New Artists, Holiday Songs:
Seasonal favorites from the newly-discovered

I have mixed feelings about Christmas. Having grown up Jewish, I always felt a little besieged by what I long considered other peoples’ holiday. These days, as a professional culture vulture and cohost to a humanistic Jewnitarian household, the commercialism grates on me, though the threat of otherness has faded. I’ve even learned to live with the constant name-check of someone else’s savior which permeates even the most innocuous of shopping mall soundtracks.

But I have always loved the trappings of the holidays: the garish colorful world of lights and decorations everywhere, the smell of green pine that emanates from entryways, and most especially the universality of Christmas music, and the way it transforms the culture - the way songs of peace and joy are on the lips and ears of everyone around, as if the world were about to burst into song at any moment, and the crowd right along with it.

Of course, one of the great joys of Christmas is the way it brings out the coverfolk like nobody’s business. And along with new and familiar carols played out by the beloved artists we celebrate here with regularity, there’s something especially wonderous about the way new artists emerge from the woodwork and the mailbox, the blogs and the fanbase, carols in hand, to introduce themselves at holiday time.

Which is to say: I had quite literally heard of none of these artists just a month ago. And now, look - here they are, bearing gifts.

Merry Ellen Kirk plays earnest music, predominantly pianofolk, some of which sounds like Regina Spektor or Imogen Heap, and some which is a bit diva-poppish for my ears - check out her cover of O Holy Night featuring David Ask to see what I mean - but her acoustic-guitar driven version of Do You Hear What I Hear offers a clear, perfectly produced venue for her whispered vocal style, and her version of The Christmas Song brings a warm, quiet, delicate sound and sensibility to an old chestnut. You can get a full copy of Merry Ellen’s Christmas EP on a “tell five friends or pay what you want” basis at Noise Trade, and all of this and more can be heard on her website; sign up for her mailing list, and you’ll also get a beautiful, haunting a capella rendition of O Come O Come Emmanuel.

I picked up a Paste Digital VIP subscription a few months ago, mostly for the free monthly albums and samplers; at under three bucks a month, it’s a steal well worth sharing. This lovely atmospheric slowsong by indie up-and-comers The Rocketboys was a Paste freebie just this week, and I couldn’t resist: the combination of its full-fledged Sufjan-esque holiday production and the lead singer’s slightly nasal vocals really hits the spot.

Indie-folk band Desert Noises is known, if at all, for their gorgeous harmonies, which in my opinion gives them an edge on those Monsters of Folk guys any day; they also get serious cred for one of their members’ recent tour with Joshua James, but now that they’re back in the studio, they stand their own ground majestically, too. Proof of concept: the pace and build of this yuletide gospel hymn, which provides a stellar antidote to the perfect polish of the pop set this time of year. Thanks to 21st and Ivy, where there’s a new Yuletide Download to be had every day until Christmas, for passing this one along.

Like so many sensitive-yet-rocking singer-songwriters these days, NYC’s Neil Nathan is making waves via the small screen; when he sent along news of this Christmas cover and the accompanying “loony video”, he also noted that he’s had “a great year in folky covers”, citing the appearance of his cover of ELO The Move’s Do Ya on the Californication soundtrack and the release of his covers EP Songsmiths as evidence. And sure enough, like the rest of Nathan’s work, this one grows on you, if you let it. So let it.

I found Caravan of Thieves on one of those everpresent label samplers that clog the mailbox this time of year. But discovering hidden gems is why I listen to such things: the gypsy guitar and fiddle tones of this cover lend a playful swing and an edgy warmth to a song too often played as cloying and over-vamped. Please Please Me tourmate and solo singer-songwriter Jessie Torrisi’s take on Alvin and the Chipmunk’s Christmas Don’t Be Late is a weird, warbly slice of Americana pie. And though - folkies beware - it’s got some sweet hard rock in it, the rest of this year’s XO For The Holidays sampler isn’t bad overall, either.

I’ve been looking for a chance to introduce y’all to British alternacoustic songstress Betty Steeles ever since she sent along a gorgeously hushed, magically layered rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, a MySpace track which has fast become perhaps my favorite cover of the song ever, which is really saying something. But Betty’s a smart girl, and - noticing that I’m pretty much stuck in the Christmas groove right now - decided to jump the gun with this Cover Lay Down exclusive, a tinkly electrofolkpop “holiday take” on Louis Armstrong fave What a Wonderful World. And I’m in heaven.

Jim Hanft isn’t so new as all that here at Cover Lay Down; we first featured his cover of The Beach Boys’ Don’t Worry Baby in our New Artists series back in midsummer, making him an alumni of the feature. But I still love his particular brand of well-crafted “soundtrack-ready singer-songwriter bedroom folk”, so I’ve decided that the addition of Hanft’s “fulltime harmonist” Samantha Yonack to this classic duet allows it in on a “New Artists” technicality - which makes me happy, as theirs is a marvelous transformation of the tune into a playful-yet-soft acoustic coffeehouse number, complete with bells on.

LA “guitarist turned singer-songwriter” John Dissed, who offers a private collection of 25 coversongs free to anyone who joins his mailing list, has fast become a darling of the coverblogs, having in recent months appeared on both Cover Me’s Cover Commissions and Coverville’s gloriously vibrant and entirely free Spinal Tap Tribute Compilation [yes, I said Spinal Tap Tribute Compilation]. The former, a solid cover of T Rex’s Bang A Gong, is off topic, albeit worth the visit. The latter, however, is right on and relevant.

Remember, folks: Cover Lay Down exists to promote artists first and foremost. If you like what you hear, please follow purchase and website links above to learn more about the artists we promote, and consider purchasing CDs and downloadables for yourself and your friends and family. Thanks, and Happy Hanukkah!

Category: Holiday Coverfolk, New Artists Old Songs

5 Responses to “New Artists, Holiday Songs:
Seasonal favorites from the newly-discovered

  1. FiL

    Hey BH, haven’t had a chance to listen to these yet, but just a quick correction: “Do Ya” was originally by the Move. ELO covered it. (Though Jeff Lynne was in the Move when they did the original, and Lynne wrote it, so the ELO version might not count as a cover.)

  2. boyhowdy

    Thanks, FiL - the artist cited the song as an ELO cover, so I’ll adjust, and let him know!

  3. Stumbling Over Chaos :: In which you’ll find links to all sorts of free holiday music

    [...] Lay Down recently featured new Christmas covers, covers of snow songs, covers of holiday songs by newly discovered artists, and covers of holiday music for [...]

  4. jessie torrisi

    “weird warbly slice of americana pie.” - f*ckin’ phenomenal quote… thank you!

    people might want to check out the video too…

  5. jessie torrisi

    link is here:

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