I don’t know about you, but every year when it’s time to shop for Christmas gifts, there are some people it’s really easy to buy for (like my daughter, who sends me an email with links to everything she might ever conceivably desire) and other people who it’s hard to buy for (like my in-laws, who already have everything they need or want). By this time each year, I’ve usually made my list, checked it twice, and now I’m left with buying gifts for the people who are, for one reason or another, more difficult to shop for.
Look no further.
I’ve mentioned in the past that I like my Christmas carols dark and moody, and on Sunday night, my dear friend and fellow Segullah staffer Blue and her husband, musician Paul Cactus Jack Le Mar, sat in my living room. Or, rather, Blue and I sat, and Cactus stood, because he was giving us a private concert of a version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” which he had arranged just that weekend. This song has everything I love in a Christmas carol– a minor key, an ancient feel, and a sense of longing for more, and Cactus did a masterful job of choosing these elements and arranging the music in a way that brought out the best in what is already a classic song.
While only Blue can take Cactus home with her, I was lucky enough to be left with the gift of his new CD, A Carpenter’s Hymns 2. After living in Australia for more than two decades, Cactus moved to Utah in 2011 to try to break into the music scene. By the end of the year, he had written and produced his first album, That First Night, which rose to #1 at Deseret Book. In 2012, he released his first installment of A Carpenter’s Hymns, and many in the music industry have been eagerly awaiting the second volume. I’ve personally had the album on repeat play since receiving it, and I’m impressed by the way that the songs are recognizable and familiar, but also feel new. Cactus did a lovely job choosing the songs, which range in tone from the playful lightness of “Give, Said the Little Stream” to the seriousness of “If You Could Hie to Kolob.” He has a lovely voice and a great sense of walking the line between traditional and boundary-breaking, and his musical arrangements are lovely.
The best place to buy A Carpenter’s Hymns 2 is from Cactus’s website. All of his albums are available on the site, and A Carpenter’s Hymns 2 is even available with a homemade ornament from the carpenter himself. I also found a digital copy of the album available here, although a digital copy of the album might not look as pretty under the tree.
If you’re in Utah, I would strongly recommend making time for Cactus’s final concert of the year, which will be held on Friday, December 16th at the AudioWest studio in Orem (521 North 1200 West) at 7pm. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to hear his version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Here’s a video of Cactus’s music video “Crown of Thorns,” which appeared on an earlier album: