Just as a bit of bitters are often the key to a good cocktail, the secret to many good Christmas songs is a touch of darkness to give depths to the brilliant cheer. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is haunted by the horrors of WWII. The hopefulness of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is deeply shadowed by global injustice. Joni Mitchell’s “River” is heartbreaking.
“Jesus, Man It’s Christmas” by the Virginia Moonwalker’s Russel Lacy taps into this tradition. It starts off as a bright, backbeat-laden, guitar-strumming, glockenspiel-dazzled country ditty, then quickly turns into a plea for the homeless. “Hello friend, are you bitter from the cold/All them pretty girls have dusted off their winter clothes.”
In addition to Lacy on guitar and vocals, the band features Kelli Strawbridge (Kings, the Big Payback) on drums, Gabriel Santamaria (Funky Monks, Black Janis) on bass, and all-star backing vocals from Angelica Garcia, Keneeka Cook, and Buttafly Vasquez. For two and a half minutes the song balances on the knife edge between seasonal cheer and humanistic hope, ending on a note of resignation, “Ain’t nobody home.”
The “Jesus” in the lyrics may be an areligious exclamation. But it is also a reminder that the traditional Christmas story was about folks looking for shelter on a midwinter night.