Christmas Product Placement Week! The Darkest Night of the Year by Over the Rhine

So it’s a couple of weeks before Christmas. You’re rushing through the stores, panicked. Aunt Billie-Joe Bob is coming to stay at your place for a week, and the gift you’d originally gotten for her, the ‘It’s a Catty Christmas–All Christmas Songs Hits sung by cats” is looking mighty tacky right about now. You got to find another gift, pronto, that will endear you to her good side and that you can all enjoy as well. But the choices are endless, and time is running out. The pressure is on. What will you get her?!?!

First of all, relax. You don’t know that the reason Aunt Billie-Joe Bob is really coming is so she can get away from her smoking, boozing husband who snores like a banshee. She’s just grateful that she is able to get away from the week–if she sleeps on the floor in the bathroom, she’s happy. Plus, she gets the added bonus of spending the week with you, whom she hasn’t seen in ten years. Just the fact that she gets to pinch your cheeks and you groan, “Come on, I’m thirty-two already,” makes her heart sigh with happiness, because she gets to hear your complaint in person. So spend some time with her. Take her out for dinner. Arrange for a day at a spa for her, or, if you’re really brave, do it yourself with letting her take over the bathroom for a night. Really, she’s that easy to please.

But if you still insist on getting her a gift, then perhaps my Christmas Product Placement Guide will help. I’ve decided to take a day this week to give you ideas on music, books, anime (because, Aunt Billie-Joe Bob is a closet anime fan, and you would know that if you spent more time with her, you selfish old goat) and other things that pop into my mind. Reason why I’m doing this? Feh, no particular reason. Really, I’m doing this for fun. (And if my family is trolling for ideas for me, sorry, I already own most of what’s going to be up here. You know where to go for other ideas.)

otr.jpgSo let’s get started with Christmas music. I highly suggest getting Over the Rhine’s The Darkest Night of the Year. This CD gives its own directions on the perfect time to listen to it: at midnight, December 1, in the dark, with a glass of wine.

It’s hard to classify Over the Rhine. They’re not exactly a Christian band, although they are Christian. It’s definitely not Contemporary Christian. More alternate folk pop, with a lot of bluesy bluegrass jazz, and a touch of country gospel sprinkled liberally. What I do know is that the music is good.

Over the Rhine is fronted by married songwriting couple Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler. Karin provides the haunting vocals while Linford plays the piano. He does play other instruments, but the man is a virtuoso at the piano. If you’re lucky to watch them live, watch the man’s fingers–they almost dance over the black and white keys. Listening his piano alone is sheer audio pleasure, but add Karin’s pure crystalline voice to the mix, and you got soul music coming out of your speakers.

This is not a cheery, happy CD that will have you dancing. It’s for those nights where you sit and watch the snow falling, creating a blanket of white all over. That still, vaguely melancholy feeling. The first track “The First Noel” sets the tone with low, trembling organ and the voice of a cello vibrating deep in your bones. In fact, I don’t think there’s many instruments on the CD. There are several piano/cello collaborations, and there’s some songs with electric guitar and drums. But there’s also a couple of songs with just Karin singing and Linford playing the piano, like’s “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” that sounds so perfect you never want it to end. Besides traditional carols, there’s also several original tracks that fits well in the Christmas spirit. My personal favorite is “Mary’s Waltz”, a song about a dying little girl who only wishes to dance.

Over the Rhine is coming out with a new Christmas CD this month, made entirely of original songs called Snow Angels. I listened to the first couple of tracks and got instantly hooked, so it will be going into my Christmas library soon. But if you never heard the group before, I’d suggest getting the Darkest Night of the Year first. Then, turn off all the lights in your house, open wide the windows, settle yourself on the couch and breathe the music in. Deeply.