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The Heroes of 2020
1. Lennon Rutledge - O Holy Night
O Holy Night is a tough carol to crack for singers under the best circumstances; you can either swing for the fences in the hymn’s most dramatic moments, or get under the hood of the song and let the melody carry you along through the glory and grace of the night divine.
In her YouTube video recorded at Halifax’s Sonic Temple studio, Lennon Rutledge, a 15-year-old singer and skilled soccer player from Hammonds Plains finds her own way through the song that is simple and heartfelt, finding power in the clarity and strength of her singing.
“The song has such a great meaning to it, and such a beautiful melody, I really wanted to create a version of the song in my style,” says Rutledge, who sings and performs O Holy Night on piano, accompanied by her mom Kristina on guitar and harmony.
The video was shot by musician/photographer/filmmaker Shehab Illyas, and is a far cry from an older homemade clip of Lennon singing Faith Hill’s Where Are You Christmas? from the soundtrack of Jim Carey’s live-action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Many local sports fans will be familiar with the King’s-Edgehill School student’s impressive voice from hearing her sing the national anthem at sporting events like Halifax Hurricanes and Halifax Wanderers games, and it’s just as well suited to the recording studio as a stadium, even though working in Sonic Temple did take some time for her to get used to.
“It took a while to get the song perfect. We were there for something like three hours trying to get it perfected, but overall it went really well,” she recalls.
“But that’s what they said (at the studio), that it always takes a while.”
Enjoy Lennon’s performance of O Holy Night on YouTube; unfortunately it has not been posted to Spotify as of yet, so I had to make a substitution. I kept it Nova Scotian though, with one of my all-time favourite renditions by the Barra MacNeils featuring Lucy MacNeil’s peerless vocal.
For a local gospel take on O Holy Night, you can also check out the new Keonte Beals EP December on Bandcamp, where the North Preston performer is joined by Carleena Smith and Antonio Beals on the timeless carol.
2. Alanis Morissette - Merry Xmas (War Is Over)
In case you’re wondering, yes Lennon Rutledge was named after her mother’s favourite songwriter John Lennon, so it felt imperative to include the late Beatle’s solo plea for peace on this playlist.
But since his original recording of Merry Xmas (War Is Over) is already in heavy rotation nearly everywhere you go right now, it seemed appropriate and necessary to keep it Canadian with this new affectionate cover of the song by Alanis Morissette, complete with video recreating John & Yoko’s famous Bed-In for Peace, which took place in Montreal just over five decades ago.
“It is an honor to cover this heartwarming song. The lyrics feel more pertinent than ever and this year has been a year of great resilience and adapting and feeling all the feelings,” Morissette said in a statement upon the release of her new version.
“May this song serve as a big hug to you and your sweet families and friends. Everything is going to be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
3. Classified - The Bells Are Ringing (Acoustic)
The chimes heard in Morissette’s version of Happy Xmas (War Is Over) remind me that the Tuesday Tunes Christmas Playlist has not included the new Christmas single by Classified yet, which is overdue for an appearance.
Since he talked to the Chronicle Herald about the new holiday song celebrating family and friends, the Enfield hip-hop maven also released a new acoustic version of The Bells Are Ringing that further highlights the contributions of singer/songwriter Breagh Isabel, keyboardist/vocalist Owen (O’Sound) Lee and guitarist Brett Matthews.
4. Pentatonix - Where Are You Christmas?
In her interview, Lennon mentioned a couple of her favourite Christmas songs for inclusion in today’s playlist, and the aforementioned Where Are You Christmas? was one that stood out.
Since the Faith Hill version is already well-known, I opted to go a different route and add this special rendition by a cappella group Pentatonix which pares back the production and still delivers the emotion through the quintet’s well-seasoned vocal blend.
5. JP Saxe & Julia Michaels - Kissin’ in the Cold
Even a Christmas music aficionado like me can have their blind spots, so I was stumped when Lennon listed Kissin’ in the Cold by the duo of Canadian songwriter JP Saxe and his American counterpart Julia Michaels as a new favourite.
The pair had a Top 40 hit in 2019 with If the World Was Ending, and while Kissin’ in the Cold has a distinct note of melancholy about it, it’s much less apocalyptic and the perfect soundtrack to drinking hot cocoa and staring wistfully out the window at some newly fallen snow.
6. Shaggy - Raggamuffin Christmas (ft. Junior Reid & Bounty Killer)
If you’d rather not think about snow and cold, why not take stock of some Jamaican Christmas traditions with this track from Shaggy’s new holiday album Christmas in the Islands.
As a bonus, the track features Jamaican reggae legend Junior Reid (Black Uhuru) and dancehall icon Bounty Killer for a true rude boy take on a Caribbean Yuletide.
7. Twenty One Pilots - Christmas Saves the Year
Leaning further into the newer tunes, here’s another fresh single that offers a message of hope: Twenty One Pilots’ Christmas Saves the Year.
The Grammy-winning Columbus, Oh. duo keeps it simple on this track, expressing the hope that some reasonable facsimile of holiday cheer will help us escape the wreckage of a train crash called 2020 more or less intact.
8. The Lumineers - Silent Night
American folk-rock band the Lumineers end their year with this rendition of one of the most familiar Christmas songs we know, in the spirit of supporting struggling music venues that have been hit hard, or shut down completely, by the global pandemic.
The group is donating all proceeds from the song to the National Independent Venue Association’s emergency relief fund, which is helping U.S. stages make it through too many silent nights, but it can also serve as a reminder to Canadians to support similar initiatives at home, whether it’s buying a ticket to a virtual show that gives proceeds to local venues, or making a contribution to the Unison Benevolent Fund, which provides counseling and emergency relief to the Canadian musical community in difficult times like these.
9. Bonus Track: Arkells - Pub Crawl
Since it’s last call for the Tuesday Tunes Christmas Playlist, what better note to go out on than this robust celebration of getting together with friends who’ve come home for the holidays.
I call the Arkells new Christmas song Pub Crawl a bonus track because it’s an Amazon exclusive that’s not on Spotify, but at least you can enjoy this fun and festive video featuring lead singer Max Kerman getting together with cardboard cutouts of his bandmates and hoping that the annual tradition of going on a seasonal spree will be in full effect in December 2021.
- TUESDAY TUNES: Best present is Kisses for Christmas sings Christina Martin
- TUESDAY TUNES: Fortunate Ones offer holiday hope in Hang on to Christmas Day
- Classified finds his inner Santa with new Christmas single The Bells Are Ringing
- TUESDAY TUNES: Jenn Grant tops mix of Christmas songs with East Coast flair and classic feel
- Atlantic Canada's holiday tastes and traditions