Hans Gerald Hödl opens our ears to the blues resounding in our dearest Christmas carols.
“Christmas songs” are songs like “Last Christmas”. Then there are Christmas carols. There are very fine ones among them, although it is not easy to find a decent version of, say, “Jingle bells”.
In Austria, we can be proud of sharing a wide variety of very fine songs dealing with the birth of the Lord. For example, “Es wird schu glei dumpa”. These songs are folklore (Volksmusik) as opposed to fake-lore (“Volkstümliche Musik”), even if one knows the authors of the song. “Silent Night”, although we know the authors and there is this nice story about why it was written, is “public domain”. Legend has it that the parish organ was out of function and therefore Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber had to play a song at Christmas eve that could be accompanied by a guitar. This song has now become one of the most rendered in the world, I suppose, and like “Blowing in the wind” one of the most badly interpreted ones (especially in families without any member capable of singing).
The song is in 6/8 time, and as far as I understand it, the chord progression is at least similar to the one that is the backbone of the blues. The blues being in 4/4, with its tendency to playing the fours as triplets can be interpreted as 6/8 as well, in my humble opinion as a drummer. Methinks that the two versions done by Austrian musicians rendered here are very bluesy.
The first one is done by the blind accordionist Otto Lechner and the guitarist Klaus Trabitsch, together with a bunch of fine musicians. It is from their album “Still” (meaning: “quiet”) featuring Christmas carols in instrumental versions somewhere in between folklore, blues and jazz.
The other one is done by Al Cook, whose real name is “Alois Koch”, an Austrian blues-musician who taught himself to play the guitar by listening to Blues and Rock and Roll records in his teens. He has never been to the USA, but he knows all about the history of the blues (including the ability to rightly distinguish between delta blues and Chicago-style…). When I was still living in Vienna, I sometimes attended the catholic service on Sunday evening in St. Stephen’s Cathedral. From time to time, I saw him there, even taking the sacrament.
Merry X-Mas all you Blues-lovers out there!
Hans Gerald Hödl is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Vienna, drummer and a native of Mariazell.
Photo by Silke Lapina: http://www.silkelapina.com/