Review: Jacksonville Art Collective Christmas CD


Jacksonville Arts CollectiveThe Christmas CD (NewO Records)

It’s a fact of life that you can never have enough Christmas music, and the first release by the Jacksonville Arts Collective makes a nice addition to any collection. The Christmas CD was recorded locally at Soul Block Studios, distributed through the Atlanta-based New-O Records, and funded by Executive Producer, and JAC member, Oscar Barnett. The album also features guitarist Eric Herrin (who also handled recording and engineering duties), keyboardist Steve Saracsen (aka Stevie Fingers) and drummer Will Blumberg. Together, they form the band Artisan; their new album, Another Planet, is due out in early 2010.

Barnett shares vocal duties with Patrick Evan and JAC founder Jessica Pounds, both veteran singers boasting some of the most characteristic voices around. The Christmas CD is just the first in a series of recordings planned for the benefit of the organization, which Pounds founded earlier this year. (I’m really hoping the next one is a collection of Irish drinking songs for St. Patrick’s Day.) The album contains jovial, pretty straight-ahead interpretations of seven seasonal favorites: “Let It Snow”; “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”; “Oh Christmas Tree”; “Silent Night”; “Joy To the World”; “We Three Kings”; “White Christmas”. 

The focus of the organization is best-decsribed on the CD’s inside label: “The Jacksonville Arts Collective exists to unite the local arts community behind the common goal of providing music and art education for underprivileged children.” To that end, monies received are pooled to provide funding for selected children to receive music lessons from private teachers, who happen to be some of the region’s leading professionals. This gives the kids the creative feedback and positive reinforcement that is so important for a developing young artist.

Governments on the local, state and federal levels have steadily cut into the funding for arts and music education, from band programs, instruments and art supplies to scholarships for promising talents. The great success of such programs when they are in effect has proven no impetus to reinvestment; in fact, they are often singled out as the first things to be cut even further when it comes time to balance education budgets, as has happened to disastrous effect in recent years. This has only enhanced the burden on the private sector, and the JAC is hoping to ease that pressure.

Its members include all the talents listed above, in addition to luminaries like artists Kim Barry, Megan Cosby, Nicole DiFeo, Lauren Gessner and Ryan Rummel, and musicians Shawn Lightfoot, Shaun Bennett, Chris Spohn, Christopher Byron Phillips, Joe Gaskin, Donovan King, Goliath Flores and Lackawanna Carriage Works, among others. The organization’s Facebook page (administered by JAC Director of Public Relations Dennis Freeman) has over 800 people.

The Christmas CD retails for $12 directly, or $10.80 online. The initial pressing of 100 copies was half-gone before the boxes were barely opened; 40 copies sold online, then another couple dozen at the release party that night. Recently opened at Post and King Streets, Walkers has hosted weekly Tuesday sessions by collective members and associates; they also work the Sinclair on other nights, like the Downtown ArtWalk and the Collective’s premier on November 6. Tuesdays are free, with a percentage of the take from beer, wine and tapas going back to JAC, which is working toward non-profit status in 2010, after which they hope to find a building (preferably within the city’s urban core) in which to house the foundation.

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