Tal Wilkenfeld released her 104-song “Christmas from a Distance” Spotify playlist on Christmas Eve, an eclectic blend of artists, songs, and styles. We put on our Santa hat while listening and reached out to Tal to ask her about putting the list together and what else she has been up to.
What led you to put your “Christmas from a Distance” Spotify playlist together?
It started as a way of me trying to discover music I hadn’t heard, and I was specifically searching for early gospel recordings. Then as I began finding songs I got excited about, it ended up being a sweet way to connect with friends and family who I wished I could hug and see. Then I realized I wanted to make as many people smile as possible by introducing them to holiday music they may not have heard before, so I made it public.
What was your critieria for selecting the songs?
Moving lyrics, singing, songwriting, and performances. I also tried to find songs that you typically wouldn’t hear on the radio. More B sides and deep cuts, but I did throw in the occasional banger.
Is there a common thread through all of them or is it more about the variety of artists and styles?
The only thread is that this is a playlist I imagined everyone putting on as they woke up on Christmas and letting it play throughout the day. I put (way too) many hours into this!
Do you have a few favorite tracks from your list?
Oh my gosh, trying to narrow down this playlist was close to impossible, hence why it’s five-and-a-half hours long. If I had to reduce the playlist to only 20 songs, I guess I’d choose (in no particular order):
1) “Go Tell It on the Mountain” - The Sensational Nightingales and James Cleveland versions are both on there and I love them equally.
2) “Ringing the Bells for Jim” - Johnny Cash
3) “River” - Joni Mitchell
4) “Virgin Mary Had One Son” - Odetta
5) “I Pray on Christmas” - Blind Boys of Alabama
6) “Whatever Happened to Christmas” - Frank Sinatra
7) “Last Month of the Year” - Staple Singers (also called “When Was Jesus Born,” which is also on my playlist, performed by Marian Williams)
8) “Christmas Blues” - Lightnin’ Hopkins
9) “White Christmas” - Iggy Pop
10) “Rise Up Shephard and Follow” - Black Nativity
11) “Joy to the world” - Aretha Franklin
12) “Let’s Unite the Whole World at Christmas” - James Brown
13) “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” - Al Green
14) “No Room at the Inn” - Marian Williams
15) “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” - John Lennon
16) “Christmas In Prison” - John Prine
17) “Christmas Card from a Hooker” - Tom Waits
18) “White Christmas” - Irving Berlin
19) “Somebody’s Talkin ’Bout Jesus” - Odetta—the bass is killin’ on this one.
20) “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” - Mahalia Jackson
Musically, do you most relate to the songs on the list as a vocalist, songwriter, or bassist?
All of the above. I chose the songs based on songs and performances that moved me musically, compositionally, and lyrically.
There are a lot of gospel tracks on the list, is there a particular reason?
Because its some of the most soulful music I’ve ever heard.
There are some newer artists on the list, like Phoebe Bridgers, First Aid Kit, Vulfpeck, Ed Sheeran, and Jacob Collier, whose songs obviously speak to you.
Yep. I love Phoebe’s songwriting and “Christmas Song” is a great composition, but I also love her singing. Her covers and cover choices especially speak to me. “If We Make It Through December” is A+. Especially for 2020. First Aid Kit sing the shit out of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” “Christmas in L.A.” by Vulfpeck is a banger and impossible not to dance to. “The A Team” is, I believe, one of the first Ed Sheeran songs that went commercial, and it still speaks to me the most. Jacob Collier’s arrangement of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” is beautiful. It’s harmonically adventurous and I love how it’s almost only vocals.
What else have you been up to that you’d like to share?
Musically, I’ve been working on a whole bunch of different projects and writing a lot. I played bass on a track/video for “Playing For Change,” with Carlos Santana, Cindy Blackman Santana, Cory Henry, Becky G, and a bunch of other baddasses. That streamed on YouTube a few weeks ago but I think the official release comes out in a couple weeks.
I’ve just released a new merch line that I’m super proud of, including two masks, two T-shirts, a hoodie, and a beanie. One of the masks has a bass on it that spells out “Love Remains”—the name of my last album. Also, I just joined the Cameo app, so I’ve been doing some shoutouts, personalized songs, and bass requests on there. That’s about it for now!