WILMINGTON — It’s a familiar scene: the family holiday party, a little too much eggnog, add in political talk and a rift inevitably happens, with an embarrassed spouse relegating a loved one to sleeping on the couch.
That’s the gist of local musician Kevin Rhodes’ new holiday track, “Doghouse Christmas,” produced and recorded with Wilmington musician Tom Gossin, best known for his stint in the band Gloriana. The track is now playing nationwide on triple A stations, including the Penguin 98.3 (ed. note: Port City Daily is the station’s sister media company); it also dropped on streaming platforms Friday.
Rhodes will perform “Doghouse Christmas” live for the first time Friday night as part of Bourgie Nights’ Christmas Unplugged. Touted as the “holiday work party for local musicians,” the annual event will welcome a dozen musicians to the stage to perform their favorite renditions of holiday carols and original tunes.
“I’ve lost count how many I’ve done,” Rhodes said on a phone call earlier in the week.
An offshoot of Wilmington Unplugged, Rhodes helped start the musician showcase more than a decade ago with Bourgie Nights owner Billy Mellon. Its goal is to highlight local talent at area venues, with shows hosted at various downtown places: from a closed Mexican eatery, Mixto, once on Water Street to the now-defunct Whiskey.
Bourgie Nights has been its home for years and on Friday, Sean Thomas Gerard, Mike Blair and the Stonewalls, Tres Altman, Holy Heat, Ahna Ell, Myth City, Olivia Gillaspie, Julia Rothenberger, Mark Jackson and The Pinkerton Raid will perform.
Rhodes will be playing as well. His time on the music scene goes back more than two decades, as drummer for Lamont Skylark in the early aughts and then Onward, Soldiers in the mid-aughts. He performs with The Paper Stars today and has always been a multi-instrumentalist, also playing keys and accordion.
“I have been writing and doing solo things this whole time, I just never really got around to putting out a solo record,” he said.
That is changing, as Rhodes dropped his first Christmas track and a three-song EP, “Navigation,” which will eventually become a full record by next year.
“I was always perfectly happy to set my things aside and work on whatever the band needed at the time,” Rhodes added, “letting others be the lyricist, adding ideas when I could, but primarily helping flesh out their music. And all that time, I was finding my voice and finding some things that I wanted to say, and then some music that I wanted to do.”
Over the summer Rhodes was working on “Navigation” with Gossin and suggested the musician give a listen to “Doghouse Christmas.” Rhodes had been toying with the tune over the last few years in variations.
“At first, Tom said: ‘I can’t; I hate Christmas songs,’” Rhodes recalled.
Later he changed his mind. The two concluded a Christmas song would have a better chance to break through the music zeitgeist, as new holiday music isn’t necessarily being released in droves annually.
“People are just redoing old Christmas songs,” Rhodes said.
He shared his humorous lyrics with Gossin, as the song starts out: “I’m sorry I got so drunk last night / and slid off the sofa / this year’s been kind of rough on me / it’s been a roller coaster.”
“I mean, who hasn’t had too much to drink at a Christmas party?” Rhodes quipped. “Who hasn’t gotten the stink eye from their partner, wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend? Who hasn’t had family problems? Who hasn’t said the wrong thing at a family function? Or had somebody cross the line — but, you know, who doesn’t need forgiveness and connection? It’s kind of all in there. It’s timeless.”
The two amped it up with a bossa nova beat. The goal was to ensure it had a chill vibe but did not lean too far into reggae or a Jimmy Buffett sound. Rhodes said the track is infused with “indie quirk.”
Rhodes plays the Wurlitzer piano and sings, while Gossin, he said, deserves credit for the full musical bed. The two didn’t lay down the track until October. While Rhodes said it may be released a little late into the season, the beauty of a Christmas song is it can always make a comeback year after year.
“Even if it gets out to our community, and somebody gets a jingle out of it — or they feel the humanness that, ‘Hey, we all have holiday pressures, let’s just laugh it off,’ that will be enough,” Rhodes said.
Though Gossin won’t be joining Rhodes onstage Friday at Bourgie Nights, Tres Altman, frontman of The Paper Stars, will be — likely only on handbells and adding vocals while Rhodes sings and plays piano. The bossa nova beat and percussion has been programmed to be looped in.
Bands participating in Christmas Unplugged have to perform at least one original and two Christmas songs.
“We haven’t decided what else we will play,” Rhodes said.
Though he added he and Altman will likely do The Paper Stars’ original holiday track, “Christmas Time Again,” as well as either “Silver Bells” or “Star of Bethlehem.”
On Dec. 15, The Paper Stars — also including guitarists Coleman Corzine and Sam Kennedy — will join the annual Midatlantic Holiday Revue at the Brooklyn Arts Center. The musical showcase started a few years ago by Americana Wilmington rockers Midatlantic as a concert to benefit Toys for Tots and Plastic Ocean Project. Rhodes said The Paper Stars will do a mix of Christmas songs and original tunes, including from the band’s 2022 “Far Away” release.
They’ll also perform some of Rhodes’ new solos.
“So we will play ‘Doghouse Christmas’ with a full band this time and I’ll perform a few songs from ‘Navigation,'” Rhodes said.
“Navigation” isn’t just the name of his album but also the moniker Rhodes will go by as a solo artist. Rhodes has released three songs so far with plans for seven more to come for a full album release by summer 2024. Tracks are dropping digitally, with the goal to put out a vinyl record once complete.
He’s been writing the songs for years and even laid down a few tracks at Holt Evans’ Plugpoint Studio (Lauds, The Paper Stars) before meeting Gossin.
“I’m a big believer in serendipity and how you meet people at the right time,” Rhodes said.
Though both have lived in Wilmington for years and ran in similar circles, the two weren’t introduced to one another until recently.
“Tom has been so complimentary and really helpful,” Rhodes said. “He has given me more confidence about pushing through and finishing the songs.”
For years Gossin toured with his brother, Mike, in Gloriana — “the Fleetwood Mac of country,” Rhodes described— and even opened for Taylor Swift as part of her 2009 and 2010 Fearless tour. However, after Gloriana split in 2017, Gossin began his solo career and went on to be a songwriter in Nashville for Warner Brothers.
Rhodes called his skill set “strong.”
“Sitting down with Tom going through all the songs line by line, I learned really not to have any wasted words,” Rhodes said.
The three songs now streaming from “Navigation” — ”Gold,” “Western Sun,” and “Hold Me” — take on reflection, hope, and the changing directions of life.
“Western Sun” leans into nostalgia to some degree, with a driving rhythm, echoed melodies and slide guitar wails. It tracks memories of when Rhodes moved from New York to Oklahoma as a child with his family. His father, an engineer, bought a large piece of land with views of open sky.
“We had all this room to run around and ride our bikes,” he said, “and I remember my sister running through the fields. I just remember the light and the big sky — and the sun, always the sun.”
He wrote the song — a singer-songwriter folks tale — for his sister and from the perspective of youth, imagining what it means to be an adult and what life holds.
“We’ve all been through a lot of stuff,” he said. “And I get a little emotional about that, especially thinking about my sister. She’s good now — it’s a heartfelt song. That’s why I like the name Navigation. We navigate life, navigate relationships, navigate happiness and sorrow. Age humbles you.”
Rhodes began writing the tunes during the Covid-19 pandemic, sitting at the piano. Yet, he played various instruments on the tracks, including layered keyboards and had some of his friends sit in, as heard on “Gold,” for instance. The soulful song has a heavy R&B influence with a laid-back groove.
Kennedy from The Paper Stars is on guitar and Gossin plays all the horns, while Tarsha Murphy sings backup.
“She’s got this kind of Lauryn Hill, really great sounding voice,” Rhodes said.
Murphy will be joining Rhodes and The Paper Stars during The Midatlantic Holiday Revue next week. Tickets are $20 and an unwrapped toy is also encouraged to donate to Toys for Tots.
Tickets to Friday’s Christmas Unplugged at Bourgie Nights are $10 at the door and an unwrapped toy is also requested for a Toys for Tots donation.
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