Shopping Season: Rough Shop Returns With Another Album of Christmas Songs

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"'North St. Grande' really hit me when we started playing it," says Tkach. "It's a song that is evocative of feelings that we're having throughout the year anyway, that we're in this really desperate place, that people are at war and you're far away from your loved ones. That song makes me cry every time we play it, and I don't like Christmas music," she laughs.

That depth of feeling that Tkach speaks of appears throughout Lit Up, and many of the most affecting tracks aren't exactly of the holly, jolly variety. A good number of them center on the hardships that accompany the holidays -- the hangovers, hang-ups and hellish car trips that are often part and parcel of the Christmas experience. Wendland's "Snowbound Girl" speaks to that experience of holiday overload.

"Sometimes you feel overwhelmed that time of year, and that kind of started out the song, but you try to look at things with a little bit of hope as well," says Wendland. "You hope some of that creeps in, to make it not so bleak."

Whatever notes of bleakness that do find their way in are quickly leavened not only by a prevailing spirit of bonhomie but by the varied styles of American music that Rough Shop is able to work through. While Rough Shop is nominally a folk/Americana band, Lit Up finds the group (and its guests) working through light, organ-fired jazz ("Santa, What You Got in the Bag?"), '60s soul (on the Parsons/Tkach remake of Little Eva's "I Wish You a Merry Christmas") and after-hours piano balladry (the Carosello-sung "Sick Again").

These styles and more will be cycled through at this weekend's Christmas show at Off Broadway, which will feature Rough Shop and its many guest musicians. What began as a one-off during Ploof and Wendland's time in their previous band One Fell Swoop has grown to stage-filling proportions.

"We have all these different combinations of people who never sing together, and that I just absolutely love," says Wendland.

Tkach looks at Rough Shop's Christmas shows and records as less about the season itself and more reflective of the bond that is formed through their music.

"Is it Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer where that's the Christmas special where they go to the land of misfit toys?" Tkach asks. "I kind of feel that way about this group of people. In the core of the band, none of us have any kids. Christmas isn't about that for us. I always feel like I'm in the land of the misfit toys at Rough Shop Christmas. It's what we create together -- we're not doing it because somebody's telling us to do it, or because of the commercialism is out there -- we're doing it because we need family during Christmas too, and this is how we create that."

Rough Shop Christmas 8 p.m. Saturday, December 6. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $10 to $12. 314-773-3363.


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