Of all the holidays of the year, Thanksgiving has the least sizzle about it. And I like it that way. I try to remember that it is Thanksgiving, and so the primary reason for the day is to be thankful, and thank God I believe so I have Someone to be thankful to.
It's also about eating -- a lot. My extended family gathers around a meal of turkey and dressing, sweet potato casserole, green beans cooked to death in fatback (and wonderfully tasting if barely nutritious), corn, rolls, and several desserts, including pumpkin pie and the once a year persimmon pudding. We gather from all around, and we eat at 12:00 noon sharp. Wait too long and the crowd begins to get antsy. There is a prayer, often relegated to me as, what, the preacher? (Never was sure about that.) It's a good time with family, and I'm glad for family, because that's not the case for many.
I was thinking about what songs I would listen to around Thanksgiving. I picked 21, because that's what filled the disc. I noticed a few things about what came to mind. First, I gravitate to the acoustic sounds. I think that the music of home for me, where I was raised listening to traditional country music (nothing like what is on the radio today), is acoustic music. Buoyant or quirky power-pop didn't seem to have any place here (though Charlie Brown made it). Second, these songs are not the "praise - Jesus - I'm - so - thankful" songs of the CCM world, though I haven't anything against them. They simply do not remind me of Home or Thanksgiving. Third, they are not all happy songs, as there is a recognition that some people are trying to get Home and can't, some have lost their homes or family members, and for some Thanksgiving with family brings tension and arguments. Yes, there's a definite streak of melancholy here. And yet, I think the general feel of these songs is joy, and joy is far better than happiness. And finally, there are no songs that suggest Christmas. This is, after all Thanksgiving, the climax of autumn, and while the rest of the world may think it a mere pause in the Christmas shopping that is already underway, I don't. No Christmas music, and no Christmas lights until the day after Thanksgiving!
So here's my list:
1. Come Before Winter, by Jerry Reed Smith. An instrumental start with the title echoing Paul's request for Timothy to "do your best to get here before winter" (2 Timothy 4:15). I think of it as a call to friends and family to come and gather before winter.
2. In the Bounty of the Lord, by Claire Holly. A gospel bluegrass number that celebrates what God gives us. The style is reminiscent of music I listened to growing up.
3. Here in America, by Rich Mullins. The start of a great album, this is a kind of updated "This Land Is Your Land," a non-patriotic celebration of America.
4. Thank You, by Jan Krist. It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without saying "thank you," and Jan manages to lace the thanks with enough melancholy and angst to keep it real. She's a good friend, and hearing her music brings many memories.
5. Covert War, by David Wilcox. Wow. If you had a family like this, you wouldn't want to go home for Thanksgiving. Fireworks at the Thanksgiving meal! Sad, but real.
6. The Water is Wide, by Eva Cassidy. Beautiful voice. Classic song. Trying to get home and can't get there.
7. Rumours of Glory, by Bruce Cockburn. A song about common grace, about seeing God everywhere. It'll make you thankful.
8. Follow Me, The Innocence Mission. I grew up on John Denver, so to hear this song conjures up memories of high school and friends. But I like Karen Peris's tender vocal on it here.
9. Walking Down the Path of Life/ Love and Mercy. Two beautiful tunes form Brian Wilson, who has written the soundtrack to my life, I think. The first is a gospel number. The second a beautiful plea for "love and mercy." I couldn't celebrate the day without him and his music of joy.
10. My Father, by Judy Collins. My father didn't make many Thanksgivings with me, as he died when I was 14. I remember him on this day.
11. Thanksgiving Day, by Ray Davies. Kinks front-man Davies can claim the only legitimate song about Thanksgiving! He eschews his usual sardonic wit and writes a warm tune here, and the most rocking thing you'll hear on this playlist.
12. Be Thou My Vision, by Van Morrison. It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a hymn, and this is likely my favorite, with a very Celtic delivery by Van.
13. Hickory Wind, by The Byrds. I love the longing for home in this song, for South Carolina, but it's close enough. Written by the very late Gram Parsons, who was as Jesus-haunted as any southern writer.
14. Love's Gonna Carry Me Home, by Pierce Pettis. Home again. Another southern singer-songwriter.
15. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, by George Winston. Watching Charlie Brown is a part of every holiday. Besides, it's a bit of a pick-me-up.
16. Homeward Bound, by Simon and Garfunkel. Mainstays of my high school and college years, and this song is again about that longing for home, "I wish I was. . . ."
17. Wanderer's Song, by Brooks Williams. One of my favorites by Brooks, this song is about how all roads lead home.
18. Come Thou Fount/ Grain By Grain, by Matt Auten. Gorgeous hymn, and a reminder that God is the fount of every blessing.
19. River Where Mercy Flows, by Julie Miller. I love Julie's songs, and the tenderness and fragility of her voice is disarming. Thank God for His mercy.
20. What Wondrous Love, by Jars of Clay. Another hymn favorite. Thank God for his wondrous love.
21. Homecoming, by Jerry Reed Smith. An instrumental coda which reminds us, I think, of where our real Home is, where it will be Thanksgiving all the time.
Well, that's it. I played this for my wife, and she said it didn't sound like Thanksgiving to her, and I said what's Thanksgiving supposed to sound like? I don't know for sure. But this is some of what it sounds like for me.