'Tis The Season? James Elkington Gets Moody On '13 Days Of Xmas'

Oct 17, 2017

Christmas carols needn't always be cheery and bright, and there's no shortage of seasonal irreverence and sadness.

Bloodshot Records finds a place between the dark and the silly with a new compilation, 13 Days Of Xmas, featuring originals and covers by the likes of Murder By Death, Jon Langford, Ha Ha Tonka and Kelly Hogan. The Chicago-based guitarist James Elkington — who's played with Steve Gunn, Joan Shelley, Michael Chapman, and Richard Thompson — digs deep into his English heritage for the traditional folk song "Christmas Is Now Drawing Near At Hand."

With a droning lilt, Elkington's masterful picking style tumbles and curls around the mournful melody, accompanied by organ and slide guitar, giving the carol a blues tilt. Both the tune and the lyric are culled from a version heard on The Watersons' 1965 album Frost And Fire, which, in turn, was largely derived from the version collected in the Journal Of The Folk-Song Society, first published in 1914.

But even still, the song's origins go back even farther. Singer and folklorist A.L. Lloyd writes in the liner notes to The Watersons' LP that "this moralising carol was much used by beggars and others towards Christmas time. Its tune turns up over and again attached to such carols as 'The Fountain Of Christ's Blood,' 'Have You Not Heard Of Our Dear Saviour's Love,' and 'The Black Decree,' also to the favourite old dialogue-ballad of 'Death And The Lady,' traceable to the sixteenth century."

The language is stern in "Christmas Is Now Drawing Near At Hand," bearing down on false witnesses ("They patch and paint and dress with idle stuff / As if God had not made 'em fine enough"), but it's a strong reminder during this commercial season to both give and receive the blessing of the coming season to those in need.

James Elkington's Wintres Woma is out now via Paradise of Bachelors. 13 Days Of Xmas comes out Nov. 17 via Bloodshot Records. Full track list below:

1. Murder By Death, "O Holy Night"

2. Barrence Whitfied And The Savages, "Papa Barrence's Christmas"

3. Jon Langford And His Men Of Gwent, "Christmas Carol, Christmas Ray"

4. Ruby Boots, "I Slept Through Christmas"

5. Ha Ha Tonka, "The List"

6. James Elkington, "Christmas Is Now Drawing Near At Hand"

7. Dex Romweber Duo, "Dark Christmas"

8. Kelly Hogan, "Blue Snowfall"

9. Devil In A Woodpile, "The Pagans Had It Right"

10. Zach Schmidt, "I'm Drunk Again This Christmas"

11. All Our Exes Live In Texas, "How To Make Gravy"

12. Ron Gallo, "White Christmas"

13. The Yawpers, "Christmas in Oblivion"

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