With the overabundance of cheesy, over-the-top Christmas songs in discount bins every December, it's easy to skip over the entire genre. But then you hear a one like Courtney Collins and Jeremy Ylvisaker's cover of "Maybe This Christmas," a wonderfully understated tune by Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, and kick yourself for being such a knob.
The song is featured in a new album called Welcome To Christmastown, on which the Madison singer and Minneapolis multi-instrumentalist have teamed up with their friends J.T. Bates (drummer for Carbon Carousel, Fat Kid Wednesdays and the public radio mainstay A Prairie Home Companion), Mike Lewis (upright bass and clarinet player for Fat Kid Wednesdays and Happy Apple) and Micheal Larsen (recording engineer, former Atmosphere emcee and one half of rap duo Eyedea & Abilities). The team took a wide survey of holiday songs, from the Dr. Seuss classic "Welcome Christmas" to Neil Young's "Winterlong," stripped them down, and rebuilt them using a different palette of styles, instruments and influences, plus a healthy dose of cheek.
For "Maybe This Christmas," the group took a somewhat optimistic and upbeat original and teased out its darker side.
"I think we added some extra melancholy to this song," says Collins, noting that Ylvisaker "thinks this song probably most represents what we were trying to do: mix the light and dark and the happiness and sentimentality of the season."
The Christmastown crew slowed down the song's tempo, changed the key and added a subtle percussion track and a lonely, watery guitar line reminiscent of The Handsome Family and Andrew Bird. (Wait, it is Andrew Bird: Ylvisaker plays guitar and bass in his band.) Combined with Collins' voice -- part lounge singer, part Marianne Faithfull -- it sounds like an old country ballad drifting through Elvis Costello's dreams.
An MP3 of "Maybe This Christmas" is available in the related downloads at right. More tracks from the album may be found on Collins' MySpace page.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.