Covered In Christmasfolk, 2017 (Vol. 1)
New Releases from Radiofolk to The Hymnal

If it’s going to be Christmas this early, then the music better be pretty damn good. Happily, there’s some solid festive folk in the air, from Kate Rusby’s newest carols-and-more release to archived live performances from Aoife O’Donovan, Ruth Moody, and Dougie MacLean to a perfect roster of modern, traditional, and holiday ballads and barnburners. Today, we dig into the early holiday mailbag, coming clean with the first major snowfall of the season and a moody, marvelous set to ring in the crispness of Christmas.

Richard Thompson’s robust New Year’s anthem We Sing Hallelujah was a frequent earworm this year, thanks to a delightful live performance of the song by Low Lily at our own Unity House Concerts on the cusp of the season last December. And it seems I’m not the only one stuck on the song: new covers of the song appear on Kate Rusby’s newest carols-and-more release Angels & Men – her fourth Christmas album – in typically sweet and celebratory fashion, with rich and swelling horn-and-string instrumentation evoking a frozen landscape, and as a chanty, chains and all, to ground O’Hooley & Tidow’s earnest, majestic holiday album Winterfolk Vol. 1.

Ryanhood‘s new holiday affair On Christmas hit Bandcamp just days before the high-energy Tucson, AZ folkpop duo was announced as Falcon Ridge Folk Festival 2018 Most Wanted Returning Artists, news as bright and warm and bubbly as their live shows, not to mention their new versions of Sleigh Ride and Charlie Brown classic Skating. Chock full of joy, this adept collection of classic two-string instrumentals, original holiday songs that sound like instant classics, and a pair of unusual choice covers – Leigh Nash’s Christmas Falling and Audrey Assad’s Even The Winter – is a seasonal delight well worth deeper exploration.

His Eye Is on the Sparrow: A Collection of Hymns, the new release from Tennessee harmony-driven Christian female mountainfolk duo Alathea, funded through crowdsourcing and a partnership with the Appalachia Service Project, isn’t specifically for the holidays. But the hymnal swings inevitably towards the story of the birth regardless, and so among such ringing gems as His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Amazing Grace, Wayfaring Stranger, and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, this adopted Christmas anthem serves as a perfect complement to the duo’s two previous Christmas releases.

At worst, the threshold banter of Frank Loesser’s Baby, It’s Cold Out Side takes on a patina of shame in 2017. But this just-released countrified version of the song – a pond-crosser from Houstonite band Jess & the Bandits featuring special guests from the UK Country scene – is a fire under the boots, a honkytonk romp through a familiar song of the season that revives the playful innocence of the age, when demure was the name of the game, and a little protest was a true-blue mating ritual.

Tense and luscious, slippery and hopeful, Swedish neofolk singer-songwriter Sofia Talvik’s sweet take on one of our very favorite simple carols is culled from When Winter Comes, a gorgeous 2017 collection of remastered and reimagined cuts from a decade-long practice writing and releasing a free Christmas single every year. Like the song, the album is a true gift, pensive and dark yet full of inspiration and heartache, a highly recommended centerpiece for hearth and table.

Spare, masterful arrangement and angelic vocals from Berklee singer-songwriter, vocalist, musical theater producer and all-around popfolk prodigy Emma Charleston make for a pitch-perfect O Holy Night on a single released via YouTube and recently premiered on The Huffington Post. Add in her summer performance of Joni Mitchell’s holiday classic River, and you’ve got a pair that proves Charleston’s holiday spirit and performance prowess all at once.

Finally, if there was ever any doubt about the influence of long-time New England folk DJ Brian O’Donovan, this year’s archive release from 15 years of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, an annual Boston-area WGBH production which draws on Celtic, Pagan, and Christian traditions to celebrate the music of the season, proves it enow. Daughter Aoife – yes, that Aoife O’Donovan – kicks off the stellar collection with a sweet, soulful ballad from Lorenna McKennitt, followed by standout performances from Ruth Moody, Dougie MacLean, Solas, and more, that pay apt tribute to the legendary folk archivist, curator, and host, and offer the next best thing to being there this year with Jenna Moynihan, Liz Knowles, Haley Richardson and an all-star cast.

Always artist-friendly and ad-free, Cover Lay Down has been serving the folk community for a decade thanks to the generous support of readers like you. Follow us on Facebook, and stay tuned for more great coverfolk, including at least one more celebration of the songs of the season, and our annual celebration of the year’s best cover and tribute albums, singles, and coverfolk videos, as December continues!

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