Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mitchell & Co. Keep Folk Music, Holiday Spirit Alive

Jews reviewing Christmas music. Go nu?

The ever-prolific Elizabeth Mitchell has released her third CD in one year, THE SOUNDING JOY, a collection of Christmas and winter solstice songs from the Ruth Crawford Seeger songbook. Assembled by Smithsonian Folkways, it's as impressive a package as one might find for the holiday season.

Mitchell's family music collective, You Are My Flower, is rooted in an appreciation and recreation of the American folk sound. Any rocking is going to be more of the "rocking chair" variety than "electric massage chair."

The most upbeat grooving track on the CD is "Baby Born Today," featuring the Silver Hollers (Amy Helm, Ruth Ungar, and Chris Wood). It would not sound out of place on Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Sessions album from 2006. Ironically, that was a compendium of songs from Pete Seeger, Ruth Crawford Seeger's stepson.

Back to the central theme, Christmas and solstice, neither of which are in my wheelhouse. There's a disparity in radio play as far as holiday music between religions. While SiriusXM added a Hanukkah music channel for two weeks last year, there are stations around the country that play Christmas music year-round. I wouldn't say that I've ever been deprived of "holiday songs from my people," but get past "The Dreidel Song" and most Jewish children would be hard-pressed to come up with a second-favorite Hanukkah ditty.

THE SOUNDING JOY arrives with an esteemed pedigree and veritable laundry list of names, from John Sebastian to Natalie Merchant to frequent collaborator (they recorded TURN TURN TURN earlier this year) Dan Zanes. We went away over the weekend, I played THE SOUNDING JOY as background music. My brother commented, "Are Elizabeth Mitchell and Dan Zanes married?" and I replied, "Not to each other."

If you enjoy folk-fueled holiday music, THE SOUNDING JOY will make your day. The music is poetic; part gospel, part opera, ageless with glorious harmonies. Her fans will say that "Elizabeth Mitchell has done it again," but honestly it's what she's been doing all along, only with a holiday feel. The only difference is the irony in your level of celebration over an album of Christmas music.

THE SOUNDING JOY is available through Smithsonian Folkways, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for "Sleep Eye," from Mitchell's 2012 collection of Woody Guthrie songs, LITTLE SEED.

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