Recommends: A Light Goes On

When it comes to holiday music compilations, I thank God for the internet. In the 90s, we had to settle for Christmas mixes curated by corporate execs and marketing researchers. What they created were boring aggregations of the same classic songs sloppily covered over and over by the latest mainstream pop stars of the day.

In our current age of digital interconnectivity, we have artists like Sam Billen who can easily reach out to talented musicians online and then affordably produce and digitally release a fantastic collection of original holiday tunes.

Billen has completely flipped the commercial aspect of the holiday “various artists” album on its head and stayed true to the “free gift” ideal of Christmas itself. With A Light Goes On, its goal from the start was to focus talented artists’ creativity and time into a gift for the world. The resulting gift is a collection of 14 tracks from different musicians each paired with visuals created by different multimedia artists (videos, paintings, collages, animation, etc…).

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Some of the musicians you may recognize on the comp are John Ringhofer of Half-Handed Cloud, The Tenniscoats, and Timbre. They each offer great contributions, but some of the most impressive work is by artists you’ve probably never heard of.

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The opener by Sweden’s David Åhlén can be described as nothing short of heavenly. His angelic voice delivers the prophetic hymn in his native tongue with subtle instrumentation backing him.

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Josh Atkinson (a regular collaborator with Billen) weaves a nostalgic tale around a catchy melody about that magical moment on Christmas morning when children discover presents under the tree. The music has been set to images in a great video by artist Matt White.

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Nashville’s Beau Jennings chose to cover an old Woody Guthrie ballad about the tragic stampede in Calumet, Michigan on Christmas Eve 1913. His rendition prompted me to read up on the historical events and I found a tale that echoed of today’s Occupy movement.

In my opinion, project creator/curator Sam Billen’s own nearly-eponymous song is the standout track from the collection. The song captures the spirit of the project and has a gorgeous epic sound to it. It takes the realization and joy that the aforementioned Atkinson’s song spoke of and takes it to greater heights and truths. The moment when “a light goes on” in your mind and you come to grasp with the true meaning of Christmas.

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There’s something true,
There’s something, and we know it,
In me and you.
A light went on.
The way we move, the way we come to see it,
There’s something true.

Head over to the A Light Goes On web site to download the entire compilation and see all the artwork created for each of the 14 songs. After you fall in love with the music, be sure to let the light shine and share it with your loved ones.