New Artists, Old Songs: A Holiday in My Inbox
(New takes on Joni Mitchell’s River; Joel Rakes does Xmas Classics)

I know, I know. You’re sick of the same old Holiday tunes, and the horrible electronic alien bleepings of this year’s newly leaked Sufjan Stevens Christmas EP are about as far from folk as it gets.  How about something new and honest instead?

Here’s a short eleventh hour set of freely-released holiday tunes from a few still-smallscale folk artists and singer-songwriters who either reached out to me directly, or came to my attention through fan recommendations.   To the best of my knowledge, with the exception of Lex Land’s take on anti-holiday folk standard River and the bonus song below, these songs haven’t hit the blogs yet.  Call it a palate cleanser, just in time for those last-minute playlists.

Philly folkster Joel Rakes sent me an email a few weeks ago announcing his third annual free Christmas EP; I finally caught up on the inbox last night, and was pleasantly surprised to find an honest, versatile singer-songwriter with an ear towards the new indiefolk crowd’s preference for bedroom production and subtly computer-assisted sound. His well-crafted banjo-and-guitar interpretations of familiar holiday tunes bring just the right amount of ragged innovation to old chestnuts, adding light but interesting rhythmic changes and just a hint of modern instrumentation to what, at heart, remain earnest carols played and sung with love; I hate to say it, but this is exactly what I hoped for from Sufjan this year.

Rakes releases his holiday EPs gradually; there’s a new tune coming out Sunday night, and the last of the 2008 set will drop on Christmas Eve. If you enjoy the samples below as much as I did, head over for the rest of the sets and a few streaming tracks from his new album, and don’t forget to bookmark the site for Wednesday’s stocking stuffer.

Last year I posted a bunch of covers of Joni Mitchell’s depressed holiday classic River; the files are down on that original post, though I’d encourage those unfamiliar with the backstory on the song to read all about it. But the songs are largely still available, thanks to She’ll Grow Back, who has reposted the best of the bunch; I highly recommend heading over there for the Angus Stone version, if nothing else. 

Still, the covers of this true Christmas Folksong keep coming. Rosie Thomas takes on the song with aplomb on her new release; I’d share it here, but since we’ve already shared so much of her album (here, here and here), I’ll trust you all to head back to those entries for purchase links. Instead, here’s two favorite covers released this year from two very young female artists who came highly recommended: a lovely clear-toned vocal-and-pianopop version from Gilmore Girls folksinger Amy Kuney, and a quiet, subtly orchestrated double-guitar take from new indie voice Lex Land, who swept my favorite folk blogs this year with her stunning debut album Orange Days on Lemon Street.

As a bonus, in case you missed it when it first came out, here’s a lovely holiday coversong that was making the rounds in November: Laura Gibson’s gorgeous, broken, timeless take on It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, off of the excellent charity album Peace on Earth, Vol II. If you’re still looking for something nice to give the indiefolk audiophile in your life this year, I highly recommend this holiday album from It’s Hard to Find a Friend. The mix is huge and wonderful, the price is right, and all sales benefit The Children of Uganda Fund. And don’t forget: downloads make great last minute gifts!

Cover Lay Down posts new features every Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional holiday or otherday; I know today is Saturday, but I finished early, and couldn’t wait for you to open these presents. Head over to Womenfolk for more wonderful holiday coverfolk, and don’t forget to stop by tomorrow for our annual Hanukkah folksong repost!

Category: Holiday Coverfolk, New Artists Old Songs | Tags: , , ,

7 Responses to “New Artists, Old Songs: A Holiday in My Inbox
(New takes on Joni Mitchell’s River; Joel Rakes does Xmas Classics)

  1. Robbie

    I love that we think alike. Great selections here, Bowhowdy. I hope you and your family have joyous holiday.

  2. Mark

    Just completing the comment chain here. Also, miss Amy has a piano-only version up on YouTube, which is also nice, plus you get to look at her which is certainly worth clicking for.

    Thanks again for the songs, and thanks for the link. Happy holidays, sir.


  3. Jowey

    It’s not QUITE folk, but in the same realm, Bela Fleck and the Flecktone’s newly released Christmas album has an excellent cover of River as well. I read on their newsletter that apparently Oprah picked their album on her show as her favorite new Christmas CD or somesuch. You should check it out!

  4. boyhowdy

    Oh, I’m a big Bela Fleck fan — thanks for the recommendation, Jowey!

  5. A Free Man

    I don’t think River is depressing at all. It’s one of the only Xmas songs that accurately reflects the way I feel at Xmas. Especially now in a place where it ‘don’t snow’ and ’stays pretty green’ (or brown, more accurately). Not depressing, affirmation that I’m not the only one who just wants the whole damn thing over and done with for another year.

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