Rough Shop | Just Because It Was Christmas

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Holiday: Rock Pop: 60's Pop Moods: Mood: Christmas
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Just Because It Was Christmas

by Rough Shop

Original Christmas music from St. Louis RFT's 2006 Best Songwriters. Not your typical holiday fare, this recording runs the seasonal emotional gamut from celebratory to reflective. Great as an album even without the Christmas!
Genre: Holiday: Rock
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Just Because It Was Christmas
3:23 $0.99
2. Big Man Under the Tree
2:20 $0.99
3. How to Make Gravy
5:01 $0.99
4. Lullaby Child
2:35 $0.99
5. This Silent Night
3:54 $0.99
6. One Special Gift
1:51 $0.99
7. Once Upon a Christmas
3:12 $0.99
8. Christmas One More Time
4:21 $0.99
9. Little Wrapped Gift
2:56 $0.99
10. Santa's Last Stop
2:10 $0.99
11. Happiest New Year
2:13 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Rough Shop wasn’t told they had to make a Christmas record. Thanks in part to guitarist John Wendland’s life-long love of music devoted to the holiday, and in part to the band’s annual Christmas-themed benefit shows chock full of guests and former members, Rough Shop just figured this was the logical thing to do for a third album. So, rather than revisiting what everybody else has done, they dug up some fairly obscure cover songs, wrote originals which transcend the clichés of the genre, and brought in as many talented friends to help out as they could find.

Formed in Saint Louis, Missouri in 2004, Rough Shop revolves around three talented singers/songwriters/musicians. John Wendland and Andy Ploof, who write the lion's share of original material for the band, have played together since 1994, when they formed One Fell Swoop. After that band broke up in 2003, Wendland and Ploof recruited Anne Tkach, formerly of Hazeldine and Nadine, and since then of more bands than most people can count. Originally a six-piece outfit, Rough Shop has been known to perform as a trio, as a quartet (with the addition of drummer Spencer Marquart), and in various permutations with other musicians.

Ploof and Wendland, heralded as among the "Best Songwriters in St. Louis" (Riverfront Times 2003), worked separately and together on the 8 original songs on Just Because It Was Christmas. Ploof came up with the title track, a ringing endorsement of the ways people match their emotions to the spirit of the holiday. Wendland, in turn, composed “This Silent Night,” a melancholy tale of the ways reality doesn’t always conform to the ideals of the season. Ploof imagined a weary but still joyous Santa Claus at the end of a long, hard night in “Santa’s Last Stop.” Wendland put together the sweetest love song of his career in a dedication to his wife, “Happiest New Year.” And they wrote together the irreverent and hilarious swing tune, “Big Man Under the Tree,” in which Kris Kringle tries on Mom’s pantyhose and drinks Schnapps instead of milk and cookies.

Then it was time to look for songs from outside the band. Wendland has never sung better than on his performance of Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly’s remarkable “How To Make Gravy,” delivered from the point of view of a man unable to join his family for the holiday dinner because this year he’s in jail. Steve Carosello, of Saint Louis rock band the Love Experts, helps transform Dolly Parton’s relatively unknown seasonal masterpiece, “Once Upon a Christmas,” into a wintry sonic storm, while Tkach turns “One Special Gift,” by the band Low, into a fragile piano-and-vocal meditation.

Into the Sawhorse Recording Studio along with co-producer Jack Petracek (and engineer Jason McEntire) went Ploof, Wendland, Tkach and Marquart. They invited former members Sean Anglin and Mike Tiefenbrun to play on a couple songs, and brought in vocalists Carosello, Kate Eddens and Toby Weiss, all of whom have performed at the band's annual Christmas benefits. They added keyboardist Jon Parsons, who has played live with the band from time to time, as well as pedal steel guitarist Michael Ludwig, pianist Tim Sullivan, and a string quartet led by Ploof himself.

On Just Because It Was Christmas there's no hint of ironic distance from the act of celebrating Christmas. Nor is it a leaden, overly-reverent, uncritical recitation of what everybody has heard before. It is a collection of beautiful, emotionally truthful, sometimes funny, sometimes sad songs, and it deserves to be added to the list of exceptional Christmas albums.

Steve Pick
Saint Louis, Missouri

Riverfront Times Review | December 2009
Homespun: Rough Shop
Just Because It Was Christmas
(Perdition Records)

Amid the jingling bells and blinding lights, it's easy to forget that Christmas is a holiday of contrasts: darkness into light, cold into warmth, solitude into togetherness. This strand of earthly fatalism runs through the best carols: From "Silent Night" to "White Christmas," it's what makes the Christmas songbook some of the most resonant, emotionally loaded music around. Local trio Rough Shop understands the myriad joys and occasional heartaches that come around this time of year, and Just Because It Was Christmas outlines the season's promise and possibility with expertly played folk rock.

Springing from the band's annual Christmas concert (which takes place this Saturday at the Focal Point), the album contains a few dusty cover songs and no well-known classics, but it's the original material that shines brightest. Andy Ploof's title track, propelled by a Byrds-y twelve-string guitar and buoyed by spot-on harmony vocals, is a wonder: The song is hopeful, nostalgic and cheery, but with a real-world wisdom that keeps it from being cloying. Later in the disc, his spare "Lullaby Child" is such a tearjerker that, if there's any justice, Emmylou Harris will record it for her next holiday album. The whole disc is worth picking up, but these two songs are stellar.

Like all good Christmas parties, this disc is made merrier by the hosts' hospitality at letting their guests take the mic. Toby Weiss contributes "Little Wrapped Gift," her jangly rewrite of the Nightcrawlers' "Little Black Egg," and Kate Eddens sings about a cross-dressing, spliff-smoking, Schnapps-shooting Santa in the jazzy "Big Man Under the Tree." The Love Experts' Steve Carosello fits perfectly on this disc, and he takes guitarist John Wendland's "This Silent Night" out into the bitter cold. Even bleaker is bassist Anne Tkach's haunting reading of Low's "One Special Gift," which has the nihilism of a junkie's last prayer. Though the forecast occasionally looks bleak, Just Because is ultimately a celebration of the season's mysteries, both big and small.

-- Christian Schaeffer



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