Bah, Humbug: A Curmudgeon's Guide to Vermont Holiday Music | Music Feature | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Bah, Humbug: A Curmudgeon's Guide to Vermont Holiday Music


Published November 29, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 12, 2017 at 4:11 p.m.

  • Susan Norton

Now that we've officially moved into the holiday season, there's something I need to get off my chest: I hate Christmas. I don't know how I got this way. I certainly wasn't born hating mistletoe, tinsel and eggnog. But I've made up my mind, and there's nothing anyone can do to change it.

To wit: An X-ray of my chest reveals that my heart is not only three sizes too small, but also that it's made of coal. I actively root for the burglars in Home Alone. My personal "director's cut" of "Frosty the Snowman" ends with little Karen crying over the melted remains of her beloved magical friend. If Ebenezer Scrooge were running for state senate, he'd have my vote. And the Grinch is basically the man of my dreams — but only in the first part of the movie, before he gets brainwashed by those insufferable Whos down in Whoville.

Am I making myself clear? Yuletide cheer makes me want to vomit.

The most frustrating part of the holidays is that I seem to be the only curmudgeon in town. Imagine my displeasure when I discovered how many Vermont-based musicians are so full of Christmas spirit that they feel compelled to make seasonally appropriate albums. My cold, dead heart tells me that most of these releases are nothing more than cynical cash grabs — even the ones that are free to download or raise money for charity.

At the behest of my friends and family (and editors), I'm going to give snow, Santa Claus and figgy pudding one more chance by investigating some locally sourced wintry works. Not that I think it'll do any good.

"The Little Drummer Boy"

Lane Gibson Jr. and Lane Gibson Sr., Christmas With the Gibsons

Ugh. This father-and-son duo, the elder of whom owns one of the highest-quality recording studios in the state, celebrate holiday joy and family togetherness through eight traditional Christmas carols on 2016's Christmas With the Gibsons. In other words: Gag me.

I can imagine most listeners smiling and bobbing their heads to the pair's modern reinvention of "The Little Drummer Boy" — but it only makes me roll my eyes. I'm sure you'll disagree, but I find the Gibson's up-tempo, folk-rock rendition, which creatively circumvents cliché by excluding percussion, to be an unwelcome update on the overplayed classic.

"I (Don't) Hate Christmas"

Physics Club, A Very Special Time Together

OK, I feel personally trolled by this one. Composed of Swale's Amanda Gustafson and Jeremy Frederick, plus Adam Cooper Wood, Physics Club completely miss the mark on the piano-driven "I (Don't) Hate Christmas." Gustafson willingly succumbs to the worst things December 25 has to offer, despite early hints that she might be on my side. Candy canes, popcorn strings, inflatable Santas — she digs all that crap, apparently, despite an admitted predisposition similar to mine. I imagine that those whose hearts are filled with cheer will find the Billy Joel-inspired cut quite endearing. Not me, though. Because I do hate Christmas.

"Snow Angel"

Swale, Kiss Mess

Speaking of Swale, don't even get me started on "Snow Angel" from their 2015 Christmas EP, Kiss Mess. You'd think that anyone who hates the holiday's cloying conventions would appreciate a haunting, minor-key, post-bluegrass ditty about a lost love. Wrong! The revelatory composition only strengthens my resolve.

"Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer"

Beard & Glasses, Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer

Did this southern Vermont duo really think it could get away with reinventing a novelty song like Elmo & Patsy's "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" as a foreboding, mariachi-infused piece of outlaw country? As if. Is there anything worse than a smartly reimagined take on a worn-out piece of Americana? Yes: Christmas is the worst.

"Winter Weather"

Taryn Noelle and Friends, Feels Like Home

There's nothing like the magic of a group of friends coming together at the holidays — to make me wretch, that is. It's especially true when they're all extremely talented jazz musicians collaborating on a seasonal album fronted by the award-winning, multitalented Taryn Noelle — one of the most celebrated and beloved arts educators in Vermont. I'm sure Noelle and company's equatorial, bossa-nova take on the classic Benny Goodman/Peggy Lee swing tune will warm you up on a frosty December eve — but not me. I'm still ice cold. Lukewarm at best.

"Dub the Halls"

A Very Vermont Holiday, A Very Vermont Holiday, Vol. 5

Don't try to win me over with wordplay and the cross-pollination of Christmas music with tropical genres. It didn't work on me when Noelle and company tried it, and a darling, reggae-infused rendition of "Deck the Halls" won't, either. The skilled musicians of this Vermont-based collective — which includes Kat Wright band members Josh Weinstein and Bob Wagner, among others — think they're soooo clever. Do they honestly believe people want to hear a highly nuanced, cheeky version of a beloved tune that plays with our preconceived notions of what a holiday classic can be? I'm nonplussed.

"I'll Be Home for Christmas"

The Crumbs, Christmas 2013

I have nothing in common with this acoustic, Christmas-loving duo. Featuring two members of the defunct old-time band the Burlington Bread Boys, the Crumbs freakin' love holiday merriment. They're so enamored of Jack Frost, chestnuts and silver bells that they've served up jingle-iscious EPs three of the last four years. My thoughts on the duo's stripped-down version of Bing Crosby's dreamy and romantic classic: Hard pass.

Do the Crumbs expect me to swoon over their evocative, thoughtful version of a cherished song synonymous with 20th-century nostalgia? I mean, I guess I did swoon a little. But that had more to do with the singer's velvety voice and nothing to do with Christmas, I swear!

"O Holy Night" (Feat. Cait Hoffman)

Joshua Glass, Merry Christmas from Burlington

Wait a minute. Something happens to me when I listen to Cait Hoffman's reverb-drenched, a cappella performance of the classic carol. It's a weird, unfamiliar feeling — kind of like hunger, but not localized to my stomach. I feel it everywhere. The singer's emotional resonance makes me suddenly aware of the emptiness inside me.

"Silent Night"

Carol Ann Jones, Christmas in Vermont

OK, I know I'm supposed to hate this. But somehow Carol Ann Jones' rendition of "Silent Night" engenders a strange emotion in the foul chasm that is my soul. It feels like ... the opposite of hate? Do we have a word for that in the English language?

The track's folksy three-part harmonies, interplay between guitar and mandolin, and all-around gleaming production kind of makes me want to wrap presents, make mulled cider, and curl up in front of the fireplace with family and friends. Whatever it is, I'm going to chase this peculiar feeling. Maybe I'll be able to define it before Christmas Day.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Bah, Humbug"