Remember the stunning Old Souls song by Paul Williams in Brian de Palma's quirky but way hip Phantom of the Paradise? In the movie, it was covered marvelously, deliciously, hauntingly by Jessica Harper, but Paul himself presented it movingly on his Ordinary Fool LP while Erika Patoka much more recently brought out a more Renaissancey pre-Raphaelite version on YouTube. Danny Elfman's Sally's Song, from The Nightmare Before Christmas is in many ways the progeny of Old Souls, but Phil Christie's title cut in Ghosts of Christmas Past walks the mode and its messages back to Williams, turning the laconic atmospherics upon themselves as being just a mode of interim behavior to be endured until things return…and even if we don't always believe that, we sure as hell wish it were so and work to that end.
Christie then turns to Gordon Lightfoot's Song for a Winter's Night and does the great old man proud but also gives away the fact that this isn't really a Christmas CD but rather a potpourri of reflections and ruminations wrought in a zone halfway between Autumn and the Solstice, wherein Christmas is one of many elements, dominant but not defining. More, the CD is clearly a return to the 60s emphasis on singers and stories where not only Gordo but also Peter & Gordon, Johnny Rivers, earliest Joni Mitchell (whose River is covered here), and others took the lullabies our mothers sang us and matured them into the next step.
Christie has the sort of voice indexing perfectly into that time zone, as the entirety of Ghosts is highly folk oriented, the era when The Village was transitioning from the coffee shops to the charts, when Glenn Yarbrough, Harry Nilsson, and others were crafting their wares. This then benefits the holiday repertoire on the disc, most evidenced in the closing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, which is as reflective of Dean Martin and Bing Crosby as Laura Nyro and Neil Diamond, cocktail glasses clinking as the kids are bustled off to bed, after which point the parents sit down, smoke a joint, and ponder their lot. Winter is, after all, the time in which the cycle of life most hangs in the balance; Ghosts of Christmas Past never forgets that for a moment. Maybe our hideous commodification of everything in sight, including moments of observance and humanity…is just a little bit in error?
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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