Kansas City musicians have written three new holidays songs for 2016 (that we know of). Here they are, along with a few other gems by local songwriters dating back to the 1940s.
Fair warning: Kansas City musicians are not in the habit of writing cheerful Christmas tunes. The following songs fearlessly embrace the deeply complicated emotions so many people feel this time of year, making Elvis and his "Blue Christmas" feel like candy canes.
In this slow and bleary toddy, the holiday season is a time for the singer and his friends to "laugh and joke about what kills us the most." The Kansas City trio of Nick Turner, Kalo Hoyle, Morgan Greenwood "decided to do something rather different than what we normally do and really stripped down our style," Turner says. "The general idea of us writing this song came about from being surrounded by holiday music at this time of year. As I work on the Plaza, I became really disappointed when I realized that all of the Christmas classics that we hear are generally used to contribute to the capitalist mania that surrounds the holidays. Point being, presents are great, but there are in fact more substantial things to be grateful for than just gifts. Within the song it can be heard that there is a vague optimism with melancholic undertones."
Nathan Granner: "Hustley-Bustley: Simple Piano"
Opera singer Granner, now in Los Angeles working and attending UCLA but still claiming Kansas City as home, has released a new version of this song from 2013, his gorgeous tenor accompanied only by sparkling piano. Granner explains: "I wrote it as I saw my and other's reaction to the Salvation Army ringer by the bookstore on the Plaza in KC. Just passing by. That and the lasting impression the book Ironweed had on me. With all of the hard-earned money being spent, even the the small change you have in your pocket would help a lot. Well, we all use debit cards and credit cards now, so you can buy the single and all proceeds will go to the Salvation Army." The digital download's available for $1 on Granner's Bandcamp page.
Howard Iceberg and the Titanics, "This One's For the Kids"
Reviewing Howard Iceberg and the Titanics' Smooth Sailing in November, KCUR music critic Dave Heaton noted that the track "Life's Supposed to Hurt" summarizes the whole album. Here, the singer dreams his dead uncle visits at Christmas, drunk like he was every year when he was alive; the dream evokes bittersweet memories of a troubled man who was, first and last, family.
Howard Iceberg and the Titanics, "Christmas In Missouri"
Iceberg is Kansas City's most prolific songwriter, so it's not surprising he's written two original Christmas songs. "My background is Jewish — I didn't grow up celebrating Christmas," he has said of this song. "But I've also written several songs about Texas, and I've never been to Texas, either. I wanted to do a Christmas song, my version of a melancholy song."
Mike Ireland & Holler, "Christmas Past"
From Ireland and his band's 1998 Sub Pop release Learning How to Live, this is a Christmas Eve spent in agony, the lonesome singer unable to stop thinking about happier holidays before his love left him.
Tom Hall, "Silent the Night"
Along with a gospel choir from Swope Parkway United Christian Church, Hall sings a variation of "Silent Night" with lyrics written by Rev. Roger Coleman (then of the Pilgrim Chapel) in response to a spike in violent crime in Kansas City in 2004.
Julia Lee and her Boyfriends, "Christmas Spirits"
In this 1947 recording, on the album Kansas City's First Lady of the Blues, the bawdy Lee, like so many others, is lonely on Christmas Eve — so lonely she ends up making a pass at Santa.
C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.