Based in Concord, North Carolina, Ramseur Records
has spent the last several years turning out some of the finest progressive and independent folk music on the contemporary stringband scene. From the Avett Brothers
, Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Wood Brothers, and beyond, Ramseur artists are some of the most beloved in the field. Now, they've gathered together to make a Christmas album which presents a number of new folk tunes by some of Ramseur's finest artists. Among the folks on this disc: Avett Brothers, their father Jim Avett, David Wax Museum, Mark Crozer, Paleface, Jessica Lea Mayfield, and more.
A Benefit for the Vickie Honeycutt Foundation
According to the website for the Vickie Honeycutt Foundation
, the organization was set up in honor of N.C. teacher Vickie Honeycutt, who died from breast cancer in March 2010. It seems Honeycutt was quite the influence on local teachers and students alike and, after her death, a foundation was set up in her name "to...provide assistance, with the help of your donations, to teachers and educators battling cancer so that their sole focus can be on recovery."
In other words, that the proceeds from this album go to such a worthy cause should be reason enough to foot the money and get yourself a copy.
Christmas music tends to be a category unto itself, usually comprising a canon of classic carols ("O Christmas Tree
," "Jingle Bells
," "Silent Night
," etc.) and occasionally churning out "new classics." These new classics usually take the shape of formulaic pop songs. Folksingers and traditional musicians tend to stick more closely to the traditional carols. But, on My Favorite Gifts
, many of these are either originals or more obscure songs about the holidays.
David Mayfield, for example, delivers a cover of John Hartfield's "On Christmas Eve" (purchase/download - a stirring, if slightly sad song about getting through the last evening before the holiday. Jessica Lea Mayfield delivers Roger Miller's classic "Little Toy Trains" (purchase/download) with considerable ease. In fact, I daresay her track is the finest on the whole album. Nick and the Babes deliver a somewhat downtrodden-sounding version of "Christmas Time Is Here" (purchase/download | known perhaps by many for its appearance in the Peanuts Christmas Special). The band's delivery sounds sad and lonely, though. And, while it's far more sonically pleasing than the rest of the album, it's not going to bring much holiday cheer.
Not a Traditional Holiday Album
Though this is an impressive roster of musicians and the performances are solid, but it's likely to leave some wishing Ramseur had gone for some other collaborative theme instead of trying to make a Christmas album. The best way to listen to this album is probably to upload it and put it on random play along with all your other Christmas and holiday music. From start to finish, the disc is a little choppy and lacks any kind of logical flow. For example, David Wax Museum's somewhat chaotic "La Rama" is a terrific performance taken on its own, but sandwiched between David Mayfield and Jessica Lea Mayfield, the track comes off a bit jarring.
I'd recommend adding My Favorite Gifts to your holiday stack simply on the merit of the artists involved and the cause to which it will give its proceeds. Make no mistake - the folks at Ramseur Records have good taste, and this record is no slouch. But, letting it play at random against more traditional recordings and even some more contemporary (Bob Dylan's Christmas disc or that from the Asylum Street Spankers, for example) might serve the music contained here a little better than taking it straight up from start to finish.