Alternative Christmas Tunes

At Christmas time, my family traditionally engages in a mild battle of wills over what goes on the stereo. My father is a collector of Christmas music (both secular and religious), and when we're at my parents' place, he is the acknowledged Master of the Playlist. But this year, my family is coming to stay with me...so I have to come up with some tracks to put on!

My favorite Christmas music is the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. Actually, pretty much anything that Vince Guaraldi touched is good Christmas fare -- it's quiet, pleasant jazz that can happily fill the background. To get started with Guaraldi's catalogue, check out the Peanuts stuff (get the newer remastered CD's with bonus tracks!), then check out 1964's The Latin Side Of Vince Guaraldi, which is pretty much the best cocktail party album ever.

Sufjan Stevens - ChristmasMoving past Christmas jazz, I enjoy Sufjan Stevens's Christmas EPs, which were recently released on CD (previously they were mostly available via illicit web downloads). The new under-$20 CD box set (which has five discs!) includes Sufjan's Christmas albums recorded each year since 2001, featuring banjo, vocals, and lots of indie rock Christmas cheer. These EPs feature a mix of traditional songs and originals, all with that great Sufjan Stevens feeling. Check out the box set, and try the MP3 listening/download links (in the right-hand column) to get an idea of the sound.

Finally, for some free old-time Christmas recordings, check out Vintage Christmas Wax: Revisited, a collection of free links to online MP3s recorded on wax cylinders -- including tracks recorded by the Edison Concert Band in the very early twentieth century! (Thanks to Whitney at Pop Candy for the link!)

Try the NPR story A Very Tolerable Christmas for samples of the Sufjan Stevens material, plus great music from Low and The Weepies.

So what music do you play at Christmas? Share your suggestions in the comments!

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Your Library Has a Free Music Service That You Probably Didn't Know About
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Did you know that you can download free music from your local library? Music that you can keep. That's right: not borrow, keep.

It's all possible thanks to a service called Freegal (a portmanteau of free and legal), which gives patrons of participating libraries access to 15 million songs from 40,000 labels, notably including the Sony Music Entertainment catalog. All you need is a library card.

Here's how it works: You can download a few songs a week, and, in many areas, enjoy several hours of streaming, too (the precise number of songs and hours of streaming varies by library). Once you download MP3 files, they're yours. You're free to put them on iTunes, your iPhone, your tablet, and more. You don't have to return them and they don't expire. The counter resets on Mondays at 12:01 a.m. Central Time, so if you hit your limit, you won't have long to wait before you get more downloads. And Freegal has some great stuff: A quick scan of the front page reveals music from Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, Cardi B, Simon & Garfunkel, Childish Gambino, The Avett Brothers, Lykke Li, and Sara Bareilles.

Freegal has been around since 2010 and is offered at libraries worldwide. In the U.S., that includes the New York Public Library, Queens Library, Los Angeles Public Library, West Chicago Public Library, Houston Public Library, and more. In the past few years, libraries have debuted some other amazing free digital services, from classic films streaming on Kanopy to audiobooks and e-books available to borrow on SimplyE and OverDrive. But the thing that's so exciting about Freegal is that you can keep the MP3 files, unlike services that limit you to borrowing.

Freegal's site is easy to navigate: You can browse playlists and make your own, check out the most popular tunes, and save songs to your wishlist for when you get more credits. In the old days, music fans would check out CDs from the library and upload them onto their computers before returning them. But Freegal eliminates the need to go to your local branch, check out an album, and bring it back when you're done.

Freegal app
Freegal

To find out if your local library has Freegal, go to freegalmusic.com and click login, then search for your area. It's important to note: Your library's contract might not have both streaming and downloading privileges. You can use Freegal on the web or as an app available on the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon. Of course, the service doesn't have everything. And sometimes, when it does have an artist, it will only have a few of their most popular albums. But if you frequently buy music on iTunes or elsewhere, checking Freegal first may save you a bit of money.

If you don't yet have a library card, Freegal is just one more reason why you should get one ASAP.

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An Anthology Series Based on Dolly Parton's Songs Is Coming to Netflix
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Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Though she may be best known for her music career, Dolly Parton is a Hollywood powerhouse. In addition to starring in more than a few contemporary classics, from 9 to 5 to Steel Magnolias, she's also been partly responsible for some of your favorite TV series. As part owner of Sandollar Entertainment, a film and television production company, she's been a silent figure behind shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, the queen of country music is preparing to return to the small screen once again—this time on Netflix.

The beloved singer is partnering with Warner Bros. Television to produce an anthology series for Netflix, Engadget reports. Set to debut in 2019, each of the eight episodes will have a theme based on a song by Parton, who will serve as executive producer and singer-songwriter in addition to appearing in the series.

"As a songwriter, I have always enjoyed telling stories through my music," Parton said in a statement. "I am thrilled to be bringing some of my favorite songs to life with Netflix. We hope our show will inspire and entertain families and folks of all generations, and I want to thank the good folks at Netflix and Warner Bros. TV for their incredible support."

The list of songs hasn’t yet been released, but I Will Always Love You, Jolene, and The Bargain Store are among Parton’s greatest hits.

Parton previously worked with Warner Bros. to produce the made-for-television movies Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors (2015) and Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love (2016). She has also nearly finished the music for the upcoming film Dumplin'—based on a novel by Julie Murphy and starring Jennifer Aniston—and the soundtrack will be released via Dolly Records and Sony Music Nashville, according to Parton’s website.

[h/t Engadget]

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