Arkansas Times Recommends is a series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we've been enjoying this week. This week, we recommend some listening for your holiday respite.
The just-released "Christmas with the Supraphonics" appears as if it's been in your collection for years, but you've somehow overlooked it when compiling playlists of Christmas Past. This is a surf music-inspired collection of holiday chestnuts, interesting obscurities, and one original song from superbly tasteful Little Rock musician Geoff Curran. (Curran is actually the lone Supraphonic here — he does a lot more than just drum for Mulehead,ya'll.)
His self-effacing liner notes offer song info — and probably not enough gear detail to satisfy true fans of surf rock. This is a holiday record done right — broadly appealing, but with enough of a smirk to be fun, and with enough depth and breadth to keep it interesting. "Christmas with the Supraphonics," issued by Little Rock's Max Recordings, is a platter that matters this season — classic enough not to annoy the grandparents, cool enough to satisfy the savage hipster, and warm enough to keep the little ones bopping.
— Stephen Koch
Last Christmas, while in Indianapolis with my Mom and brother around a large puzzle, I hoped to start a new holiday tradition of reading "A Christmas Story" by Charles Dickens aloud. I'd just read it myself, enjoying the sense of deep moralism and joy imbued; we are a Catholic family and guilt, I believe, should come with any happiness.
I'd hoped to spread my Christmas cheer, and it took roughly an hour and a half for me to realize that this was, indeed, very dumb. “A Christmas Story” is not very long, but it’s long enough — an audiobook recording of it runs for 3 and a half hours. These hours stretch when a loved one, whose voice by Christmas Day you’ve heard enough of, reads it.
So, don’t do as I did. Instead, go to The New York Public Library Website and listen to Neil Gaiman read it. During the reading, Gaiman dressed up and used the old notes that Dickens himself created for reading the tale aloud. These notes help and edit the story, and Gaiman’s reading lasts a little over an hour.
Operatic and oratorio singing is, to some extent, the realm of the daredevil, and there are a myriad of ways to walk the tightrope.
There's a particular bit of Handel's famed oratorio "Messiah" (a work which itself has become as synonymous with Christmas as leg lamps and Tiny Tim, #thankshallelujahchorus) called "Rejoice greatly." It's jubilant and bubbly, and I'm having some serious difficulty lifting my jaw from the floor after hearing this rendition from Trinidadian soprano Jeanine de Bique, broadcast as part of this year's BBC Proms Festival.
Put this ditty on for anyone who knows the aria, or better yet, someone who's sung it. That way you'll get to watch, firsthand, as terror spreads over their face when the tempo is established, Maestro Kevin John Edusei's hands bopping at roughly twice the speed as interpretations from notable predecessors, and it's so, so satisfying when De Bique nails it. More importantly, it completely fits the spirit of the piece and she still somehow slays the rapid-fire runs. Get your metronomes out, y'all; the gauntlet has been thrown.
Listen up: it’s perfectly fine to spend an hour or two this time of year, holed up solo, taking stock of your current situation. Love life, friend life, work life. Are you where you want to be? Have you shared the love this year? Decembers are a time for reflection, and that reflection is best accompanied by three simple ingredients.
Navel gazing end-of-year style is soundtracked quite nicely by The Pogues. If you’re not afraid of getting a little misty, put “Fairytale Of New York” on repeat, or maybe alternate it with their version of “The Auld Triangle.” Devastating.
Pensive wintry people need cocoa, but let’s not play. Put the Hershey’s away and invest in your own secret stash. You can step your hot chocolate game up by bringing home spicy cocoa and vanilla marshmallows from Loblolly Creamery. Sweet heaven in a cup, with just a wee peppery burn for the lips. Oh, and since you’re a grownup and all, maybe add a thimbleful or two of Trader Vic’s deliciously nutty amaretto for medicinal purposes.
The last ingredient? A four-legged pal to hang out and listen to you during the dark hours. The fine folks at Rock City Rescue have so many beautiful pups who’d happily pretend to pay attention while you make your various pro/con charts. Our sweet fella Miles, who came to us courtesy of RCR five months ago, talks me through it (pre-dawn) multiple times a week.
Three ingredients: music, drinks, and a loyal, loving beast. Happy holidays, you rascals.
The Christmas season doesn’t start in my mind until I hear Sufjan Stevens’ banjo-laden version of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"from his 2006 release, "Songs for Christmas." Coming in at over forty tracks, the album has plenty of covers, originals and characteristically odd interludes to accompany your holiday road trip.