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Music » Sound Stories & Interviews

Re-imagining Christmas

Naomi Hooley and Rob Stroup's folksy take on holiday music

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One is a smoky-voiced, piano-playing, 70's-inspired vixen; the other a dusty blues guitarist and singer. Both longtime members of the Portland music scene, Naomi Hooley (of Moody Little Sister) and Rob Stroup (Baseboard Heaters, The Imprints) have teamed up to release the definitive Pacific Northwest Christmas album, Naomi Hooley and Rob Stroup's Winter Wonderland.

The duo has also paired for a tour in support of that album and will help kick off Bend's holiday concert season at Old St. Francis School Dec. 18.

The most striking arrangement during that show will likely be a performance of their album's title track, a cover of "Winter Wonderland." Rather than just sprinkling a touch of frill on the traditional song to make it their own, Hooley and Stroup instead completely flipped it from a cheery sing-a-long, to a somber duet with billowing coziness; stripping it down to nearly just the piano and harmonized vocals.

And the rest of the album hits close to that mark.

Songs are as sparse as possible, sounding more at home in a lonely mountain cabin surrounded by eight feet of snow, than in a festive living room full of family knocking back eggnog. It's a refreshing reprieve from the requisite sugary music of the season, allowing listeners time to pause and reflect on the past year.

Adding to the album's implicit claim that Christmas music doesn't need to be all jingle bells and sugar plums, is a very do-it-yourself visual take on "Winter Wonderland." In the duo's music video for that song—which appears to have been filmed using an iPhone—the two singers explore snowy, wooded thickets with curiosity, thoroughly depicting the quiet of the forest.

But the record isn't all hushed lucid tracks. The pair's original recording of "Please Please Please" finds Stroup whistling and singing out his Christmas wish list—which includes a ghetto blaster and a BB gun—to a bouncy alt-country tune.

Still, the lone cheery inclusion doesn't change the fact that this album is made with all the rustic places in Oregon in mind, rather than its metro centers like Portland and Eugene.

Sounds perfect for the pine-paneled walls of McMenamins' Father Luke's Room in Bend.

Naomi Hooley and Rob Stroup

7 pm. Wednesdy, Dec. 18

McMenamins, Old St. Francis School

700 NW Bond St. | FREE

About The Author

Ethan Maffey

Both a writer and a fan of vinyl records since age 5, it wasn't until nearly three decades later that Oregon Native Ethan Maffey derived a plan to marry the two passions by writing about music. From blogging on MySpace in 2007 and then Blogspot, to launching his own website, 83Music, and eventually freelancing...

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