If you've come looking for rousing, jolly, majestic holiday tunes, you've come to the wrong place with this album. However, if humble, sincere, authentic, homespun renditions of Christmas songs
are your thing, The Seeger Sisters' American Folk Songs for Christmas
will be a true listening treasure for you. American Folk Songs for Christmas
originally appeared as a 10-inch LP on the Folkways label
back in 1957. The songs on the record were chosen from Ruth Crawford Seeger's book of the same name, published in 1953 by Doubleday, with illustrations by famed children's book author and illustrator Barbara Cooney
. The Seeger Sisters' style may be an acquired taste, but everyone should listen to American Folk Songs for Christmas
at least once during the holidays.
Peggy, Barbara, and Penny Seeger were the daughters of famed modern composer and folk music collector Ruth Crawford Seeger. Although their half-brother Pete Seeger
has gained considerably more attention over the last half century, the Seeger sisters were accomplished artists and musicians in their own right. Ruth Crawford Seeger published her book of American Christmas songs in 1953 from which The Seeger Sisters chose 17 to include on their 1957 American Folk Songs for Christmas
album. Many years later, Mike, Peggy, and Penny Seeger, along with Peggy's husband Ewan MacColl and their daughter Kitty, produced an expanded version of American Folk Songs for Christmas
, which included and astounding 53 songs from their mother's book.
The Music of 'American Folk Songs for Christmas'
American Folk Songs for Christmas
begins quietly with the very brief a cappella
greeting to the new day, "In the Morning When I Rise." Then comes the somewhat somber, piano and vocals of "Oh, Watch the Stars," sounding a little like a rustic Joni Mitchell
. Dancing piano notes accompany the mountain tune "Shine Like a Star in the Morning," while "Bright Morning Stars are Rising" has the feel of a quiet country church hymn. On the other hand, children from the South Boston Music School join in on "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow," a tune recently covered by Dan Zanes
on his holiday EP Christmas in Concord
, as The Seeger Sisters contribute banjo and guitar, giving the tune a joyful air. The folk song "Joseph and Mary (The Cherry Tree Carol" is also supported by guitar and a rolling banjo, while the South Boston kids enthusiastically sing an a cappella version of "Oh, Mary and the Baby, Sweet Lamb" with handclaps. The a cappella "Babe of Bethlehem" has a similar gospel sound as "Bright Morning Stars are Rising," and the minor key "Cradle Hymn" has an Irish lilt accompanied by beautiful finger picking guitar
. Side one of the original album ended with "Ain't That Rockin' All Night," a song that sounds nothing
like the title suggests. Instead, the wistful tune is accompanied by quiet vocals and a wistful piano
More Music from 'American Folk Songs for Christmas'
The kids from the South Boston
Music School participate in the call-and-response
"Sing Hallelu," while The Seeger Sisters harmonize on the sweet "Mary Had a Baby." The Boston Music children join in again on the jaunty "Jesus Born in Bethlea," and the brief a cappella "January, February...(The Last Month of the Year)" runs through the names of all the months until it reaches the "month my Jesus
was born in." Piano and children's voices accompany the call-and-response spiritual "Poor Little Jesus," performed in a slow, dirge-like style. Then the tempo picks up with the joyful "The Angel Band," sung enthusiastically by the South Boston kids accompanied by a spirited banjo
. American Folk Songs for Christmas
comes to a close with the counting song "The Twelve Apostles," performed cheerfully again by the South Boston children and banjo.
The Seeger Sisters' American Folk Songs for Christmas gives listeners a unique look into a long-lost genre of music: historically correct, lo-fi folk music, performed without a hint of schmaltz or irony. Sure, the album isn't for everyone, but everyone should give it at least one spin. And make sure to check out the original liner notes, available on the Smithsonian Folkways website, for historical and performance insights into all the songs on .
Originally Released 1957; Folkways Records
- "In the Morning When I Rise"
- "Oh, Watch the Stars"
- "Shine Like a Star in the Morning"
- "Bright Morning Stars are Rising"
- "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow"
- "Joseph and Mary (The Cherry Tree Carol"
- "Oh, Mary and the Baby, Sweet Lamb"
- "Babe of Bethlehem"
- "Cradle Hymn"
- "Ain't That Rockin' All Night"
- "Sing Hallelu"
- "Mary Had a Baby"
- "Jesus Born in Bethlea"
- "January, February...(The Last Month of the Year)"
- "Poor Little Jesus"
- "The Angel Band"
- "The Twelve Apostles"