One of the biggest musical surprises for me in 2014 was the discovery of a local Seattle band called The Bruised Hearts Revue.

If you’re a fan of Wilco, Over the Rhine, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, or Neko Case, you’ll hear their influences here. I’d have a hard time picking a favorite cut from the album, but if you want to sample just one song, try the title cut of their debut record — “As Bright as It Burns” — here at Bandcamp, where you can also purchase the CD or download the whole thing.

The biggest Bruised Hearts Revue surprise for me: The band is led by a musician named Knathan Ryan, whose work I’ve followed for years.

And I don’t just mean his work as a musician, which has always been impressive, but also his hard work serving communities in a variety of roles through local organizations, churches, and Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. He is also a devoted family man. And I am grateful for his friendship… even if he is skeptical of my ongoing loyalty to the band U2.

When I asked him if he’d consider contributing a playlist, he surprised me by coming back with picks from the rest of the band as well.

So here’s a Christmas “revue” from some beautifully bruised hearts.

Knathan Ryan’s Picks:

“I’ll Be Home on Christmas Day (alt Take 4)” – Elvis Presley

I grew up listening to everything Elvis from a very young age. I guess I kind of got burned out of Elvis in high school, but had a reawakening in college. This recording of Elvis’ was released on the Platinum Collection in 1997, 20 years after his death. I was away from home, away from my girlfriend (who was at a university in Minnesota and later became my wife) — and this song resonated and articulated the warmth and the desire to be home. When I listen to this song, I hear a true longing in Elvis’ voice to get home — wherever that might have represented to him… maybe home was anonymity, true relationships, or just simply Graceland, I’m not sure — but his performance of this song stirs up a lot of emotion for me.

“Salvation is Created” – Bifrost Arts

This piece was written by Pavel Tchesnokov, who was forced to hand over his religious compositions to the newly established Soviet power, unfortunately never heard this masterpiece performed. I think he would have loved this version by Bifrost Arts — the arrangement by Isaac Wardell and Mason Neely is absolutely beautiful and Aimee Wilson’s performance literally brings me to tears.

Norman Baker’s Picks:

“The Night Before Christmas” – Louis Armstrong

One day when I was young, my family was doing Christmas prep stuff while listening to the radio. My mom put a tape in the tape deck to record a Harry Belafonte song that was to come on KPLU. That went down as planned. Approximately an hour later, after we’d all moved on doing other stuff, she realized she never stopped the tape. Apparently later on in that program, this version of Louis Armstrong narrating “The Night Before Christmas” came on. It’s the only part of that tape we listen to now. That’s how this version of Satchmo narrating this classic story accidentally became a yearly tradition in my home.

“Christmas Coming” – Alton Ellis & the Flames

Alston Ellis is one of my favorite reggae / rocksteady singers. He has an album and song called “Sunday Coming.” He parodied his own tune into a lovely Christmas song. One of “The Flames” (Alton Ellis’ harmony singers) named Winston Jarrett has a vast discography and long career of his own. He’s been based out of Seattle since 2000. I was fortunate enough to be his bassist and backing vocalist for 7 years a while back. I always love hearing his voice on these old Jamaican recordings from the 60’s.

AC Purdum’s Picks:

Christmas with the Chipmunks – Full album by Alvin and the Chipmunks

Growing up as a kid we had an old record player that we would play this album on when we were decorating the tree. It would then go into high rotation along with John Denver and the Muppets Christmas as me, my brother and sister would continually request to listen to it over and over again. It was joyous, festive, and funny at the same time. Now, as a father of five, my kids love listening to the same albums during Christmas. It’s a nice combination of nostalgia and seeing the joy the album brings all these years later.

“Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues

This is a favorite of more recent vintage. I love the contrast between the music and Shane Macgowan’s voice. The song has great imagery that includes the down and dirty of living life even though it’s Christmas. Also I love the Pogues and their tremendous blend of traditional Celtic music and instruments with punk rock.

Kevin Veatch’s Picks:

“Tender Tennessee Christmas” – Amy Grant

One favorite of mine is Amy Grant’s 80’s version of “Tender Tennessee Christmas” because the recording quality (acoustic guitar tone, arrangement, etc.). It just blew me away at the time. I’ve never been able to figure out how to record really great acoustic guitar finger picking like that. Is it the player? The guitar? Mic position? Mic? I haven’t cracked the code on that yet. I completely acknowledge that this is a boring “recording geek” answer. However, on a more human-level, my kids were toddlers at the time, and the song does bring back good family memories for me.

Suzanne Brewer’s Picks:

“Let it Fall” – Over the Rhine

My newest favorite song is from Over the Rhine’s new Christmas album, Blood Oranges in the Snow, “Let it Fall.” I heard them perform it at the Triple Door (Seattle) in November… just hauntingly beautiful. “Whatever we lost I think we’re gonna let it go / let it fall… like snow.”

“Julens Klockor Ring” – Evie, on her Swedish Christmas album

Haha… Oh, Evie. I still have this record, although it barely will play on my little Fisher Price record player. My family listened to this record every year, putting up the Christmas tree, arguing about who would get to put the star on the top, baking cookies. I have such great memories with Evie’s Swedish singing as the soundtrack. I would try to sing along to it in Swedish, but would inevitably end up making up most of the words.

“Joy to the World” – Whitney Houston

This is for when I’ve listened to too much sad Christmas music and I need to dance it out. 🙂

Okay, now that you’ve tasted their Christmas music preferences, serve yourself a full-course meal of The Bruised Hearts Revue’s new album: As Bright As It Burns.