Rethinking Christmas carols

Charlie heard his first Christmas carol of the year on the speakers at Home Depot before Thanksgiving. Ugh, he thought. But he is probably like a lot of us…conflicted about these chestnuts. If you examine the traditional carols one by one, they are usually pretty good hymns—well crafted and perfectly seasonal. Too bad we get so sick of them. And yet we need them, and not just to make a living as musicians during the season the public wants to hear them. We need them for how they connect us through the years, both with our younger selves and with carolers who have gone before. This week, Chaise Lounge will perform our annual Christmas show, with tunes from our Christmas album. One song we always play is “Good King Wenceslas.” It is a sci-fi-tale of the Duke of Bohemia in the 13th century, who leaves heated footprints in the snow as he travels on foot to give alms to a peasant. The melody might be Finnish from the 1600’s. The version we usually sing dates from the mid-19th century. What is astonishing to us is how the fiery silver nugget of wonder in this song burns its way through the centuries to have fresh meaning every time it’s sung. That is some powerful Christmas hoodoo. If you’re in the DC area, consider coming to our show at Blues Alley. 

One for the roadie

Sometimes the most valuable player at a gig isn’t even onstage. While we were on tour in Vermont this summer, we were blessed to have a young man, Dyllan, in charge of locating, transporting and setting up our back line for every gig. He was on site before we were, and he had nearly unlimited energy for getting drums, amps and keyboards on stage. After our gig in Greensboro was finished, it was absolutely pouring outside, and we dreaded having to mush through the muck to our cars. But it turned out that wasn’t necessary–Dyllan had already moved all the vehicles that needed to be moved and was quickly striking the set and bounding off the stage, brutally heavy amps in hand. Not once did we have to ask for help. He was a step ahead of us with all the help we needed. We hear he’s a talented bassist, so he may well have roadies of his own soon. Our wish for him is that they’ll have his same great energy and healthy knees.

A flash of inspiration

Corner of High and Blue Youtube ScreenshotYou never know where your next idea will come from. For us, most recently, it came from a set of walking directions and an offhand crack from Pete. Last month, when we played at The Rooster’s Wife in North Carolina, we were honored to be houseguests of the club’s owner, Janet Kenworthy. After sound check, Janet gave us directions to her house: “Walk out this door, turn right on High Street, then walk up to Blue Street and it’s right there.” “OK,” I repeated, “You’re at the corner of High and Blue.” After the perfect pause, Pete said meaningfully, “Man, I’ve been there.

How could this not be the next song in what Marilyn refers to as our “scorned-woman-slumped-over-bar catalog”? When we got home, I put pencil to staff paper and came up with a new song named after the intersection—and the mental state. Here’s a video of us performing it last week at our favorite DC supper club, The Hamilton: “The Corner of High and Blue.”

—Charlie

A treasured trek to the Tarheel State

The Rooster’s Wife is a Brigadoon-like venue that springs to life once a week in a building that used to be a plumbing supply warehouse. Located in the tiny town of Aberdeen, North Carolina, the concert hall is the singular vision of one person, Janet Kenworthy, who loves live music in a way that bakers love bread and flowers love rain. It is partly the depth of her passion that attracts great bands from all over North America, and it’s partly the crowd that she has cultivated. At the odd time of 6:46 PM (every show starts then), an audience of enthusiastic and knowledgable music lovers assembles in this unlikely spot. The confluence of good music and a good audience is the magic formula that every band dreams of. It’s why we were honored to make the pilgrimage to Aberdeen again this year for a Mother’s Day show. Thanks Janet, for making this happen. And thanks to North Carolina-based photographer John Gessner for his wonderful shots of the evening.

Tommy Barrick at the Rooster's Wife by John Gessner

Tommy Barrick at the Rooster’s Wife (photo: John Gessner)

Joe Jackson at the Rooster's Wife by John Gessner

Joe Jackson at the Rooster’s Wife (photo: John Gessner)

Pete Ostle at the Rooster's Wife by John Gessner

Pete Ostle at the Rooster’s Wife (photo: John Gessner)

Marilyn Older at The Rooster's Wife by John Gessner

Marilyn Older at The Rooster’s Wife (photo: John Gessner)