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

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:

Category: Holiday Coverfolk 7 comments »

7 Responses to “New Artists, Winter Songs:
Seasonal Sentiment, Covered in Folk

  1. Myck

    Joe Ely does a lovely rendition of Dylan’s Winterlude on to: KATE (a benefit for kate’s sake).

    I’m a regular reader with an abiding interest in cover songs, by the way. And while our musical interests don’t always converge, I do always appreciate the quality of your writing. In fact,I have a question for you about something you’ve written. In one of your entries, one in which you were, I believe, somewhat weighed down by a convergence of unfortunate personal and community events, you wrote a few lines describing things at school. You described the mindset and behaviors of a beleaguered staff struggling to push through economically difficult times while serving a preponderance of at-risk students facing multiple challenges. It was just a couple sentences. Do you recall? I though it almost a bit of qualitative research; and I wanted to save it. But now I can’t find it and I’m hoping you can direct me to the entry of which it was a part.

    As for the music, you probably contribute to what I end up adding to my collection (i.e., buying) more than any other source. Barnstar’s cover of Paul Simon is the most recent example.

    Here is one you might want to check into that I don’t believe I came across through you. Though maybe I did and I’m merely telling you something you already know. I hate it when that happens, when someone forgets I was the source of something they know and then they tell me about it as if they are informing me for the first time. I have a special smile just for that moment. Anyway, the recommendation:

    Luke Vassella’s album All Those Paper Airplanes

    Bruce Cockburn’s Pacing the Cage (rivals the original)

    Crowded House’s It’s Only Natural (all the fun of the the Finn boys, themselves)

    Dylan’s Mississippi and Tonight I’ll Be Stayin’ Here with You (both pleasant readings).

    When events conspire to reorder your priorities and you post here less frequently, you’re missed.

  2. boyhowdy

    Thanks for the rec & validation, Myck – a cursory listen to Luke’s album shows promise; I’ll steep in it as I can.

    As for the entry about teaching, students, & being on a local school committee: the subject comes up here for sure, perhaps more often than I’d like. There’s much about it in my Sept. 11th feature for this year – perhaps that’s what you were ref’ing to? If not, a search of the blog using the keywords teacher or student should net the right entry.

  3. Anne-Marie Sanderson

    Some great stuff here, thanks for sharing!

    Here’s a winter song that I’ve had fun folking up:


  4. Myck

    I found it searching “faculty”. Here it is, tight as a drum.

    “Our inner city school is badly overstocked this year, with classes too full to manage, and hallways that ripple with energy we can barely control; the stress among the faculty is sky-high, and we’re hard pressed not to take it out on each other.”

  5. maine character

    While we’re talking about school, I remember a post right before you were taking off for a folk festival when you mentioned taking some tests to expand your teaching. How did that go?

  6. boyhowdy

    It went quite well, MC – I’m now dually certified, in Technology and English, and will be teaching my first one-shot 9th grade English class in the Spring semester! Thanks for asking…

  7. maine character

    Congratulations! I thought that was the case when you mentioned something about an increased workload this year. As eloquent as you are here, I’m sure you’ll be excellent teaching English.

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