This Christmas, Vol. 3: More New Holiday Coverfolk
from Hymns and Carols to Secular Wintersongs and Seasonals
As we’ve noted in years past, Christmas carols comprise a complete and varied taxonomy. But the number of genera within the broader category is relatively finite, with several discrete types common to the form, from the hymns and traditional folk songs of a myriad of cultures to hopeful Santa, tree and present narratives.
All families have their outliers, their platypus and spiny echidna: in this case, the most modern slice of the canon, in which pop and folk artists explicitly use the setting of the Christmas season to tackle the common seasonal themes of family, hearth, peace, joy, redemption and goodwill, but make no claim to the holiday itself. The narrator of Joni Mitchell’s River, for example, could easily be someone who does not celebrate Christmas herself; indeed, it is the emotional distance between that narrator and the celebration of others which provides the song’s core conceit, and its success.
And then there are the Holiday songs that aren’t actually about the holidays at all. For there, on virtually every radio playlist, we find another genotype altogether: the accidental seasonal, in which snowy environments and December settings provide a number of common elements and themes – from the coldness of the weather to the pensive and hopeful emotions of the turn of the year itself – without any explicit mention of Christmas or its trappings.
Combine them all, and you’ve got our final mix of the 2015 Christmas season, featuring a diverse set of new music from joyful to pensive, with folkpunk, bluegrass instrumentals, sensitive singer-songwriter fare, and more delights sure to warm your heart and hearth. Enjoy, and may the spirits of joy, light, generosity, and community live forever in you throughout the year.
- Unwaxed Rainment: The First Noel (trad.)
Teenage sibling bluegrass duo from deep South Florida play a hopping bluegrass instrumental on their first recorded appearance as Unwaxed Rainment, released alongside a slick and slippery take on O Little Town Of Bethlehem on Emmanuel, just released via Bandcamp. Joel and Bethany also play, record, and minister through music with their parents as The Xiques Family, who have been performing since 2004, and released their own album of praise and promise this year.
- Gospel Whiskey Runners: Go Tell It On The Mountain (trad.)
- The Wealthy West: Carol Of The Bells (trad.)
- Blake Flattley: Lo How A Rose E’er Blooming (trad.)
The Gospel Whiskey Runners are aptly named. But this boot-stomping, banjo-driven indie gospel number and the lovely, frail pair that follow it are but one of many wonderful holiday covers and originals from seventh-generation charity compilation Winter Is On My Head, the most recent in a holy host of great Christmas compilations from a team of digital artists, musicians, producers, and content curators bringing forward some truly amazing artists from across the indiefolk spectrum.
- Big Little Lions: Deck The Halls (trad.)
Fans of indie folkpop bands like The Weepies and Mumford and Sons will love the catchy high-concept bells-and-handclap sensibility of the reinventions and originals on Together At Christmas, a five-track EP from Big Little Lions, a songwriting duo project that have picked up accolades from the 2015 Ensemble of the Year award from last year’s Canadian Folk Music Awards to Song of the Year in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition.
- Fable Cry: Kidnap The Sandy Claws (from The Nightmare Before Christmas)
Psychedelic gypsy punk band and “theatrical scamp rock quintet” Fable Cry takes on a tune from famed Tim Burton vehicle The Nightmare Before Christmas, upping the energy of the original past the limits of sanity while still managing to fit within the ever-broad boundaries of folk.
- Anna Rose ft. Wes Hutchinson: I’ll Be Home for Christmas (orig. Bing Crosby)
From sultry blues and jazz to true blue electropop, charity compilation Fieldhouse Presents: A Holiday Benefit 2015 runs helter-skelter across the genre map, coming together like a beautiful holiday mixtape. Most songs are originals, but this pretty album-closing duet is worth sticking with; folkfans looking for more mellow stuff will also enjoy soft samba Snow from Bird of Paradise and Wakey Wakey’s new fireside duet ballad Christmas With You.
- Wild Child: Silent Night (trad.)
We generally eschew links to Amazon here, preferring to support artists with more cents on the dollar through direct links to artist-preferred commercial sources. But Indie for the Holidays is an exclusive Prime Music playlist featuring 27 new songs from some pretty well-known indie pop, roots, and alternative artists, including Bhi Bhiman, Lisa Loeb, and Langhorne Slim; for them, and for this, we’ll make an exception.
- Symon Hajjar: O Christmas Tree (trad.)
- Symon Hajjar: What Child Is This (trad.)
Described by Tulsa artist Symon Hajjar as “a mix of hymns, whims, and contemplations”, the quiet, artfully reconstructed songs on Finally Christmas hold a graceful balance between lush and latent, with tense beauty that echoes in the head long after the last notes have faded into night.
- Jaymay: Baby, It’s Cold Outside (orig. Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams)
NYC-based singer-songwriter Jaymay Sings Christmas, alright; some of these settings in this still-growing advent calendar are a bit pitch-perfectly orchestral for that shimmery sweet voice with more than a hint of Fiona Apple in its warble. Others, though, are just right. And by dropping the male lyric entirely, this amazing music-box cover of Baby It’s Cold Outside evokes something totally new: a confident, lovely girl by the door into winter, spinning and singing to herself as she puts on her coat, hat, and scarf.
- Folk Angel ft. Lauren Chandler: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear (trad.)
- Folk Angel: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus/Joy To The World (trad.)
Folk Angel seems to be a holiday collective, like so many others that form around the microphone this time of year. And this year’s release from the three-man outfit is a bit more raucous than folk, to be fair. But despite the rich layers of sound, there’s something tender and welcoming about this Midnight Clear, a relatively quiet cut from Tell Us of the Night: Christmas Songs, Vol. 7. And their choir-driven hymnal mashup, from last year’s live album, is a delight.
- The Once: Gabriel’s Message (trad.)
Newfoundland collective The Once plays a swaying gypsy jazz waltz complete with horns on this track we seem to have missed way back in 2012. Other warm horn, bass, drum, and mandolin tracks in 3/4 time on This Is A Christmas Album include a nearly funerial I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.
- Wintery Songs In Eleventy Part Harmony: Joy To The World (trad.)
We’ve been keeping you in the loop about Hark, the new album from our favorite Somerville-based collective, since last Christmas, when we noted their EP pre-release in our Albums of The Year feature. Now the album has landed after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and we’re thrilled to report it’s everything we hoped: quirky and playful, beautiful and bold, with strings and joyful voices raised in harmony.
- Marika Hackman: River (orig. Joni Mitchell)
- FLYTE: In The Bleak Midwinter (trad.)
Finally, as promised in our Year’s Best Videos features, one more track from The Crypt Sessions, because – like a fireplace in winter – we just can’t resist a warmly-lit, brightly-voiced Christmas video. Plus an amazing new cover from FLYTE, which, like the Joni Mitchell cover, was recorded for It’s Coming On Christmas, the Daisy Digital artist compilation we mentioned in Vol. 2 of our 2015 Christmas Coverfolk series.
Cover Lay Down thrives throughout the year thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU. So do your part: listen, love, spread the word, and above all, purchase the music, the better to keep it alive.
And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the music flowing? Please, consider a year’s end contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts will go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors will receive undying praise, and a special gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unblogged covers from 2014-2015.