’TIS THE SEASON. You know how I know Christmas is coming? It’s not the arrival of jacket weather, sudden sightings of St. Nick or the lights going up outside my Broad Street office. It’s the arrival of a new 12 Bands of Christmas compilation – the eighth. As in years past, the concept is pretty simple. Acts and artists from the greater Augusta area contribute a holiday tune – this year they are all originals – and play a very holly and jolly concert at the Imperial Theatre on Dec. 18.
If I’m being completely honest, I’m less fond of the songs on this year’s album but, taken as a whole, I believe it might be the most successful 12 Bands release.
Allow me to explain. As a critic, my greatest 12 Bands pleasure was discovering moments, discovering acts and songs that transcended the form and format of a holiday song and made it a unique musical moment that just happened to have Christmas as a foundation. There’s very little of that on this year’s release.
Instead, the album plays like a very even-handed collection of holiday songs that, for the most part, sound just like holiday songs. Is it a bold musical statement? No, but that probably isn’t the point. Is it excellent music to trim the tree by? Yes, and that probably is the point.
Still, there are some great performances. Particularly appealing are Fried Goat’s country rocker Barn, Livingroom Legends making a welcome return with The Christmas M3n and 3rd Shift’s Your Funky Santa, which sounds like Stevie Wonder delivering presents to all the good boys and girls.
They all sound like Christmas songs, but when the cider is hot and there’s someone lovely lingering beneath the mistletoe, well, that’s just right.
BRILLIANT SPACES. The Augusta act Mazes and Monsters is a band that adheres carefully to a formula. Songs start quietly, usually with a sparse keyboard line or delicate guitar, and then begin to very deliberately build. Somewhere in the first verse, and certainly no later than the first chorus, that band has taken that quiet moment and developed it into something grand and significant.
It’s a formula. It’s also fairly magnificent.
This is a band that understands and incorporates some of the harder lessons every artistically successful act must address. It understands the power of simplicity and empty spaces. It understands the power of the slow burn. It understands that sometimes the most significant music is produced while saying very little in the most appropriate way.
The result is an album of songs that are artistic while remaining accessible, that are dynamic but never feel forced or heavy-handed. Some, when describing Mazes, will reach for easy labels and metaphors. The band will be compared to Bends-era Radiohead or filed under indie rock. All are unfair and project certain expectations on this young band. I prefer to refer to Mazes and Monsters as a stellar band with a deep understanding of how truly great rock bands operate.
And that’s a real art.
REAL LOVE. Mark Nov. 11 on the calendar, for that day, happily, marks the end of an era. It seems Ed Turner, the music man I’ve shared these pages with for the past few years, is taking his name off the top of the ‘Augusta’s Confirmed Bachelors’ list. On 11-11-11 he’s allowing Columbia County Superior Court Judge Sheryl Jolly to take him off the market. Make no mistake, she won’t be officiating. She’s the bride.
They let me in on the secret right before Sharon Jones broke into her version of It’s a Man’s World at the Westobou Festival a few weeks ago. A song about a man’s accomplishments meaning little without the love of a good woman certainly seemed the appropriate soundtrack for the moment. I couldn’t be happier for Ed and Sheryl. They are truly lovely people whose life together should be, if I might hijack one of Ed’s favorite literary tricks, a Magical Mystery Tour.
That’s right. I went there.