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Local musicians bring rockers, hymns for holidays

A couple of local acts take different approaches to holiday music with their latest releases.

Singer-songwriter Candace Campana goes mostly contemporary with the EP “Rocker for Christmas” while Rolling Boxcar International hews to the traditional on “Adeste.”

The title track on “Rocker for Christmas” reflects Campana’s split personality — a performer whose songs primarily are pop country but a listener whose tastes lean more toward hard rock and metal.

“I always had in the back of my mind to do a Christmas album,” she said. “What in the world do you write? There are so many Christmas songs out there. It feels like everything’s already been done.”

She started thinking, if Santa Claus was in front her, what would she ask for? The answer was some of her favorite rockers, like Jonathan Davis and Brian Welch from Korn and Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam.

“Oh my gosh, I want a rocker for Christmas,” Campana said.

She had a title and her first song, and she’s already gotten a thumbs up from two of the artists mentioned in it. Last weekend she went to hear Welch speak and got to talk to him backstage. Campana said he was singing the song to anyone who would listen and telling them he was in the lyrics. He also showed her his text messages with his bandmate Davis.

“I was on cloud 9, more like cloud 50,” she said.

The other original on the EP is “Gift of Love.”

“I’m a very faithful person, but I’m not judgmental,” she said. “God gave us the gift of love when he gave Jesus to us, but he also gave us the ability to love, to fall in love. His love doesn’t discriminate.

“My younger brother is gay, and he is told way more than he should that you’re wrong, you’re an abomination. No, God made you and he loves you. He doesn’t discriminate.”

Campana goes traditional with “O Holy Night,” which she said is both her mother’s and her grandmother’s favorite Christmas song. The other cover is a more obscure choice that is personal to Campana.

“Winter Walk” is a song written by John Riggio that she first sang in 6th grade choir. It originally was a warm up song, but Campana talked the choir teacher into including it in the main program. However, Campana got sick and missed the winter concert.

The EP became her chance to sing it, and bandmate and producer Pete Drivere came up with an arrangement that wouldn’t be out of place on an album by one of the metal bands Campana loves.

Campana will play a “Rocker for Christmas” EP show on Dec. 8 at Cedars West End in Youngstown. It can be heard on all streaming services, and CD copies are available at her shows and at Record Connection in McKinley Heights.

Rolling Boxcar International’s “Adeste” has been in the works for a year or nearly a decade, depending on whether you want the long version or the short version of the story, Richard Blair said.

Blair and Angelo LaMarca have provided music for Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley’s Christmas Eve service for several years.

“One of the guys who volunteers there and is a friend of ours said, ‘If you ever made a Christmas album, I’d be all over that.’ That was more than five years ago, but it’s been stuck in the back of our minds,” Blair said.

RBI — Blair and LaMarca are on guitar and lead vocals while Michael Estok is on drums and harmony vocals and Tony Nigro is on bass and backing vocals — already released two albums in 2023, “The Beginning of Light and Movement” and “Shadowlands.” As the band was finishing work on those discs in late 2022, the musicians revisited the idea of a Christmas record.

Blair said they decided to focus on songs that were in the public domain, and it includes acoustic arrangements of traditional hymns like “Joy to the World,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “What Child Is This” and “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus.”

“We’re all family men so we wanted to have our families involved,” Blair said. “Our wives all appear on the album and all our children, from Angelo’s 3-year-old son to my nearly 20-year-old son, appear on it.”

David Evans added trumpet and flugelhorn.

No physical release is planned, but “Adeste” arrived on streaming services on Thanksgiving. Blair said he hopes the mellow album will provide a respite at a hectic time of year.

“The next six weeks get really, really busy, more so than the rest of the year,” Blair said. “My wife and I have this conversation every year when we enter into this time about fighting for peace in our lives. With the feel of this album, what we’re trying to convey musically, is I hope someone hears it and can take a breath, have some peace.”

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