SPU alumni release An OK Christmas Carol album

Christmas feels quieter and calmer this year as we shelter in place in the midst of a pandemic. It’s the mood perfectly captured by OK Carol’s second album, An OK Christmas Carol with its gentle, intimate ballads and wistful melodies.

The album is not a high-octane holiday collection meant for a Christmas party crowd. Instead, it’s the playlist to listen to as you’re feeding your sourdough starter or prepping a meal for the family. You can picture the snow flurries outside and the crackling wood in a fireplace as Katie Clum’s dulcet tones deliver a beautiful rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with the emphasis on little celebrations during these COVID times.

Clum ’10, who is the assistant director of graduate admissions for SPU’s School of Education, is accompanied by two other alumni: cellist Ellen Kilcup ’09 and Aaron McConkey ’11 on the guitar. McConkey also heads up production for the band. The three OK Carol members met at SPU but didn’t start making music together until years later after working on and off together in many of the same local music circles.

“Ellen and I knew each other in school as undergrads,” Clum said. “When she plays the cello, it’s gorgeous. Gorgeous, like her music melts you.”

OK Carol released their first album, Orwell: Songs from ’84, following what Clum calls an “existential crisis” after the 2016 elections as they read and re-read George Orwell’s book, 1984.

This year, the group wanted to capture the mood of 2020 which, for Clum, is personified in the beautiful and heartbreaking melody of “River.”

It was a brave choice to record a Christmas folk song written and performed by the legendary Joni Mitchell, and more recently by Ben Platt of the Book of Mormon and Dear Evan Hansen fame, but Clum holds her own with this achingly beautiful arrangement. Clum’s vocal talents and the somber strings of the cello and guitar come together to wistfully portray the angst and regret of “River.”

The album also features the group’s first original song, “Ballad For Suppertime.”

“I love dinner parties where I’ve had so many delightful, sacred moments around the table with friends,” Clum said. “Especially as young adults in Seattle, when you’re connecting with really good friends that become your chosen family. There’s something so beautiful in the act of sharing food and wine and good company and in the conversations that have been held over the years, so this song was an ode, maybe almost a eulogy, to what we used to be able to do.”

“Gather on round, the table is set

My friends and my family are here to forget

Just for a time, the worries that weigh down

As together we pray that together we’ll stay

So pour out a glass or two of wine

What’s mine is all yours and yours is mine

Our stories, our loves, our fears, our delights

We’ll share them all so the burden feels light

As gently we chase away all shadows of night.”

—from “Ballad For Suppertime”

“An OK Christmas Carol” is available on all streaming platforms here.

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