album. I guess, in a lot of ways, I’m that type of person that isn’t a huge fan of this category of music. I can’t really call Christmas music a genre because as this particular double album brings out, there are indeed many angles to take on favorite holiday hits. 

Christmas by the Lake: Homespun Holiday music is two CDs of local music where the proceeds go to high school aged kids to gain grants and scholarships in the performing arts, specifically, The Bluebird Foundation. This immense display of Christmas songs does not really hold back with over 30 tracks. From some rather successful bands such as Jamestown Story, to local favorites like Bill & Kate Isles, all the way to some High School choirs, this album is a stocking stuffed full of Yuletide tunes to get you through these dark months. 

For those who will actually be cooking up a dinner for the family, which will probably be served at 1 pm and go into the evening as everyone watches A Christmas Story for the 26th time, honestly, this would be a great album to put on while chilling with family for those who have one. Out of over 30 songs, I’m going to have to suggest some of my favorites from the arrangements themselves, to how much I actually like a certain Christmas song. Seriously, this is a daunting task. As a whole, for a person who doesn’t exactly love holiday music, this selection of songs does give me a little bit of the good ol’ Christmas cheer because it’s not the same exact thing I’ve been listening to my whole life, and I have to give a nod to the musicianship and vocal performances overall. 

As I mentioned this is a two disc album for a good cause, so just buy this if you want to have a good selection of songs you might play one month out of the year. If I have already convinced you, visit bluebirdfoundation.org for more information on how to get this album and help out. 

So, I’m sure you’re all just on the edge your seat wondering what holiday songs I might like out of these tracks. The album opens with “The Christmas Song” which might be known better as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” This rendition done by Rickey Lee Biggs with an orchestral background and piano is really just picture perfect. I could probably be convinced that this was a Sinatra take on this timeless classic if I didn’t know otherwise. Next up is “Wake the World With Joy” done by Superior Singers. This group is currently playing in the area and the choir group is certainly something to take in, check them out. 

I have to give a shout out to the jazz version of “Green Sleeves” also known as “What Child is This?” done by Blue Water Big Band. The horns and wind section on this track are beyond superb. 

The reason I like the song “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” is largely due to the version that Bing Crosby and David Bowie did in 1977. However, the Proctor High School Choir certainly gives it some justice. Honestly, I’ve really always just loved the message of this song, “peace on earth, can it be?…every child must be made aware…”

It should be noted that each of these songs were independently recorded, so there’s a little variance in overall sound quality, but I will give props to George Swanson from Swanson Video & Audio for cleaning up some of these tracks that might not have been exactly ideal in their original submitted form. In this regard, these songs are all suitable to listen to aside from a few things that I’m sure most won’t pick up on. The thought in track selection and care in mastering makes this all go pretty smooth considering how many people were involved. 

Either way, I’ll also say that the Denfeld-East Choirs version of “Joy to the World” is also something that rivals Proctor. I guess this is to create some rivalry about which choir group is better. They’ll just have to sit and wonder about my opinion on that without any actual bragging rights in the hallways. 

As I mentioned this is a two disc set, and I’m sure a ton of people will be pissed that I didn’t select their song as something worth mentioning. While I do like Laura Velvet & the Bookhouse Boys rendition of “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home,” it’s really the next track “It’s Christmas Once Again” by Gina Lee that made me kind of like this compilation more. It sounds like it was arranged on a mediocre keyboard with truly questionable recording techniques, but I love it. As in, the selection wasn’t so serious that I’d have to say the people deciding had their heads shoved up their asses. This gives way to a really beautiful version of “O Holy Night” done by Alan Copenhaver. Really, it’s some of the most beautiful pedal steel I’ve ever heard. I’m hoping that it’s a pedal steel, not just amazing slide technique on a resonator or something.  

Track eight of the second disc is from a guy named Tony Tracy. I’ve known of him for years, but I haven’t heard anything from him in quite sometime. This rough country song “Merry Christmas From The Family” is a mix of what one would expect from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and maybe a little from the show Shameless. It’s a somehow endearing yet realistic view of what Christmas is like to many. 

One song I can relate to is “Everyone Believes” done by Greg Tiburzi. It’s not really the happiest song, but is very inclusive to those who might have different opinions on the holidays or just are having a tough time at things. It’s short and sweet, and also somehow very fitting on this lengthy list of holiday tunes. “You may be an atheist feeling out of place, come December each and every year/You may be an orphan with tainted memories of holidays you’d just assume to forget/You might be a Muslim, a Hindu or a Jew/Christmas can be pretty hard for you/To get through, but everyone believes.” I’m pretty sure this is an original from Tiburzi, or it’s not a very well known song. I think it’s my favorite off the whole two CDs. 

The selection of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Legacy, featuring Lorene and Bill Couture, doesn’t bother me, but the amount of effects on the vocals does. Overall, I think this song has had a lot of controversy, and in this day and age, it’s something to consider. There’s two ways to look at the song. Is it a song about a guy taking advantage of a young woman, or a young woman questioning herself aside from patriarchal expectations of her? I won’t call it one way or another. 

So, I guess one of the most known bands on this collection is Jamestown Story doing the song “Wherever You Are.” I heard a lot of songs that I like from this band, but this isn’t one of them. If there’s such a thing as doing something a little too well, this is an example. It’s like something that would be on Dawson’s Creek for a Christmas episode back in the day. Yeah, it’s good, annoyingly so. 

So, I hope I didn’t bring you down in this review. There’s so many great songs on this album, and whether it’s All About Music singing “Feliz Navidad,” or “Hey Santa” by the Lake City Smokin’ Section, I really couldn’t ask much more from a local compilation of Christmas tunes. Wherever you’re at right now, a new year is coming and there’s still a lot of things to look forward to if you just want to find those things.