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Holiday Folk Music CDs

Recommended CDs for celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah

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As the holidays approach, here's a look at some of the most notable holiday folk music CDs to get you in the spirit.

Various Artists - 'My Favorite Gifts'

My Favorite Gifts CD
© Ramseur Records 2011
My Favorite Gifts is a 10-song compilation from the fine folks at North Carolina's Ramseur Records. The disc includes some of the finest artists to have graced the Ramseur roster through the years - Avett Brothers, Paleface, David Wax Museum, Jim Avett, and more. While it's not your typical collection of traditional carols, the disc will certainly satisfy fans of indie folk music (especially fans of these artists). Jessica Lea Mayfield (who's actually not a Ramseur artist) gives the best performance on the disc, but all in all it's a nice well-rounded collection. Besides, it benefits a good cause.

Erin McKeown - 'F*ck That'

Erin McKeown - F*ck That
© TVP Records
Okay, so Erin McKeown's new "holiday" album is really more of an anti-Christmas collection. But, let's face it. Not everybody is a huge fan of the winter holidays. Not everyone has a great time with family and the weather, etc. For those folks who might be in more of a "Bah Humbug" kind of mood, McKeown has collected an articulate, witty, sarcastic, and often hilarious group of anti-Christmas carols. If you need to sneak away from the hullabaloo this holiday season, blow of some steam with this collection.

Winterbloom - 'Traditions Rearranged'

Winterbloom - Traditions Rearranged
© Market Monkeys

This New England-based supergroup features Antje Duvekot, Meg Hutchinson, Anne Heaton, and Natalia Zukerman doing mostly winter- and holidays-themed music. Folks familiar with these singer-songwriters' individual work will be impressed with their collaborative versions of Christmas classics like "O Holy Night" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." 

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Indigo Girls - 'Holly Happy Days'

Indigo Girls - Holly Happy Days
© Vanguard

The Indigo Girls have been making music for more than 20 years now, so it only makes sense it's about time they made a holiday album. The disc comes in a special holiday wrap package, and includes a couple of ornaments for your tree. Guest appearances from folks like Brandi Carlile and Janis Ian only add to the celebratory tone. Though there are songs on here that are more generic winter sons ("In the Bleak Midwinter"), it also features a number of Christmas classics ("O Holy Night" is a nice highlight), and a few Indigo Girls originals. 

Dirk Powell - 'A Fret-Free Christmas'

Dirk Powell - Fret-Free Christmas
© Valcour Records

Banjo master Dirk Powell releases his first Christmas recording in 2010, featuring some classic holiday numbers as performed on fretless banjo. Before you start cracking banjo jokes, consider Powell's remarkable gift for traditional Appalachian arrangements, and the fact that Christmas music is wrought with traditional folk songs. According to press releases, this disc was originally intended as a gift to his family, but it turned out so good, his label decided to release it on Nov. 30.

Loreena McKennit - 'A Midwinter Night's Dream'

Loreena McKennitt - 'A Midwinter Night's Dream'
© Quinlan Road

Loreena McKennitt's second full-length holiday music album embraces some more obscure songs about winter and the midwinter festival celebration. As she told me in a recent interview, she made a concerted effort not to sing the most popular Christmas hymns, but instead she sought out songs that "cover[ed] a more broad spectrum for the season."

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Klezmatics - 'Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hannukah'

Klezmatics - 'Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah'
© JMG

The Klezmatics have done a number of albums that turn the unfinished songs of Woody Guthrie into good-time klezmer jams. Woody Guthrie was a Christian, but he liked to write songs from different points of view, including songs for the celebration of Hannukah.

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Bob Dylan - 'Christmas in the Heart'

Bob Dylan - Christmas in the Heart
© Columbia Records

Bob Dylan made a Christmas album. Now he can hopefully check that one off his list and go back to what he does best: everything else. There has been quite a bit of discussion and anticipation surrounding Christmas in the Heart. Few people ever expected to hear a full album of Christmas songs from Dylan, who grew up Jewish and was a born-again Christian for a time, but who has, generally stuck to the more secular. Note, though: this album should be reserved for hard-core Dylan fans.

Asylum Street Spankers - 'A Christmas Spanking'

Asylum Street Spankers - 'A Christmas Spanking'
courtesy Yellow Dog Records

The Asylum Street Spankers would not have been the first folk band to come to mind if I was thinking of artists I'd expect to record Christmas albums, but their 2001 release A Christmas Spanking does a pretty fantastic job of delivering on the old standards and a few unexpected tunes, as well. Included here are re-arranged renditions of "Blue Christmas," "Baby It's Cold Outside," and "The Christmas Song," as well as some more obscure favorites like "Zat You, Santa Claus?" and "Mele Kalikimaka."

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - 'The Christmas Album'

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - 'The Christmas Album'
© Rising Tide

What can possibly be better to crank up while you drink your egg nog this holiday season than the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band playing "The Little Drummer Boy"? The classic folk outfit also tackles "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and "We Three Kings," among others. Guests include Alison Krauss and Vassar Clements.

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