Ben Schenck of the Panorama Jazz Band

October 8, 2018

New Orleans' Panorama Jazz Band folds a world of cultures and musical styles into its version of traditional jazz. Bandleader Ben Schenck and host Alex Rawls talk about how Christmas music fits into its business, and how one instrument can make a version distinctive. Music on today's show is available on Panorama's Bandcamp page on Song of The Month Club: Good Music for You. 

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October 8, 2018

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Michael Cerveris and Kimberly Kaye of Loose Cattle

October 24, 2018

Tony Award-winning actor Michael Cerveris and his friend Kimberly Kaye have careers in the theater and on the small screen, and they formed their alternative Americana band Loose Cattle in the late 2000s. In 2017, they released Seasonal Affective Disorder, their conflicted Christmas album. In this conversation with host Alex Rawls, they talk about their cover of John Denver's "Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas," Tammy Wynette's "Merry Christmas (We Must Be Having One)" and the appeal of the sad Christmas song.    

For more on Cerveris, Kaye, and the story behind Seasonal Affective Disorder, see Alex Rawls' story from 2017 at My Spilt Milk.



Robert Earl Keen

October 31, 2018

Alex Rawls talked to Texas' singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen backstage at Tipitina's, where Keen played earlier this fall. While talking, the two realized that they lived in the same Houston suburb at the same time and because they grew up there, the references in some Christmas songs mean nothing to them.

The conversation focused on the story behind Keen's "Merry Christmas from the Family," which has become an Americana holiday staple. Keen tells its story and talks about its repercussions, and one of his few attempts to cash in on anything, "Happy Holidays, Y'all."

Tickets to see Robert Earl Keen in concert this fall with Lyle Lovett, George Strait, and in his "Cosmic Cowboy Christmas" shows are on sale now through his website


The Sultans of String and The Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling”

November 7, 2018

Host Alex Rawls revisits familiar territory when he talks about Toronto and Southern Ontario among other things with Chris McKhool of the Canadian progressive string band Sultans of String, who released a Christmas album, Christmas Caravan, last year. They talk about Turkish strings, "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," and Mario Lanza during Christmas dinner.

This week, Alex also talks to New Orleans musician Boyfriend about her affection for The Carpenters and particularly "Merry Christmas Darling," which found a new musical life when it appeared in the 2003 film, Love Actually

You can find the Sultans of String on Facebook and the band's website, and you can hear Boyfriend on her Soundcloud page and find out more about her on her website.

If you've got thoughts on this week's episode, please share them on the 12 Songs Facebook page.


Wizards of Winter, and Faith Hill’s “A Baby Changes Everything”

November 14, 2018

Today host Alex Rawls talks to Scott Kelly, who started The Wizards of Winter to play a tribute to Trans-Siberian Orchestra as a benefit for a local food bank. Kelly talks about the aesthetics of prog-rock Christmas music, and the challenge of finding the right people to play it. 

The Wizards of Winter will be on tour performing their holiday rock opera "Tales Beneath a Northern Star" through the end of the year. 

In the second segment, Alex talks to Nashville songwriter Jim McCormick, who Alex profiled McCormick in 2012 when he had back to back number one records with Brantley Gilbert's "You Don't Know Her Like I Do" and Jason Aldean's "Take a Little Ride." McCormick talks with some envy about "A Baby Changes Everything" from Faith Hill's 2008 Joy to the World. They discuss the song--which Alex pairs with The New Pornographers' "Joseph Who Understood"--and what comes with singing Christmas songs. 


Delicate Steve, and Outkast’s “Player’s Ball”

November 21, 2018

Delicate Steve is a guitar hero for our time with no obvious North Star guiding his musical choices and no piety for the The Church of Shredders. In today's interview, he talks about being a child of Napster, and the self-taught musical education that came from downloading a world of music has led to a career of music that doesn't fit neatly in any box. He started at Luaka Bop, where his personal musical vision was thought of as psychedelic world music (the "psychedelic" part sounds right), and now he's on Anti-, where his instrumental music simply seems personal and at home.

He recently released The Christmas Album, but as this conversation shows, Steve Marion is hardly a holiday true believer and approaches the songs as songs instead of as attachments to the season. In his talk with host Alex Rawls, he discusses Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, and his approach to instrumental music.

Alex also talks this week to journalist David Dennis about Outkast's "Player's Ball." The song fits squarely into the "12 Songs" mission because its story is very much a business one, but it also reveals that Christmas doesn't live equally in everybody's imagination. David and Alex talk about why, as well as the role Sean "Puffy" Combs' video for the song played in shaping Outkast's image.


Kristin Chambers and Mars Williams

November 28, 2018

Seattle singer/songwriter Kristin Chambers is in the process of making her name, and she has done so in part by singing Christmas music. She has recorded one album, Snow Globe, and one EP, Merry Christmas, and they have helped to shape her identity more than she expected. Chambers talks with host Alex Rawls about the musical appeal as a singer and songwriter of Christmas songs as well as dealing with the success of that part of her songbook. They also talk about her background in theater and how it might relate to Christmas music. 

In the second part of this week's show, Alex talks to saxophone player Mars Williams, best known to many for his stints with The Waitresses and The Psychedelic Furs. Williams also plays with Witches and Devils, his Chicago-based tribute band to free jazz hero Albert Ayler. Mars Williams Presents: An Ayler Xmas Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 document his efforts to fuse Ayler's music and method with Christmas music, something that's not as random an idea as it might seem at first. 

Williams also remembers recording The Waitresses' 1982 Christmas classic "Christmas Wrapping," and explains how he adapted it to fit with Albert Ayler's "Soul Cry."

For more on Mars Williams' Albert Ayler Xmas project, see Alex's story at


Trans-Siberian Orchestra

December 5, 2018

Trans-Siberian Orchestra knows where its bread is buttered. Its press shots are not of individual members but of its live show, which has become legendary for its spectacle with lights, lasers, pyro and countless moving parts including cherry pickers that carry members out over the crowd. 

Alex Rawls talked to TSO guitarist/musical director Al Pitrelli about what a Christmas prog-metal band does for Christmas, and how he as a guitarist in the metal band Savatage responded when he was brought a Christmas song to play--"Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24." Pitrelli also talked about TSO founder and songwriter Paul O'Neill, who died in 2017.

During the conversation, we also hear "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24," "Christmas Canon Rock," and "Wizards in Winter"--the song that launched a thousand light shows on suburban houses and lawns during the holiday season.

For more background, see Alex's interview with Pitrelli on TSO's early years for The New Orleans Advocate in 2015.


PJ Morton, and “All I Want for Christmas is You”

December 12, 2018

Last week when the Grammy nominations were announced, New Orleans' PJ Morton was among the honorees. He is nominated for Best R&B Album (for Gumbo Unplugged), Best R&B Performance (for "How Deep Is Your Love" featuring Yebba), and Best Traditional R&B Performance (for"First Began").

The news came while Morton's attention was on another album--Christmas with PJ Morton, his most recent release on his own Morton Records label. The album presents Morton first as an interpreter of songs, including a glam/funky take on Mariah Carey's "All I Want is You." He did pen two songs for the occasion, including "Do You Believe," a contemporary gospel song featuring Yolanda Adams. 

Host Alex Rawls recently talked to Morton about the album, gospel and secular music, Christmas with Bishop Paul Morton and the family, and the business of Christmas music. He also talked to New Orleans' Boyfriend, who returns to 12 Songs to about Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You," the most recent song to enter the Christmas canon. The conversation talks about Mariah now and then, Love Actually, Phil Spector and nostalgia