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~ BS First Listen ~


The Old 97’s: Love the Holidays


 
 

In 2007, Rhett Miller, the frontman of the legendary Texas band the Old 97’s, wrote his first Christmas song, a sweet, heartfelt tune called “Here It Is Christmastime” that perfectly expressed the basic human need to share the holiday season with people we love.

Eleven years later, that song has blossomed into an entire album, Love the Holidays, due out next Friday. The Bitter Southerner is proud to offer you a weeklong sneak peek at the album.

Love the Holidays gathers 14 Christmas songs — nine of them Miller originals, plus five holiday standards, including a rollicking version of “Auld Lang Syne” for New Year’s Eve, propelled by the patented freight-train rhythms of drummer Philip Peeples.  

We caught Miller on the phone as he drove alone through Texas between solo dates. Love the Holidays finds Miller co-writing originals with a cast of characters that includes Kevin Russell of the Gourds and Shinyribs and The New Yorker writer Ben Greenman. One of the two collaborations with Greenman, “Snow Angels,” is a remarkable work that somehow manages to wedge the Christmas spirit between the political divisions that will continue to vex Americans this holiday season.  

Look to your left, look to your right
Everyone of us is a beam of light.
Together, we’re strong. There’s no need to fight.
Everyone of us is a beam of light.

“Ben is one of my favorite collaborators,” Miller said. “We’ve written a few songs together. He was excited to write Christmas songs, and he pointed out to me that so many of the Christmas songs we love were written by Jewish songwriters."

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It was Greenman who opened Miller’s eyes to the fact that “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was not a century-old standard, but was written in 1962 as a prayer for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“I think we’re living in such crisis times now, and for me, I’ve never been a writer of political songs, of cultural commentary,” Miller said. “It was a double challenge for me to write a song that was a Christmas song that commented on the great perceived gulf between ideologies that people are so focused on. In a way, I was able to do something I wouldn’t have without Ben.”

Simultaneously, Miller will release a new solo album called The Messenger. Right after Thanksgiving, a special Old 97’s Christmas tour will commence.

“We’re going to hit the road right after Thanksgiving,” Miller Said. “The evening will begin with me doing an acoustic set. I’ll play some of my new songs, some from my solo catalogue, and probably a few oddball songs, too. Then I’ll leave the stage. Michael Casey will come out. He’s a punk rock magician from Raleigh, North Carolina. He’s super-brilliant, And he’s going to do a magic show before I come back out with the Old 97’s and we do the full Old 97’s Holiday Extravaganza.”