Have a Very Merry Prog Christmas

I’d like to strike the next person who says “Christmas this year will look a bit different.” Well it doesn’t have to sound different. If you find yourself alone this Christmas Eve/Christmas (like me), there’s plenty of Christmas-related prog to keep you entertained.

Devin Townsend’s Christmas livestream
A couple hours ago Devin Townsend released a Christmas-themed live stream. If you’ve ever wanted to see the mad genius imitate a crooner, you’re in luck. Mostly he plays his own music spanning his career, and his whole demeanor is incredibly calming. It’s an acoustic set and a one-man show, so if you’re not as big a fan of the extreme side of his career, then this is the show for you. Ok it’s Devin so there are a few screams, which are almost comical considering he’s playing an acoustic guitar. The acoustic version of Strapping Young Lad’s “Love” is pure gold in that regard. The man has a golden voice no matter how he’s using it.

Dream Theater’s “The Holiday Spirit Carries On”
The mighty Dream Theater released a Christmas medley track a couple weeks ago to raise money for their live crew. It’s $2.99, and all the proceeds go to their crew. If you’ve ever wanted to hear James LaBrie sing “Fa-la-la-la-la la la-la la, then you had better buy the track soon because it’s only available during the month of December: https://dreamtheaterofficial.bandcamp.com. Here’s a brief sample:

Neal Morse’s “Last Minute Christmas Album”
Neal Morse decided to write a Christmas album over the last couple weeks, and it is available for download over at his label, Radiant Records. It’s his singer-songwriter side of things rather than his prog side, but it’s still Neal Morse. https://www.nealmorse.com/2020/12/19/download-now-neal-morse-last-minute-christmas-album/

Big Big Train’s “Merry Christmas” and “Snowfalls”
Big Big Train released the single “Merry Christmas” along with the even-better B-side “Snowfalls” back in 2017. They’ve become two of my favorite tracks of the season, and I would love to hear a whole album of original Christmas music from them, along with their take on some classic Christmas carols.

Jethro Tull’s Christmas Album
“The Jethro Tull Christmas Album” has been a favorite of mine for several years now. I listen to it every Christmas season.

LEAH’s “Ancient Winter”
It’s been a while since we’ve heaped praises upon the head of Canadian Leah McHenry. Last year she released “Ancient Winter,” a wonderful album celebrating the winter season. This album leans more into her Celtic influences than her metal influences, which fits the season. Definitely worth a listen or two.

There’s other Christmas prog out there, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. May you have a blessed holiday in spite of everything going on in the world. Christmas is a time when we remember that God humbled Himself to be born as one of us so that He could live like us before sacrificing His very life so that we might live forever if we follow Him. His burden is light when compared to the weight of our sin, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we’d all be better off bearing that burden than the weight of the world. There’s always hope in the world, no matter what’s going on. This music is just a little glimpse of the goodness available to us even in the darkest moments.

Merry Christmas.

The Albums that Changed My Life: #7, O Come All Ye Faithful by The Choir of King’s College Cambridge

by Rick Krueger

Hearing this album was what really confirmed me — a fourth-generation American of German ancestry and Lutheran upbringing — as a lifelong, diehard Anglophile.  As a unlooked-for bonus, it reopened a vocational path I had taken for granted, if not outright abandoned, as I trained to become a musician.

“Wait a minute,” I hear you say to the first point, “every single album you’ve written about so far is by a British artist or composer!”  Point taken.  Throw in my love for the work of Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien and Shakespeare (as well as the adventures of Sherlock Holmes), and you might consider my opening sentence an overstatement.  But hear me out.

Continue reading “The Albums that Changed My Life: #7, O Come All Ye Faithful by The Choir of King’s College Cambridge”

Kevin McCormick discusses “In Dulci Jubilo: Songs of Christmas for Guitar and Voice”


The following interview with guitarist and composer Kevin McCormick was originally posted on Catholic World Report last week, but I am posting here as Kevin is a fellow Progarchist, he is a fabulous musician, and his new album, with his daughter Rachel, is a gorgeous album of traditional and sacred Christmas music. Here goes!

Kevin McCormick (www.kevin-mccormick.com) is a classical guitarist, composer, and teacher based in Texas who has released several albums over the past twenty years. His new album, In Dulci Jubilo: Songs of Christmas for Guitar and Voice, featuring the vocals of his teenage daughter, Rachel, released today, on the Feast of St. Cecilia. It is a collection of fourteen songs for Advent and Christmas, including “In Dulci Jubilo”, “Ave Maria”, and “Panis Angelicus”. He recently responded to some questions I send to him about his new album.

CWR: For those who aren’t familiar with your work, what is your musical background: where did you study, what have you recorded, and what do you do as a full-time musician? What about your daughter, Rachel?

McCormick: My mother was a music teacher and choral director and so music was a large piece of the fabric of our family. My older brother played piano and my younger brother played drums. I’ve played guitar for nearly as far back as I can remember. I started when I was seven and studied privately for many years. And yes, I’m not ashamed to say we were a band. We spent most of our time writing our own music. By high school though we were playing cover tunes at clubs and other gigs and generally enjoying it all. I continued with a band at Notre Dame, but while there I also rediscovered classical guitar and classical music in general. During a year abroad in Rome I studied at a guitar conservatory with a student of Andres Segovia. I realized how much I loved the sound and repertoire of the instrument and so I pursued it on and off for the next decade.

A stint in Japan allowed more of the rock thing and club playing but also the study of Japanese music. Along the way I began to take composition more seriously. When my wife and I returned to the States I studied guitar and composition at Indiana University’s School of Music. Eventually we wound up in central Texas where I was trading time between writing serious post-rock song cycles, writing for my own ensemble in Austin (which once again included my brother on drums), and composing classically. The song cycles became my first two recordings [With The Coming of Evening and Squall]. In fact, they are part of a tryptic that awaits completion. Stylistically they spring from many styles including jazz, east asian, film music. I was heavily influenced by the work of Mark Hollis during that time with my own foundation as a classical player was woven in as well.

But you never know what God has in store. I ended up establishing a teaching studio in our small Texas town and playing classical gigs in the area. That lead to my three solo guitar recordings: Solo Guitar (an introduction to classical guitar), Americas (music of Latin America and some original compositions), and Songs of the Martin (collection of songs performed on a 1846 Martin Guitar). My daughter Rachel definitely inherited a love for music. She has been singing ever since she could make sound. She has cantored at church since she was ten and has sung in stage musicals at our local theater. She has sung with our church choir and her school choir for nearly ten years. She has done some private study, but really she just seems to have been blessed with the voice and the spirit for singing. Some of my fondest memories of her singing have nothing to do with a stage. She sings all the time.

CWR: Why did you decide to produce a Christmas album? What do you hope people will hear and experience when listening to the album?  Continue reading “Kevin McCormick discusses “In Dulci Jubilo: Songs of Christmas for Guitar and Voice””

A Little More Seasonal Joy: Mike Kershaw’s WINTER

kershaw winterAs I mentioned in the previous post, there are lots of new musical offerings this Christmas season.  Of course, what a tradition!  Some of the great seasonal recording of the not so distant past: Jethro Tull, Sarah McLachlan, George Winston (remember him!).

In addition to the excellent releases by The Reasoning, Neal Morse, Leah, and Kevin McCormick, the intrepid goth progger, Mike Kershaw, has just released WINTER.  As he describes it:

This is a seasonal EP with 4 quite different songs. I decided to record this whilst writing for my next album ‘Ice Age’ as there was a track that didn’t fit exactly with the feel of the album and along with a couple of songs that referenced Xmas which I could never have put on a normal album release. Land of Gloom is a short, fun, upbeat track that at face value is Christmas standard but the lyrics suggest something else Silent, Silent Night is an altogether more serious track and the lyrics speak for themselves really Reason to Believe was the title track of my 2011 album and I thought it would fit nicely alongside these other songs. However rather than just including it in its original form I have re-recorded a good deal of it and given it a new sound. A song of hope. Snowman was a track specifically written for ‘Ice Age’ that on reflection didn’t fit with the mood of the album but was too good to discard. Basically a love song with Mellotrons!! Hope you enjoy listening.

Much enjoyment, indeed, at progarchy central.  Thanks, Mike!  Get yours at: http://mikekershaw.bandcamp.com/


Merry Christmas from LEAH

Merry Christmas from LEAH

An amazing “Merry Christmas” gift has appeared just this evening!

Leah writes on her Facebook page:

Here is my gift to all you beautiful people!
A symphonic metal Christmas EP from me to you!
Best of all…. it’s FREE!!!
Share away!!!

The EP contains studio versions of the three Christmas tracks that Leah played live on 12-12-12.

Download the EP for free, enjoy this excellent music, and please share the Christmas spirit.

The Greatest Christmas Rock Song

Dan Flynn makes a very strong case that the greatest Christmas rock song is The Kinks’ “Father Christmas“:

The number that most embodies the spirit of the season depicts a violent robbery of Santa Claus. Thirty-five Christmases ago, The Kinks released “Father Christmas,” a gritty tale about a department-store Santa getting rolled by a gang of teenagers. “Father Christmas, give us some money/We got no time for your silly toys/We’ll beat you up if you don’t hand it over/Give all the toys to the little rich boys.”

It’s a 45 with a sense of humor. It also has a sense of the Beatitudes.

If upon first listen “Father Christmas” rings as cynicism inverting the spirit of giving into one of taking, subsequent spins reveal a track telling us to give thanks for our good fortune rather than the small fortune under the tree. A hoodlum instructs St. Nick to hold off on the Bionic Man costume for his brother and the cuddly doll for his sister. “But give my daddy a job cause he needs one/He’s got lots of mouths to feed.”

“Father Christmas” invites us to be more Christ like. An ode superficially about the ultimate expression of materialism (theft) becomes a spiritual admonition to remember the least among us.

And, as Dan points out, the ultimate coda to the song is how Ray Davies actually got shot in New Orleans when he chased two muggers!

By the way, Dan says the best Christmas songs “can be counted on an eight-beaded abacus” and lists “Silent Night” as one of the eight best.

I have to say that the only version of “Silent Night” that I can wholeheartedly endorse is Leah’s version. And I wish Dan could have seen her amazing show last night, because she did epic metal versions of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”, “The Holly and the Ivy”, and “God Rest Ye Merry”, which Dan will have to make room for on his abacus! But more about Leah’s incredible concert later on, as Progarchy shall post a full review…

Have Yourself a Proggy Little Christmas…

Brad has already discussed A Proggy Christmas by The Prog World Orchestra (and very good it is, too!) but there are yet more musical treats out there to get you in the mood during the festive season.

Cover art for The Jethro Tull Christmas AlbumMy first recommendation is the 2009 two-disc edition of The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. Disc 1 of this set is a reissue of the original 2003 album. It contains some reinterpretations of seasonal Tull material such as Ring Out Solstice Bells and A Christmas Song plus some new songs and some new arrangements of traditional tunes.

Even more interesting is Disc 2, a recording of a 2008 concert at St Bride’s Church in London. The concert features live versions of half of the material from Disc 1, interspersed with readings and carols sung by choir and congregation.

Cover art for Chris Squire's Swiss ChoirMy second recommendation is Chris Squire’s Swiss Choir. This album appeared in 2007, over three decades after Squire’s first solo album, but it is quite unlike that earlier work. Twelve of the album’s thirteen tracks are traditional carols or Christmas songs. The album title is a Spoonerism rather than a clue as to the nationality of the singers, for it is The English Baroque Choir that plays a pivotal role here. Some of the tracks are largely choral in nature whilst others have a predominently pop/rock flavour. Squire is on bass throughout (of course), with Steve Hackett guesting on guitars.

The final track is a remix of the enjoyable 1981 Chris Squire-Alan White Christmas single Run With The Fox. You can listen to the original version here:

Matt Stevens’s Silent Night.

Two things I never hide: my love of Christmas Music and my love of the music of guitarist Matt Stevens. Matt is one of our single best living guitarists. Here, he puts his own very reverent and tasteful twist on a holiday classic. You can listen to it for free. If you like it, please purchase a download copy. It’s very much worth supporting Matt–as an artist and an entrepreneur.