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Story Behind the EP: That Time of Year

Oh, yes, it’s here, that time of year,
The whole world’s filled with Christmas cheer.

– from “Santa’s Best” by Rick Paul

Whatever your personal feelings toward the holiday season, from eager anticipation of family celebrations to dread of crowded malls and the seeming hopelessness of trying to choose just the right gift for a loved one who is just impossible to buy for, it’s impossible to escape the fact that it is indeed that time of year. The Thanksgiving leftovers are just about gone (are you as sick of turkey sandwiches as I am?), but the streets and malls are decked out in red and green, television ads remind us it is time for Christmas shopping, and we’re starting to hear all that wonderful, or tired, depending upon your perspective, holiday music.

I have somewhat mixed emotions toward the holidays. Being somewhat claustrophobic, and impatient (at least inwardly), holiday shopping crowds aren’t exactly on my list of favorite things. I admit to frequently being frustrated with the challenges of gift buying, between budgetary considerations, not knowing where to start in picking presents for many on my list, and the deadlines for shipping to relatives on the other side of the country. Then there’s just the thought that time’s ticking down to Christmas Day, and that last minute rush that results when earlier shopping trips come up less than wholly successful. Time pressures also seem to be extreme at this time of year, perhaps partly due to the additional activities, like parties and shopping, but also due to the simple desire to get things to a breaking point before any extended holiday breaks.

On the other hand, I do enjoy the holiday celebrations, getting together with family and friends, and even just the extra time and thought we tend to devote to other people this time of year. I also like all the holiday decorations, or at least the ones that aren’t totally tacky, and then there are the once a year treats like holiday cookies, eggnog, pumpkin pie, and so on. Perhaps my favorite part of this season, though, is the opportunity to hear, and play, some of the wonderful Christmas music that has amassed over the years and centuries. From traditional carols that remind us what Christmas is all about to more modern popular tales of red-nosed reindeer, magical snowmen, and the like, there’s simply a wealth of wonderful material.

Over the years, I’ve written a few Christmas songs of my own. Some of those are among my personal favorites among all the songs I’ve written, so I’ve also looked forward to the opportunity to share those songs with others any chance I get to perform during the holiday season. Playing a Christmas song in, say, July, just isn’t quite the same thing somehow.

Sometime earlier this year, I made the decision to take things a step further this holiday season. Instead of simply sharing my holiday songs with people who come to my few live shows, or happen to stop by my web site, I decided to release recordings of the Christmas songs I’ve written to date, collected in a 4-song EP. I’ve called the EP That Time of Year, though I actually had no idea that would be the title until after all the songs were recorded. The four songs on the project were written completely independently, with no thoughts of having them collected together in a coherent project. I was coming down to the wire and desperately searching for some possible common thread to tie the songs together. At some point, I decided to go through all the lines of each of the songs to see if perhaps there might be something in one of them that could serve that purpose. The lines quoted at the beginning of this blog entry struck me as perhaps providing a possibility, but would the phrase “that time of year” fit all four songs?

The first song on the EP, “The Day After the Day After Christmas”, written with Mike Parker, is about a unique family tradition. Whereas most of us go crazy trying to get all our shopping done by Christmas Eve, then opening gifts on Christmas morning, the family in the song heeds the wisdom that, “good things come to those who wait.” Waiting until December 26th to shop gets them all those great “after Christmas blowout sale” prices, so they can extend their limited means for a bang up celebration on the day after the day after Christmas. Yeah, I guess time of year, or timing at least, could play into that one.

Next up is “Santa’s Best”, a tribute to Santa’s reindeer. Of course, the title comes from the opening line of this song. The focus of the song is really on this one night of glory the reindeer have, and the service they put in on behalf of Santa, the children of the world, and all of us on that one long night. Things coming down to one specific night in the year — yeah, that’ll do!

Then comes “Molly’s Bar and Grill”, written with Vic Michener. When you’re lonely from lost love, the holidays can be a pretty depressing time, and the “Christmas cheer” might come in a bottle or glass. Still, there’s always room for a Christmas Eve surprise to put an end to “wasted time.” “Time” — yep.

The EP closes with “It Started in a Manger”. This is the only one of the four songs that has been recorded and released before, initially by the Altarmen & Julie back in 1998. Lana Kress recorded her version the following year, and an earlier recording of my own version came out on a multi-artist charity album called Ho Ho Ho Spice back in 2002. That song starts out in a downtown Christmas scene complete with a “cardboard Santa advertising the sale at the corner store.” I guess that’s pretty typical of “that time of year.” The real message of the song, though, comes in the reminder that “it started in a manger” with “no tinseled trees, no Santa Claus, no twinkling Christmas lights.”

As I thought about each of the songs in the collection, alongside my prospective title, what started out as a desperate shot in the dark, seeking some tenuous connection, started to make sense. Maybe “that time of year” was indeed a concept that could tie the songs together. Suddenly I was feeling that what had initially felt a bit to me like an odd hodgepodge of songs, collected initially only because they were Christmas songs, might make sense as an actual collection. While I’d always liked the individual songs, somehow this almost accidental title had gotten me more excited about the project as a whole. It also made me eager to try and get the word out so that others might enjoy not only the individual songs, but also the experience of the full EP.

And now it really is here, That Time of Year. To be more precise, the EP was released last Tuesday, November 21st, with initial availability on my Lulu.com storefront for CD-on-demand and music lead sheets for the individual songs, as well as on both Rhapsody and Napster for digital downloads. You can also listen to the complete EP for free on both Rhapsody and Napster. (With Rhapsody, you have to download their special player, and you can listen to up to 25 songs for free in a month. No registration is necessary. With Napster, you have to register, which is free. Then you can listen to any album or song in their collection up to 3 times for free. There will be some forced ads, but they are relatively painless. I find Napster a great way to check out albums I’m thinking about buying or just curious about hearing.) As of Tuesday November 28th, the EP has also become available for digital downloads, and streaming in some cases, from a number of other digital stores, such as Yahoo Music Unlimited, Urge, Virgin Digital, FYE Download Zone, and more. I’ve also added MP3 downloads of the individual songs to my Lulu.com storefront. Notably absent at the moment is iTunes availability, but that will be coming (for the USA, Canada, UK/Europe, Australia, and Japan) soon, as will availability via Sony Connect, possibly as early as Tuesday, December 5th.

Now I’d like to invite all who are reading this blog to have a free listen to the entire EP via Rhapsody or Napster (or any other services you subscribe to that might give you that possibility — just search for “Rick Paul” as the artist name or “That Time of Year” as the album name). If you like what you hear, I’d greatly appreciate it if you could let others you think might enjoy listening know about it. (You might just send them the link from your favorite digital music site, but you can also use the “E-Mail to a Friend” link above to let your friends know about this blog entry, or just direct them to http://rickpaulmusic.com/that-time-of-year/.) I’m also looking for radio stations, be it terrestrial, satellite, cable, or internet who may be interested in playing the recordings, to let even more people hear the songs. (To that end, I’ve been informed that my MySpace friend SongwriterPro.com has already added “It Started in a Manger to the Christmas song rotation on their SongwriterPro Radio internet radio station, so give them a listen! I’ve also heard interest from a couple of radio programs in the USA and one in Norway, so stay tuned for more details later.) In short, anything you might be willing to do to help me get the word out about these recordings and songs, would be greatly appreciated.

Finally, it is that time of year, and I’d like to wish all of my friends a happy, safe, and healthy holiday season. May you find the Christmas spirit within you and around you.