The annual Have a Holly Raleigh Christmas CD series benefits music education programs in the Triangle. In particular, this year's third installment supports the Community Music School, an organization that offers individual music lessons and instrument loans to the youth of Raleigh's low-income families. Such a charitable aim is apropos, as the series' most valuable asset has been the diversity of the artists who've donated their seasonal originals and new traditional spins. There was the sad-eyed pop charm of The Rosebuds' "Oh It's Christmas" on Volume I. Then there was the instrumental grandeur of news anchor Bill Leslie's "Wintercolors" on Volume II. The series has welcomed bar rock and bluegrass, blues and rap. Such variety has asserted the assorted nature of music in the Triangle—and, by implication, demanded that we find a way to perpetuate as much, even in the face of shrinking arts funding.
Volume III brings this lesson to bear the best: From kids working in coffeeshops (Gray Young) and a former area dental student (Nathan Oliver) to a traveling Latino band (Rey Norteño) and the guy that produced R.E.M.'s first record (Don Dixon), the talent within these 14 tracks supplies disparate sounds from divergent backgrounds. This thesis, of course, wouldn't matter much if the tracks themselves weren't very interesting, but—both sonically and thematically—the music here offers surprising twists and consistent rewards. Gray Young's lugubrious, muted Red House Painters-style epic precedes an ass-moving Terry Anderson rock thumper about the evils and assets of a little al-kee-hol for the holidays. Rey Norteño hustles its way through "De La Mano De Dios," while the Brantley Family Band offers a placid aubade to the yuletide renewal with the perfect "Morning Star." Oliver's terrific seasonal sadness builds a slow-burn crescendo inside "Oh, The Winter," while Port Huron Statement reflects on the holiday's financial burdens while composing in colorful flashes of guitar and harmonica during "Feeling Like Christmas Again."
It almost all works, validating—more than anything religious—this welcome season of giving.
To purchase Have a Holly Raleigh Christmas, visit www.hollyraleighchristmas.org/where.