Joel Mabus | How Like The Holly

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United States - Michigan

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Holiday: Folk Folk: Traditional Folk Moods: Mood: Christmas
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How Like The Holly

by Joel Mabus

A welcome alternative to the commercial Christmas album. Acclaimed folk musician Joel Mabus reaches way back for some forgotten melodies, re-arranges a few minor standards, and adds two new songs to the Holiday songbook.
Genre: Holiday: Folk
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. How Like The Holly
3:20 $0.99
2. The Cherry Tree Carol
3:05 $0.99
3. Rorate Ceoli Desuper
2:29 $0.99
4. The Friendly Beasts
2:50 $0.99
5. Es ist ein’ Ros’ entsprungen
2:07 $0.99
6. How Vain The Cruel Herod’s Fear
1:10 $0.99
7. The Golden Carol
1:54 $0.99
8. Christmas Bells
3:21 $0.99
9. Children Go Where I Send Thee
8:14 $0.99
10. The One Horse Open Sleigh
1:39 $0.99
11. Let’s Do Christmas Right
3:41 $0.99
12. Away In A Manger
1:19 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes

“Christmas comes as bundles of twelve and so my gift for you. Here spin an even dozen for your holiday – twelve melodies – some new, some old and familiar, some so old as to be nearly forgotten. Whether you revere the holiday as Holy Day, or simply choose to celebrate the wondrous twirling of the seasons, I wish you peace as you unwrap this small bundle.” [from the liner notes]

On the eve of the 21st century, and after a long recording career of both original and traditional folk and roots-based music, Joel Mabus released his holiday album, “How Like The Holly” for Christmas of 1999.

Here is a poem that Joel wrote for the liner notes of “How Like The Holly”:

When nights are longest and days are coldest
comes the time for telling stories.
The time for fire against the chill,
light against the dark, bread against the hunger –
we huddle close and swab our fears with our finest and oldest comforts.
Denying the storms of brutal nature,
we make for ourselves a place where it is safe to dream,
where it is safe to be a child,
or to become a child in dreams again.

This is a place where bold myth and subtle mystery transpose,
where faith is born of legend,
where wide-eyed hungers feast on ancient certainties.
A place with noble tales spinning and weaving through the decades
like stout cords, holding us fast to the bosom of humanity –
this is the place we rebuild each December –
this is the place I call my Christmas.


The album has become a perennial favorite for many folks looking for a peaceful and fresh take on the holiday -- and Joel’s two original songs on the album have become yearly standards for folk radio:

“The flowing and poetic “How Like The Holly” is a celebration of the winter solstice, and the scathing & irreverent – or is it the height of reverence from which he writes? – “Let’s Do Christmas Right” could easily be adopted as the theme song for the “Alternative Christmas” movement.” [Susan Hartman, Dirty Linen]

A “unique and beguiling holiday CD,” wrote Chris Rietz (head of the CD department of Elderly Instruments) in a review for the Lansing State Journal. He goes on to say:

“It's something of a quiet album, more powerful for its understatement. But more importantly, Mabus brings a clear-eyed sense of tradition, of connectedness to the past that rings just the right bell for the season in a way that few other Christmas recordings do.

“As a singer, he has a deeply rooted grasp of traditional style and the ability to deliver a song directly and with conviction. His world-class skills on guitar and banjo are harnessed, as always, in service to the song.

“Among the album highlights are the black hymn "Children Go Where I Send Thee," a ragtime guitar version of the 1857 song "One Horse Open Sleigh" (aka "Jingle Bells"), and an Appalachian-style rendering of "The Cherry Tree Carol," an apocryphal tale of Mary, Joseph and the unborn Jesus.

“Particularly memorable is the musical setting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Civil War-era "Christmas Bells," a poem of yearning for peace in dark times that's so powerful (and eerily timely), one wonders why it's not reprised more often.”



Joel Mabus is a folksinger, songwriter and instrumentalist who has performed all over North America at venues large and small. He has had an active recording career, running a gamut from banjo music to thoughtful original songs. His expansive and highly praised website has all his lyrics, a full biography, essays, photos and much more at

“A superb songwriter”
Victory Music Review

“He has perfected the art of being entertaining without pandering,
he teaches without lecturing,
and does it all with great style.”
Vancouver Folk Festival

“A fellow with the most natural and easy sort of voice I’ve heard in a long time.”
Garrison Keillor

“Very quietly and under way too many people’s radar, Joel Mabus has spent the past 25 years building one of the most impressive bodies of work spanning both traditional and contemporary folk music.”
Mike Regenstreif -- Sing Out!

“[His playing] boasts a relaxed yet propulsive feel, unfailingly beautiful tone, and fine, ever-graceful ornamentation.”
Guitar Player

“Joel Mabus is a stunning musician... an extraordinary singer... ”
Old Town School of Folk Music

“It’s hard to imagine another artist on the folk scene who combines the same concise, deceptively understated, lyrical insight and sometimes devastating wit with such world-class instrumental prowess.”
Musichound Folk



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