Shellee Coley is an acoustic siren with an amazingly haunting voice, and one of the many talented acts in the Magnolia Red family. Her debut album, The Girl the Stencil Drew, was a soft, sad, sweet spinning disc of delightfully dark ironies that we still cannot believe didn't make it into our nominations for album of the year.
One year later, we've yet to see a full-length album or even another EP, resulting in the grinding of many teeth. However, Coley has put together a nice little Christmas ditty produced by Jeffery Armstreet, and to top it all off the track is being released free on her Web site.
The track is a cover of the classic Christmas carol "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." The original author is unknown, but it's been appearing in Christmas songbooks since the mid-1800s. Artists from Ella Fitzgerald to Iron Butterfly have taken a crack at it. Bing Crosby himself got the ball rolling for popular artists on the song in 1945, and this year both Annie Lennox and the cast of the Fox series Glee released versions.
In our opinion, Coley's somber little rendition tops them all.
"My friend Dave Donahoo, who also plays guitar in my band, suggested trying out different Christmas songs one day to throw into a set for a local coffee shop," says Coley. "I have always loved the darker, more haunting-sounding Christmas music - [I'm] not much for jingle and cheer - so when we started playing this one, my heart just sort of fell in love again with this song.
"We did it for that live set and people liked it so much we thought, 'Hey, let's record it!'"
And record it they did in a quick and dirty session done in Magnolia Red's writing room. Unfortunately, Armstreet tells us no further Christmas releases are planned from the Magnolia Red team, though they are gearing up to releases an EP by Iowa Park and an LP by Mason Lankford and the Folk Family early next year.
So the year draws to a close, and we get to see it out with a hell of a good tune from one of our favorite local artists. Rocks Off has a theory that you can tell a lot about a musician by their feelings on the holiday season. It tends to bring out the best in all of us regardless of religious affiliations. So we decided to ask Coley what Christmas means to her.
"I think Christmas means something different to me every year!" she says. "As I get older and our family changes seasons of life, so does the meaning of Christmas. I don't know that I can put into words what it means to me this year, because the depth of what I have learned in the past year is so great.
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"But quite simply, I think Christmas for me this year is about celebrating hope, growth and change. And within that, experiencing and giving a great amount if love. Actually, I kind of think the last verse of this song sums up Christmas for me this year."
Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
Shellee Coley plays Canned Acoustica with many, many other Houston artists tonight at Warehouse Live. Doors open at 6 p.m.; please bring at least two canned food items for the Houston Food Bank.
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.