Not all Americana songs are about trucks and trains, but the same subjects do pop up over and over again. So here's some suggestions for thematic CD samplers. The list is in no particular order and is, of course, entirely subjective and primarily based on the contents of my CD collection. Click below the list to make your own suggestions. Or submit an entire list for future publication here.
Scrooge ain't got a thing on me
An awful lot of Christmas songs can be categorised as either sentimental or celebratory. This list, by Backroads contributor Yellowmoon, features Christmas songs with a touch of grit to them. The writers focus on the sad, the lonely and the dispossessed. So if warm, homely tales of peace, happiness and goodwill to all men get too much for you, this may be just what you’re looking for.
First up, Leon Russell’s single release from 1972, was one of very few Christmas records John Peel would ever give house room to. Set to a slow bluesy tempo, Russell sounds like he's drinking himself into oblivion, bemoaning that his girl has left him.
On a similar theme, George Jones has been abandoned by his wife, while Nanci Griffith is spending Christmas thousands of miles from home surrounded by strangers. Robert Earl Keen’s family Christmas manages to sound at the same time both dysfunctional and entirely normal, and John Prine spends Christmas in prison. By contrast, the hobos that Mary Gauthier is spending Christmas with sound happy with their lot and like they're having a much better time.
Before things get too cheerful, listen to Phil Ochs spending time with poor striking miners in Kentucky, and on a similar theme, Arlo Guthries's cover of Woody Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre”, about a tragedy at a miners’ Christmas party. Merle Haggard is looking past the holiday season to hopes of a change in fortune, and the last selection is Over The Rhine’s late-night jazzy ballad, curiously not too dissimilar in feel to the Leon Russell song that opened this list.
1. Slipping Into Christmas – Leon Russell
Well I know 'tis the season to be jolly, But Scrooge ain't got a thing on me
2. Lonely Christmas Call - George Jones
You left a year ago this Christmas and we’re wondering if you miss us
3. On Grafton Street – Nanci Griffith
This is not my place of memories, I'm a stranger in this town
4. Merry Christmas From The Family – Robert Earl Keen
Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk at our Christmas party
5. Christmas In Prison – John Prine
Her heart is as big as this whole goddamn jail
6. Christmas In Paradise – Mary Gauthier
Davey stole a Christmas tree from K-Mart last night
7. No Christmas In Kentucky – Phil Ochs
The trees don't twinkle when you're hungry, And the jingle bells don't jingle when you're poor
8. 1913 Massacre – Arlo Guthrie
The piano played a slow funeral tune, And the town was lit up by a cold Christmas moon
9. If We Make It Through December – Merle Haggard
And my little girl don't understand why daddy can't afford no Christmas here
10. All I Ever Get For Christmas is Blue – Over The Rhine
It would take a miracle to get me out to a shopping mall