Album Review: The Christmas Revels: Celebrating 50 Years!


Album: The Christmas Revels: Celebrating 50 Years!
Artist: The Revels
Release Date: November 30, 2020
Label: Revels Records
Thoughts:

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you know that one of my favorite holiday traditions is seeing The Christmas Revels performed at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, MA. I was eagerly anticipating this year’s 50th anniversary show, but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, we did get this gift of a double-disc set of songs recorded live on the Sanders stage from the 1970s to the present.

Live is live, so that means when listening to the recitation of the poem “The Shortest Day,” you can hear audience members coughing during the quiet pause. It’s a memory of a simpler time when someone coughing in a crowd was a minor irritant rather than a moment of horror. The songs bring back many memories of attending performances over the past 20 years. You can also trace the evolution of Revels from a show that began with celebration of traditional English songs and culture but grew to embrace holiday and solstice traditions from across Europe and the many cultures of the Americas, including African American, Indigenous Peoples, and Meso-American cultures.

I own every Christmas Revels recording every released and will likely continue to acquire them until I die. But if you want just one Revels album that captures the width and breadth of the Revels experience, I’d recommend this one. I should also note that there is a Christmas Revels performance for 2020 available virtually. Through the magic of video editing, performers appear on the Sanders Theatre stage intercut with film of performances from 1977 to 2019. I was a member of the cast in 2009 and you can totally see me in the background of those performances! You can purchase the virtual performance and the CD as a bundle, but be quick because the stream will only be available until December 31.

Rating: *****

Related posts:

Podcasts of Two Weeks Ending September 12


AirSpace :: Me and the Sky

The story behind the musical Come Far Away which draws upon the life of one of the first women to become a commercial airline pilot, Beverly Bass, and the grounding of 38 passenger planes in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001 (a story also covered in the book The Day the World Came To Town).

The Moth :: All Together Now​: ​Fridays with The Moth​ – Caroline Hunter & Anne Moraa

I’m sharing this particularly for Caroline Hunter’s story of working at Polaroid in Cambridge, MA and discovering that her supposedly progressive company was aiding the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and how she lead the fight to stop it.

99% Invisible :: Podcast Episode

This podcast traces the rise and fall of generic supermarket products in the 1970s & 1980s through the story of the Canadian chain Loblaws.

:: Where Do We Go From Here?

The controversies over transgender people using public restrooms is only the latest issue related to toilet facilities that has split the American people.  Designers in this episode note that public restrooms are actually poorly designed for most people and introduce a new design that would address the problems faced by transgender people, disabled people, and many others.

Planet Money :: The Old Rules Were Dumb Anyway

The COVID-19 is changing many of the rules from medical practices to restaurants. This podcast episode argues that the rules should not revert to normal when the pandemic ends.

Radiolab :: Translation

Several stories that address the idea of translation and attempting to find truth and meaning.

Sound Opinions :: The Replacements & Mission of Burma

Two of my favorite bands in one podcast.  The Replacements get the biographical treatment, with the help of the author of Trouble Boys Bob Mehr, and then we hear an in-studio performance by Mission of Burma.


RUNNING TALLY OF PODCAST OF THE WEEK APPEARANCES

Performance Review: The Christmas Revels: An American Celebration of the Winter Solstice


The Christmas Revels: An American Celebration of the Winter Solstice
December 26, 2019 at 3 pm
Sanders Theatre, Cambridge, MA

Each year the Christmas Revels adopts the music, dance, and storytelling traditions of a different world culture (in addition to some annual Revels traditions). Every so often that theme comes home and focuses on American cultures.  If you’ve been reading my Revels reviews for a while, you’ll remember that I participated in the Revels chorus in 2009 when it had an American theme. Ten years later, I’m fascinated to see another Americana performance from the audience.

I’ve long had an idea for a Revels performance set on the stoops of a row of tenements in an American city in the 1920s/30s. Immigrants from various parts of the world (Ireland, Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, China, etc.) and African American migrants from the South could come together and share their cultural songs, stories, and traditions of the winter season. 

This performance isn’t quite my imagined Revels, but it does come close! Set during the Dust Bowl/Depression era, a radio station host (Steven Barkhimer) offers guidance to a man named Johnny Johnson (Jeff Song), who is lost his memory and his direction. Johnny travels the country experiencing various American cultural traditions and repeatedly meeting a mysterious woman (Chris Everett-Hussey).

I always say that you don’t go to Revels for the plot. But in recent years they’ve been working on their narrative threads more, so this year’s story feels like a reversion to thinner storylines of the past. It also doesn’t make much sense. Needless to say the song and dance are great so it doesn’t need much else.

Several numbers from the 2009 show are revived in new settings, including:

  • A Shaker circle dance
  • Cherry Tree Carol – illustrated as a “movie” the cast watches
  • Children, Go Where I Send Thee – one of several numbers featuring the excellent vocals of Carolyn Saxon.
  • Longsword Dance to the Southern tune “Sandy Boys.”

Old time music is provided by Tui and Squirrel Butter on several numbers. Ana Vlieg Paulin provides a wonderful solo on “I Wonder as I Wander.” And long-time master of ceremonies keeps the audience on key and on in rhythm. My favorite numbers include:

  • “Dark as a Dungeon” – featuring tired coal miners walking through the audience to return to their families.
  • “Old Grandma Hobble-Gobble” – the Revels Children play a game with storyteller Bobbie Steinbach.
  • Sing-a-long with “I’ll Fly Away.”
  • The gospel of “Trouble All About My Soul.”
  • Medley of “Can the Circle Be Unbroken/This Land is Your Land.”

Performances of the Christmas Revels continue until December 29, so see it if you get the chance. And even if you miss it, mark you calendar for the 50th anniversary show in December 2020.

Related posts:

Book Review: Around Harvard Square C.J. Farley


Author: C.J. Farley
Title: Around Harvard Square
Publication Info: Brooklyn, NY : Black Sheep / Akashic Books, 2019.
Summary/Review:

I received a free copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

This novel is narrated by Tosh, an African-American Freshman at Harvard who grew up in a small town in rural Upstate New York and is the first person in his family to go away for college.  He forms a friendship of outcasts with his roommate Lao, a student from China with a fear of robots, and Meera, an androgynous Indian student.  He also is attracted to the mysterious Zippa, a Jamaican student squatting in the trash room of his residence hall.

The trio of Tosh, Lao, and Meera take a philosophy course with an eccentric and provocative professor known as “the Chair.” They also get involved in a competition to get spots on the staff of the university humor magazine, the Harvard Harpoon.  The experience is a lot like rushing a fraternal organization with hazing rituals and cruel pranks.  Zippa appears first as something like a Greek chorus on what Tosh is doing and then later joins the action as a provocateur.

Many names in the novel are changed – like the Harpoon, which is substituted for the Lampoon – as are the names of prominent Harvard alumni, although it’s blatantly obvious who they are.  There’s also a book within the narrative called Around Harvard Square which is said to be a famous novel where all the names were changed, so that’s super-meta, I guess. The book is set in the 90s which is emphasized by each chapter being named for a 90s alternative rock  or hip hop song title.  But the dialogue in the book seems more like it’s from the 2010s.  Also, I may be stretching it here, but I see odd parallels between Tosh, Lao, and Meera with the leads in another school-based book set in the 90s, Harry, Ron, and Hermione.   Only 90s kids will understand.

I really want to love this book, because it is witty and the characters and the premise are a good start.  But unfortunately, the plot just jumps around, there are way too many coincidences, and the dialogue is like people practicing dialectics rather than natural speak.  The idea that privileged white people and the academic institutions that support them need to be taken down a peg is a good one (and super relevant reading this just after the college admissions scandal), but there’s no subtlety in this satire.

Recommended books:

Rating: **

Photopost: Head of the Charles Regatta


King Charles I of the United Kingdom was executed by beheading in 1649. Over 300 years later, in 1965, the people of Boston and Cambridge began commemorating his decapitation with the annual Head of the Charles Regatta.

I was on the banks and bridges of the Charles River and snapped a few photos. Thanks to all the rowers for being so darn photogenic.

* This origin story is completely fictional.

Photoposts: Autumnal Sundries


I got a new smartphone recently. Unlike the previous one which would notify me repeatedly that the memory was full if I took more than one photo, this one actually has space to save pictures. So here are some recent smartphone photos.

Also, although it’s about 10 years after it was cool, but I recently set up an Instagram account should you be interested in more photographs.

Photopost: Oldtime Baseball Game


Last Thursday, my daughter and I attended the Oldtime Baseball Game in Cambridge, MA. This annual event features players wearing woolen baseball uniforms in the style of classic major and minor league teams of the past. The players are mostly college and high school players from across the country, plus a handful of celebrities. This year Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez returned to the mound and with him came big crowds.

I’d attended the Oldtime Baseball Game several times before, but not since I moved south of the river from Somerville to Jamaica Plain ten years ago. It’s good to see that the fundraiser is growing more popular even though it meant that we ended up having to sit 4 people deep behind the outfield fence. And it was a treat to see Pedro pitch again. I believe he allowed no baserunners in his two innings pitched, and he even came to bat (albeit striking out), something he didn’t do all too often in a Red Sox uniform.

Trying to take photos with a chainlink fence in the way and my daughter grabbing my arm at the wrong moment was challenging, but here are some of the photographs that came out ok.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: W is for Water #atozchallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge through all of April 2017. Every day (except Sundays), I will be posting a new, original photograph (or photographs) related to the letter of the alphabet.

“W” is for “Water.”

 

The Charles River has appeared in several of my A to Z photographs, so today it plays center stage.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: U is for Underneath #atozchallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge through all of April 2017. Every day (except Sundays), I will be posting a new, original photograph (or photographs) related to the letter of the alphabet.

“U” is for “Underneath.”

Apologies for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ear worm.

Only five letters of the alphabet to go! Let me know what you think of this photo in the comments or at @othemts.