Category: Holiday Coverfolk

Mother’s Day Coverfolk
(On learning to love the self in the other)

May 13th, 2012 — 07:54 pm

I’ve written about my father several times here on Cover Lay Down, citing him as a friend and fellow folkfan whose companionship I cherish, especially now that I have children of my own. I’ve written about my wife, too, and my children, when the occasion warranted it. But other than a 2008 feature on Mothers of the Folkworld, we’ve skipped over Mother’s Day for four years running – leaving my own mother conspicuously absent from these virtual pages.

If I’ve avoided taking the time to parse the particulars of our often volatile relationship until now, it is because for most of my adult and adolescent life, I did not understand it. But though I cannot and should not claim to know anyone as well or better than I know myself, after years of therapy and soul-searching, I think I have come far enough to take an awkward step towards explicating my avoidance of the topic until now.

The things I have inherited from my mother run deeper and more complex. From her come ADHD tendencies and a high propensity for disorganization, a deep need for social and interpersonal connection, a teary sensitivity to the world. Though it is these same raw and specific qualities, I think, which allow me to experience such deep and profound joy and solace in the universe, the exposure to the emotive elements which results also leaves me in a particularly poor place to negotiate truces when I must.

Instead, these innate characteristics, and the confusion that they often cause within me, leave me wandering the earth with an innate feeling of fragility. And the knowledge that I contain such multitudes can lead to poor choices: a carelessness with words and action that often worsens when I let my guard down around those who I know too well; a snowblindness to other opinions that comes across as disrespect; a propensity to overreact to small things, and thus magnify my distress.

And if I have learned anything in my almost forty years, it is that where one person in such a situation can mitigate and manage the delicate self through care and community and introspection, people of this particular type are ill-equipped to support each other, or indeed to come to terms with each other.

The result is a particularly bittersweet relationship, and I know that my mother and I both regret that we have not yet been able to overcome that which we share to grow closer, and more respectful towards each other.

It’s hard to love in another what you struggle with in yourself – hard, too, to pair such characteristics across the table and expect clarity in understanding. Living with my mother is more often than not a tightrope walk of polite watchfulness in our relations. Even when we find ourselves in moments or months of balance, the voice in my head that cannot so easily trust is always working to push me back down the mountain to its base, where I must begin the Sisyphean struggle anew, for the sake of our family, and our families.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my mother. I admire how hard she worked to maintain a family in my childhood, when my father was working long and absent hours to give us the lifestyle he and she agreed was best for all of us. I appreciate the words of comfort and support she has offered me in my hours of need, even if I could not and would not hear them wholly in the moment. My parents’ divorce several years ago gave me a chance to see her for herself, and the opportunity to watch her grow and thrive as a person of faith and innate optimism. And the ways in which this – all of this – has illuminated my own sins and challenges, clearing the path for me to make peace with my own faults and failures, and through them, to make peace with her, is easily acknowledged, though it remains elusive in my grasp as a tool for relationship building.

I cannot claim to have finished my journey; if I am not yet ready to come out and say that my mother is my friend, it is because of that which I cannot yet love in myself. But although I am hardly a praying man, my mother’s urgings towards meditation have not gone unheeded; I know, and hope she sees, that on my own side of that proverbial table, I have been gathering strength for a peace between us, one that grows more urgent even as it grows closer every day of our lives. And I know, too, because she has shown me, that faith is not only possible, but a vital cornerstone to a life lived honestly, and well.

To my mother, then: to whom I owe not only life, but the abilities and lessons that let me feel and see such life as a joyous, wondrous miracle every day. For that, I love her deeply, if not yet so well. And with that love at my back I will work until my final breath to forge and solder the ties that bind us, until our relationship is something we can both cherish and celebrate together.

Download our Mother’s Day Mix as a zip file!

6 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Theme Posts

Let My People Go: Songs of The Exodus
(Musical Metaphors of Power, Privilege, and Oppression)

April 7th, 2012 — 11:13 am

Before we were slaves in Egypt, we were Joseph’s brothers and their wives, working at the right hand of a seemingly benevolent pharaoh. But as more modern freedom movements have reminded us over and over again, trust in institutions is a trust misplaced, for power shared unilaterally is power that can be withheld. 400 years and a dozen generations, and we find ourselves both enslaved and feared for our potential power as usurpers.

And yet. Without Pharaoh’s breeding program, we would not have become a people. Without the pressure of death which brought Moses to the reeds and rushes, we would not have returned to Pharaoh’s right hand, where we could be heard. Without the madness, God would not have come to us, enflamed enough to convince a reluctant, stuttering prophet to raise his staff, and lead the people of Israel into the desert, and the great unknown of an uncertain future.

It took oppression and slavery to make a people of Israel; darkness is a forge unparalleled in our hearts. No wonder there is so much hope in the modern retellings of this story – hope, and compassion for those who continue to perpetuate the enslavement of others merely by choosing not to recognize their own privilege as a base condition for cultural imbalance. No wonder the figures of Moses, Pharaoh, Joseph, Joshua, and the Israelites have become metaphors for their own roles in the story – as flawed leader, scapegoat oppressor, untrusting and meek oppressed; as brave General, as prideful and arrogant prophet.

We tell their stories from every perspective, for they are all us. May we learn, once again, from their zeal, and their mistakes. May we continue to work for the day when all peoples can be free – from each other, and from their own fears.

Looking for more biblical songs? Head over to collaborative music blog Star Maker Machine, where we’re just finishing up a full week of themed posts on the subject!

1 comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, Theme Posts

Single Song Saturday: Auld Lang Syne
(On community, friends, folk and hope)

December 31st, 2011 — 08:20 am

It’s not a new year’s song, per se, though traditionally sung at midnight here and abroad. Rather, its message of friendship everlasting after a life well- and long-lived finds voice in, and brings hope and closure to, a multitude of celebrations throughout the English-speaking world, predominantly funerals and other ceremonies of remembrance.

I posted a set of covers of Auld Lang Syne back in the waning days of 2009, too. But the Robert Burns poem and its various melodies seem particularly apt this year. For we heard its echo in the way our small community come together in the wake of a series of natural disasters – the tornado that tore our town apart, the floods that overflowed our banks, the autumnal blizzard that brought cold and powerless darkness. In the warm feeling of the ensemble, which filled my theater days and nights. In the loving family that comes back each year to build the folk festival from the field, before carefully putting it away.

Even in the virtual spaces we occupy together we live out the dream, tied heart and mind in our waking hours. Kickstarter and Indiegogo work because they double the folk equation, turning ideas into nexuses for collaboration between artist and fan, strengthening and supporting the art which speaks that love and shared understanding into our collective consciousness. And though I am especially proud of the hundreds of dollars this particular community raised to support our town when it was most in need this year, the donations that trickle in just in time to pay the bandwidth bills here at Cover Lay Down remind me that I, too, am a nexus. As are we all, in those places where our own passions find play.

Which is to say it’s been a year of community building together: plays and houses, blogs and albums, environments and experiences. And if I’ve learned anything, it is that the truism holds, even in the Internet age: to act globally, one must think locally. The occupy movement is but the beginning. If we can take what we have learned there, and occupy our own communities, perhaps this world can truly belong to our children, and theirs.

And so, as the lyric says, here’s a hand, my trusty friend, and give me a hand of thine. Our offering comprises 12 takes, to match the months that brought us here again – from pubfolk to the pristine, from celtic to the crooned, from the waltz to the quarter time, from the warm welcoming tones of the singer-songwriter to the sweet and mournful appalachian banjo. May they ring in a year full of cheer and goodwill, for you and yours. And may we meet again in strength and friendship in 2012, to raise the glass for old time’s sake, and for the times to come.

5 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Single Song Sunday

Late December, 2011: A Last Minute Christmas Companion

December 24th, 2011 — 11:35 am

It’s still rainy and cool here in rural New England – a disappointment for anyone hoping for a traditional white Christmas. But I’ve still got the holiday spirit, and if today’s inbox is any indication, so do the artists who we love.

The late-December holiday release is a new phenomenon, historically speaking. But it’s not unexpected: where once, artists recorded and released music for the holidays months in advance, the better to ensure that the word and song could spread through critic and culture in time to find us and claim our hearts, new media – YouTube, Soundcloud, the Bandcamp release and the email or Facebook prompt to find them – have sparked a new potential for flash-fast attention.

Which is to say: for the first time in memory, the instantaneous distribution of music and other media has become the norm, making the last-minute holiday release a common element of the season. And so we’re ending our week with a short set of brand new streaming delights to take you the rest of the way through the holidays. All were released in the short weeks since we first shared our annual Christmas features; all are worth your precious time, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Enjoy them now, and remember the creative forces behind them when they come to your town in the months and years to come.

The Poison Oaks: If We Make It Through December
(orig. Merle Haggard)

Anne-Marie Sanderson: Walking In The Air (from “The Snowman”) [via]

Hillary Grist: Angels We Have Heard On High

Tim Gearan and Jesse Dee: Winter Wonderland

Town Hall: The Christmas Song

Matt Ryd: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Wheeler Street: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Melissa Ferrick: Jingle Bells

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 giftees will receive undying praise, and an exclusive download code for a special gift 12-song set of favorite 2011 Holiday Covers otherwise unblogged, including several of the above covers in downloadable mp3 form.

Thanks, folks. May your holiday season bring peace, joy, and gladness. And may your days be merry and bright.

1 comment » | Holiday Coverfolk

New Artists, Winter Songs:
Seasonal Sentiment, Covered in Folk

December 12th, 2011 — 06:06 pm

Winter comes early in New England. We hoard pellets for the stove, sandbagging the porch against the coming months; we watch our breath before us as we pack it in, and smile, and huddle into our coats. The crate of winter sweaters and scarves takes its ceremonial place by the door, ready for travelers duty-bound to brave the frozen world. Frost covers the windshield when we wake, and makes the brown-gold grass crunch and twinkle in the light of a bright full moon.

Though the solstice doesn’t arrive until late next week, and though the yard is still covered in leaves and fallen branches from the unseasonal snowfall folks ’round these parts called the Octopalypse, the barometer doesn’t lie: somehow, the songs of winter have become embedded in our cultural Holiday playlists. We hear them in the mall, speaking of December; we find them on compilations galore, nestled up against the Santa songs and wassails, the remade hymns and covered canon.

And yet isolating these songs from their conventional companions reveals a clear sentiment of the season, crisp in imagery and cohesive in theme. Their common narrative premise – that winter kills, and so drives us inside, making the threshold harder to cross, causing the heat of hearth to envelop and tempt us – goes miles, indeed, towards unifying us even in our isolation. That their tone is broad is due entirely to how we set ourselves against the duality of cold world, warm home: out or in, frozen or alive, alone or beloved.

So while I prepare our very first annual Cover Lay Down Best Of The Year roundup, here’s a short feature on some recently recorded songs of the season which have nothing at all to do with Christmas, and everything to do with the falling snow, the chilling wind, and the intimacies and the seclusions our withdrawal from the cold world brings. May they keep you warm, as they keep us, always.

    I had a request for this one after last Winter’s Snowsongs post, and I can see why: this one-take is warm with ukelele and Sophie Madeleine‘s well-tuned warble, and easily representative of the tone and timbre of her late 2009 Sidetrack Sessions release.

    Though we’d been watching her since her 2008 covers of Beck and Arcade Fire hit the ground running, two Smiths covers in one year puts Sara Lov permanently on our radar this year. This delicate treatment of proto-nufolk matriarch Vasti Bunyan’s sad, slow winter song, found on this year’s all-covers album I Already Love You, is part and parcel of the greatness.

    Sherry Austin is known for her coverage of fellow West Coast folk legacy Kate Wolf; we posted another pair of Kate Wolf covers from this late-blooming mother-turned-singer-songwriter back in 2010. This take on Winter Comes On Slow, from 2010 album Love Still Remains, is an original, though according to Sherry, it even fooled Kate’s husband, so I suppose I can be excused from making the same mistake when I first posted it. Regardless: I love the way it drags its sentiment down and out like a Greg Brown ballad, pulling slow beauty from the interplay of guitar, voice, and sole, soaring fiddle, and have decided to keep it in the mix.

    Cited as “destined to become a Christmas classic” when it first emerged, Laura Marling’s graceful tribute to her native England is well-treated in the hands of Ontario-bred singer-songwriter Hilary Lynd, who needs no apologies, though claims she had a cold when she recorded it.

    Audrey Assad’s original languid piano ballad becomes tender and anything but mild in the hands of amateur singer-songwriter Erica Danielle Keene, who gets bonus points for recording this one under the bight glow of last year’s Christmas tree.

    Tom Meny’s recent cover of this almost equally new song was soulful, and otherwise-unknown soundcloud amateur Avril Crotty‘s take on the song is as fragile as ice. But if you, too, miss the duet harmonies of the original, young youtube amateur denizens Dawn & Marra are ready to come to the rescue (though you have to start at the one minute mark if you want to skip the girlybabble).

NEW: Download our entire Winter Songs set as a zip file!

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

7 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk

Taking On The New Christmas Canon
New holiday songs, covered in folk

December 8th, 2011 — 11:51 pm

The Christmas canon falls easily into several clusters of songtype: the wassail and traditional Euro-melody, the hymn and the poetic setting, the early 20th century crooner, the TV special soundtrack. Each, in its way, is a marker of a historical era; string them together, and you’ve got a cultural timeline of sorts, representing the common threads of the tree and the snow, family and friends, Jesus and Santa, exposing – along the way – the ways in which our perspective has changed over time.

But genre and soungsource have blurred and expanded over the last half-century, thanks to the advent and spread of reliable recording technology and the resulting crossbreed of musical styles. And so a new type has emerged, as artists from throughout the popular genre map take on the spirit of the season, resulting in more than a few modern retellings of the many faceted Christmas holiday, with more emerging each year.

From prototypical songs such as Joni Mitchell’s River and John Lennon’s anti-war celebration, to The Weepies’ All That I Want and The Pretenders’ 2000 Miles, such popular songs reset the twinned themes of darkness and light in our own commercial culture, offering Christmas as context for the joys and sorrows, the potential and pain, of that universal condition we call being human. And though many of these new songs fade fast into Christmas past, a growing canon of modern Christmas music emerges, with its own tropes, its own motifs, its own universality, grounded in the trappings of the real lives we live.

The dates on these songs range broadly: reach back far enough, and you’ll find these in the mall, I suppose. But somehow, the old familiar carols play more frequently; the new canon is young and far between, and smothered by the more common trend of classic reinvention ad infinitum which so carries modern coverage of this particular season. Our inevitable look at the season’s crop of holiday music trends towards albums of mostly older, unsourced material; we call ‘em covers, but there’s a difference between the cover and the traditional take that we often ignore here; most significantly, there’s no original to test the versions against, only other versions, and that difference shades subtly how we listen and appreciate.

And so we turn to true holiday covers – not the same-old histo- and popculture, but the tender exploration of a new song in tribute to a strong, recent original which so drives our mandate the rest of the year here at Cover Lay Down. Irreverence has its place in this set, of course – for evidence, one need only check out Robert Earl Keen’s fond look at a redneck holiday celebration on Merry Christmas To The Family or the Spinal Tap or Sufjan covers below, or at collablog Star Maker Machine, which this week has been featuring a set of offbeat holiday music, to find originals which fit this theme. But covers cement the relevance of all songs, and successful folk reproduction trends towards the sensitive, the real, and the raw as much as it does the wry and the weathered.

So set your tree up to the oldies and the goodies, and then come back to this collection – a set of very late 20th and early 21st century holiday songs, all versions of songs originally released in the last quarter century or so, and just waiting for the moment when you’re ready to live in the Christmas present.

Download a zip file of our entire New Holiday Canon!

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

2 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk

New Artists, Old Songs: 2011 Holiday Edition

December 1st, 2011 — 11:16 am

I’ve been wearing my actor’s hat most of the week, treading the boards and wearing the greasepaint, out of the house at all hours prepping for tomorrow’s opening night of Godspell. But though I probably should be going over my own lyrics on the ride to and from dress rehearsals, the bright and oft-garish lawn displays that pepper the otherwise-darkened streets have been inspiring quite another modus operandi.

Which is to say: the holiday soundtrack has been singing in the wires and the air, and I’m not talking about the same-old nostalgic popstuff that’s taken over the rado waves. Here’s some great new discoveries from the mailbag, the blogs, and beyond that have been keeping me in the holiday spirit.

Young Halifax-based folkpop songwriter David Myles is a wanderer, musically speaking: his path includes several collaborations with Canadian hip-hop artist Classified, and a recent world music album heavily influenced by Brazilian and African rhythms; his awards for songwriting and studio albums are predominantly in the folk category, though multiple artist/single of the year recognitions suggest a broad popular appeal. His simple, sparse holiday single comes in uptempo and slow versions, but to be fair, neither one’s a scorcher. Still, the uke’s got a solid range: Hawaiian swingjazz and gentle blues leave us wanting both to keep. Stream, then buy.

We featured Joshua Hyslop here this summer, after we caught wind of Cold Wind, his mesmerizing, dreamy folkpop debut; though it predated his studio recording by several years, the Leonard Cohen cover we dug up at the time was more than ample evidence for naming this young Canadian singer-songwriter a star on the rise. Now comes more proof: an acoustically driven popfolk gem that just explodes into hope and gentle joy just before the one minute mark. The track has already traveled the blogs a bit, but it’s well worth passing around.

  • Joshua Hyslop: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Matt Douglass is a woodwind player, songwriter and teacher from Raleigh, North Carolina who brings a penchant for echoey, glitchy electrofolk and an odd sense of rhythm to his new holiday album Christmas On Lane Street, a studio solo craftwork being sold to benefit Kids Peace. The resultant carols are slightly unsettling, in need of their own peace, their layers not quite cohered. It’s a nice change, and worth the experiment, from the flooded, staggered cacophony of The Holly And The Ivy to the Judy Garland tribute that ends the album, wearier than hers by far.

According to his publicist, newly-signed Nettwerk artist Liam Titcomb is a Toronto-based “folk festival rug rat” with a heart and a history that begins with a signing to Sony Canada at the age of fifteen, and a subsequent life on the road with Great Big Sea, Tom Cochrane, and other folk greats from above the border. In 2009, at the age of 21, the acoustic folk-rocker raised over $50,000 for War Child on his Coast to Coast Busking Tour, suggesting a strong following and a solid commitment to the future. His newest single Silver Bells begins with an alt-country slide wail and a gentle pulse that blossoms into air, a slow, pensive look at this seasonal favorite.

  • Liam Titcomb: Silver Bells

Fellow coverblogger Ray Padgett of Cover Me fame first introduced us to the dark, troubled “slit your wrist” folk coverage of Josh T. Pearson over the summer, and we were instantly smitten with the brooding artist who pulled a knife on a crowd member at this year’s SXSW. Today, they bring us a ragged, broken-down O Holy Night, off a new Christmas EP being sold as an exclusive bonus for those who buy Pearson’s Last of the Country Gentlemen, which label Rough Trade named their Album of the Year for 2011. It’s worth it.

  • Josh T Pearson: O Holy Night

Beta Radio sound a little too like the Avett Brothers, as if they had swallowed wholesale the neotraditional indiefolk modularity. But brighter, as befits these humble carols. The Song The Season Brings, the single, stunningly sparse original which gives the tiny four-song EP its name, is more than majestic enough to meet the season. And the entire set is free, a gift to the world.

Andrew Ripp is similarly polished, but in the bluesfolk vein. Think Lightnin’ Hopkins with the voice of modern youthpop and a stompin’ beat: electric, and the rest of Light Of Mine, his new six-track Christmas EP, is equally solid. A search reveals a growing body of work with a strong acoustic country bent and a touch of Ben Harper in the mix, too – nice stuff, all ’round, and well worth watching for.

Andrew Ripp: Joy To The World

Last, but certainly not least: the particularly subequatorial phenomenon of a mid-summer Christmas on the water isn’t in my frame of reference, to be sure. I’d never even heard Tim Minchin’s wry Christmas musings before this cover popped up on Timber and Steel’s holiday best-of list last year. But in spite of the religious right protest which it inspired, the universal sentiment in this doubter’s honest homestead holiday hits right at the true meaning of Christmas for much of the post-Christian world, myself included. And young Aussie singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke‘s version is so tender, so soft and earnest, so safe, so full of longing, so utterly, crushingly powerful, you’ll have to listen to it more than once to get the full effect.

Kate Miller-Heidke: White Wine In The Sun (orig. Tim Minchin)

Looking for more holiday coverfolk from Cover Lay Down features past and present? Use the Holiday Coverfolk tag below to peruse more seasonal songs and features…and stay tuned for more as the season progresses!

1 comment » | Holiday Coverfolk, New Artists Old Songs

A Very Kidfolk Christmas Mix
(A seasonal starter kit for hip moms and dads)

November 25th, 2011 — 11:54 am

Unless you’re living totally off the grid, it’s hard to ignore the signs. Church Christmas bazaars and crafts fairs pepper the New England landscape, their wreaths and wraps and wooden ornaments a constant temptation. Television relationships get warmer by the fire; the commercials all begin to come in red velvet and white fur trim. Even the older family down the street has gotten into the act, draping the gutters with fauxcicles, topping the old stump with a glittering wire angel, trimming the lawn with white plastic snowmen and skeletal reindeer that blink furiously into the late November night.

I dither on this every year – far be it from me to provide the tipping point in a world where urgency for the next big event so easily smothers the authenticity of the here and now. But it’s not too early for the soundtrack to a season if people are already holiday shopping. And my tracking software tells me the hits for Christmas searches are on their seasonal uptick.

So here’s the perfect alternative to crass commercialism and the acquisition drive: a reclaimed set of songs to kick off the season in style, geared towards the family hearth but open to children of all ages, merry and bright with the joys and hopes of the year, perfect for those long drives to the mall or the holiday feast.

Most of these songs come from their own collections, so if the spirit moves you, don’t forget to click the links to share in the joy. I’ve also buried a few other holiday gift suggestions in the text this year, the better to guide your kiddie list shopping towards the earnest and honest.

Heck, I’ve even added a zip file, for convenient downloading – an early holiday gift from our family to yours. Enjoy.

    We kick things off this year with a gentle non-denominational sing-along from our favorite “all ages” folk songstress (and hubby Daniel). Her debut You Are My Flower still makes the best birthing gift I know for the children of folkfans.

    A touch of Burl Ives and a healthy dollop of good humor make this a rollicking good rendition of a familiar classic. Originally from a 2005 solo holiday album recorded in an Adirondack cabin, but like the Kate Rusby track that follows, found on A Family Christmas, Putumayo Kids’ wonderful 2009 kidfolk-and-more collection.

    You’ll probably have to explain what wassailing is (it’s a lot like caroling, but with more feudal class consciousness, and an expectation of food, drink, and gifts in exchange for the song). But the joyous bounce in Kate Rusby’s arrangement, originally released on Sweet Bells in 2008, speaks for itself.

    My six year old hums and wiggles along to this one as we sit by the fire playing Callisto. Both the game and the band come highly recommended for the bright pre-bluegrass set.

    Ah, the Rankin-Bass Christmas canon, now available in one great collection on DVD. Sure, the songs generally pre-date the TV specials, but why make them stand alone? As one of our most downloaded songs ever, this yearly favorite from Apple’s 2003 holiday disc has proven its legs.

    Something new to our playlist this year: the Sufjan original is a grungy rocker, and the Luke Flowers indiefolk cover quite slow and mellow; The Standalone hew closer to the former, dropping the electric guitar for an acoustic, covering the spread with great folk-rock and an anthemic flourish.

    A live-track gypsy swing revival (with a hidden hillbilly verse, and a fake slavic coda) for the bloodshot set. Off A Christmas Spanking, which provides about as much playfully upbeat fun for the whole family as we’ve come to expect from the band.

    Don’t be deceived by its synthesized intro – this bouncy banjo punk track from the mid-nineties has an urgency that kids can’t help but feel in their feet. Bonus points for more Grinchiness; buy a set with book and the original video for the full effect.

    Though technically out of print, early Jim Henson TV special Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas isn’t hard to find in an age of instancy, and its message and its artistic craftsmanship are still relevant today, able to compete with the shiniest of the new. Rose Polenzani – whose YouTube Christmas coverage is legendary – hits its opening number out of the park, finding new sentiment in a sensitive tone.

    Yes, it’s the Chipmunk song; yes, the original drives many of us bananas. But solo artist Run On Sentence makes it sparse and sentimental without losing a whit of the energy or playfulness of the original.

    We’re eschewing the overtly religious in this week’s playlist, the better to encompass the breadth of practice in our readership and your modern family. But the recitation of the beasts in this old hymn have always struck me as childlike, and Sufjan’s warm approach to the song is magical, indeed. Families with a willingness to engage in the full religious range will enjoy the progression of sound from acoustic to electrofolk that runs through the five EPs of Sufjan’s christmas package – it even comes with stickers, stories, and a sing-along songbook.

    One of Vince Guaraldi’s finest becomes a sweet ballad in the hands of singer-songwriter Rosie Thomas, whose sentimental yet predominantly upbeat holiday album won our hearts several Christmases ago and still rings true today.

    The Snowman has a stronger presence in the UK, but both book and holiday special rank high in our home for their silent-yet-magical storyline, their vibrant colors and lines, and the tale of warmth and friendship they extend to the world. A stuffed snowman toy from Gund that was the wee one’s favorite soft companion for years comes highly recommended, too.

Snag the whole 2011 Cover Lay Down Kidfolk Xmas Mix as a zip file!

5 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Kidfolk

Of Harvest and Grace: A Thanksgiving Hymnal

November 23rd, 2011 — 11:14 am

At its heart, Thanksgiving is a secular holiday. Turkey and stuffing, the obligatory family gathering, the long drive, the cornucopia, a football game by the fire, even the faux-feast pageant that still takes place in our local elementary school classrooms the day before the holiday break begins: these are the comfortable trappings of a life on pause for rest and relaxation, the gifts we grant the body and heart. They provide the perfect balance of humanistic and self-serving, but none involve God, save perhaps that single moment just before the plates are passed, where the silence lies heavy with Grandma’s grace, until it passes with her memory, and we eat until we are bursting.

And yet spirituality is easily found in the celebration of hearth, harvest, and home. From the Pilgrim’s lot to the bountiful feast, both history and the Thanksgiving story make themselves available as homily, ones no minister can help but address on the Sunday before. Grace and gratefulness in the act of giving thanks; the social justice of the food pantry, and of sharing the table; even the multicultural coming together which frames the story of two peoples lends itself to sermon and theme.

And there, alongside, we find the small set of hymns which have come to represent those themes. Many predate the particulars of our own American story, of course – but the adoption of the old ways into new practice is itself a reframing which we accept and even encourage, here in a land of free churches – the same land which first attracted those who wished to worship otherwise, and found themselves struggling on our shore. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, for example, is often framed and recorded as a Christmas song, but it easily redirects its narrative from Jesus to a song of praise for that which has come. And just as Norman Rockwell’s iconic scene sets a common template for the table and its company, the Appalachian revival of traditional hymn-to-folk songs Simple Gifts and Amazing Grace allow easy grounding in the soundtracks of a thousand American homesteads.

We’ve posted most of these hymns before. Though some are newer than others – Peter Mayer’s Holy Now, for example, has only recently found its way into the canon of the most liberal churches – all are found in the Unitarian Universalist hymnals, themselves a post-modern collection of songs from a wide diversity of traditions, one in keeping with the “truth where you find it” approach which typifies UU practice. Enjoy them – and may whatever peace and revelation you seek grace your Thanksgiving table.

3 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk

Canadian Thanksgiving Coverfolk:
Canadian Artists covering Canadian Artists

October 10th, 2011 — 03:30 pm

Though it falls on Columbus Day, Canadian Thanksgiving Day seems relatively untainted by the parallel history of white privilege and savagery which have come to typify the two American holidays with which it shares either date or name. Rather, though giving thanks in the territories is still partially grounded in the European exploration of territories and provinces, Thanksgiving Day in Canada was originally established as a harvest holiday, pure and simple, first as a natural extension of the human need to celebrate the cornucopia, and subsequently by proclamation, in 1957.

My connection to Canadian Thanksgiving is familial: my father in law is originally from Montreal, making my wife a citizen by proxy; as such, in order to help ensure parity in a large and growing family, the spousal clan has occasionally used the date as a kind of pre-Thanksgiving over the years, taking advantage of the long weekend to come together for good food and good company, as the celebration seems to warrant.

But my connection to Canada itself is broader, still, through my love of music. From an American perspective, Canada is an extraordinarily prolific contributor to the sonic scene – astonishingly so, given that the country has a smaller population than California, and a much lower population density.

And though there is broad diversity in the Canadian music scene, the Canadian influence on modern folk music alone is vast and varied. Expat luminaries from Joni Mitchell to Neil Young to The Band, and native sons and daughters from Gordon Lightfoot to Stan Rogers, have all had strong impact on the evolution of sound below the border; similarly, the traditional folkforms of Acadia and elsewhere, like so many other world beats, have both arrived wholesale in our collections and, as influence, have found their way into the sounds of other folkforms, from Cajun music to the Boston fiddlefolk scene. And the modern inheritors of this dream are legion, as evidenced by our proud promotion of Reid Jamieson, Kevin Fox, The Duhks, Danny Michel, The Be Good Tanyas, and others who have found their way to these pages.

Searching through the combined output of these Canadian folks and folkforms on this day of thanksgiving, I find a mixed bag of relevant songs: about harvest, home, and appreciation. And so, on this Thanksgiving Day, we give thanks for their contributions through a themed set, with Canadian artists taking on the works of Canadian artists, each one a song of praise and promise, each one in its own way a thankful, loving celebration of and for the joys of the universe.

8 comments » | Canadian Coverfolk, Holiday Coverfolk

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