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Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011

A Milwaukee Holiday Mixtape

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Whether your tastes in holiday music run toward the sentimental or the grandiose, local musicians have you covered. Every year Milwaukee artists put their own spin on some holiday classics (and create some new ones) with loving care and plenty of seasonal spirit. Here's a look at some of the music scene's recent holiday recordings, with links to stream or download them online.

Testa Rosa

Songs for Melting Snow EP

testarosamusic.com/album/songs-for-melting-snow

This Milwaukee outfit's sweet pop music translates nicely to sentimental holiday tunes. Equally pretty and playful—whether "I Want to Be Alone on Christmas (Here With You)" or "Something Barked on Christmas Morning"—this EP was created with a true love of the holiday. "Let this three-song EP be your winter soundtrack," the band writes, "from the tribulations of holiday shopping to the joy of a canine Christmas morn and the rebirth of love during spring's first thaw."

Canyons of Static

Christmas EP

oxide-tones.com/christmas-ep-free-download

This five-song collection from West Bend's instrumental post-rockers includes a jazzed-up rendition of "My Favorite Things," a slow-burning "Do You Hear What I Hear" and the only vocal track the group has recorded, "O Holy Night." It's a pretty epic version, too, with the band's signature builds and swells giving the normally sentiment-filled song an almost fierce quality, adorned with new meaning.

Collections of Colonies of Bees

"Jolly Olde St. Nicholas"

theneverendingbeginning.bandcamp.com

Part of Hometapes Records' holiday roundup called The Never Ending Beginning, Collections of Colonies of Bees' take on a usually, well, jolly "Jolly Olde St. Nicholas" is much more reflective and picked-apart, but lovingly so. Guitars chime like bells and the soft pitter-patter of brushes on drums spells out a story of a St. Nicholas who comes from frosty climes inhabited with all the magic and lore of a fairy tale. Listen at the Bandcamp link above, and also spend time with former Bees percussionist Jon Mueller's strong, inspiring composition "Hallelujah" and Jim Schoenecker's gauzy version of "Happy Xmas (War Is Not Over)."

Trapper Schoepp & the Shades

"Blue Christmas"

soundcloud.com/trapper-schoepp/blue-christmas

Some of the best holiday tunes swap out the bells for a slide guitar (think "Pretty Paper" by Willie Nelson), but it's a rare one that hosts both the merry sound of the bells and the lonesome call of the lap steel (manned by Allen Cote). Schoepp's honky-tonk jukebox version of the Elvis Presley classic makes feeling bad oh so satisfying with its backing vocal harmonies and rollicking choruses.

Anna Vogelzang

Christmas Spectacular!

theanna.bandcamp.com/album/christmas-spectacular

Madison quirk-folk singer Anna Vogelzang selects three classics—"Silent Night," "Jingle Bells" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"—for her Christmas Spectacular! with musical cohort Andrew Young and makes them shine bright with youthful appeal. Vogelzang's honeyed vocals are the true decoration on these tunes already equipped with plenty of holiday sparkle yet still made humble and gracious with simple banjo pluckings and sprightly glockenspiel.

All Tiny Creatures

"Deck the Halls" (Mannheim Steamroller)

theneverendingbeginning.bandcamp.com

Another addition to the Hometapes holiday comp, the Madison/Milwaukee electro outfit banishes all cringes associated with Mannheim Steamroller's original take on the popular classic "Deck the Halls." Playfully brimming with swirling and buzzing synths, All Tiny Creatures clearly play the trump card. Also listen to ATC's Andrew Fitzpatrick's nostalgic and sweet version of "Toyland," which is filled with crystalline sounds that are cool, yet very heartwarming.

Conrad Plymouth

"I Wonder as I Wander"

volumeone.org/xmastunes

Recorded with wife Joanna for Eau Claire's Volume One last year, Conrad Plymouth frontman Christopher Porterfield takes on the more somber side of the season with this lovely version of the American folk song composed in 1933 by John Jacob Niles in the Appalachian Mountains. The song is sparsely adorned with acoustic guitar, piano and flute, but the vocals are the focal point, with boy/girl harmonies making the song ring out and back to its true beginnings.

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