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Christmas Music that Won’t Drive You Insane: Martin Sexton’s Camp Holiday

December 19, 2009

It’s so hard to find decent Christmas music these days, that it’s enough to surprise you when you hear a version of a Christmas song that doesn’t sound heavy-handed, or overproduced, or just poorly performed. Do we need to hear Josh Groban or Celine Dion doing their best to sound dramatic? Do we need to listen to that insipid song about “Christmas Shoes” one more time? No thanks. Listening to “Christmas Shoes” for the third time on a busy day is enough to inspire a candy cane embedded in a stereo speaker.

(Whatever happened to “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”, anyway? Why have I not heard that particular classic a single time this year? You’re really going to make me listen to “Wonderful Christmastime” again? Get bent, radio.)

Martin Sexton, for his part, is a local-ish artist (he’s from Syracuse) who does some great work with just his voice and his acoustic guitar. His songs have a do-it-yourself vibe that’s infectious, especially when he decides he needs a different instrument and just approximates it with his own voice (which makes him especially revered on the east coast a cappella scene). Case in point: “Holly Jolly Christmas”, from his 2005 Christmas album Camp Holiday. About halfway through the song, Sexton decides he needs a muted trumpet, and proceeds to sing the muted trumpet part. Sure, he probably could have found one of his musician friends to play an actual muted trumpet, but that would have taken away from the sitting-by-the-fire, playing-between-sips-of-nog feel of the thing. Singing the trumpet part lends intimacy to a song not exactly known for such.

The whole album’s just as solid — he even gets his family in on the act, allowing his dad and his daughter to sing a verse on “Silent Night”. They’re not the most technically sound singers in the world, but that’s not the point. The point is that Christmas is a time when we can reflect on what’s important, and enjoy the few quiet moments we have left to wrangle out of a nearly-finished year. There are few better soundtracks to those quiet moments than Sexton’s Camp Holiday.

(note: The links below go to LaLa.com, where you can listen to full tracks. I tried to embed a flash player, but WordPress does not take kindly to flash players; I then tried to post mp3s, but WordPress is going to make me upgrade my account before it lets me post an mp3. For now, this is as good as I’ve got.)

Holly Jolly Christmas – Martin…
O Christmas Tree – Martin Sext…
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