Episode 355: Sultans Of String’s Chris McKhool & More Folk Roots Radio At Christmas

Folk Root Radio Episode 355 - More Folk Roots Radio At Christmas

Welcome to another hour of festive music for the holidays. Folk Roots Radio at Christmas features a selection of mostly new and original holiday music by independent artists, who hope to bring something new to a genre that’s often criticized as being a vapid and uninspiring marketing tool for a consumer culture, that, let’s be honest, goes mad during the holiday season. With that in mind, we’re also including an interview with Chris McKhool, the leader of world music combo, Sultans Of String, who talks enthusiastically and engagingly about their new spin on seasonal music, “Christmas Caravan”, which really attempts to bring something new to holiday standards many people see as tired, boring and, dare I say it, rather predictable. So here it is. Stoke up the fire, pour yourself some egg nog, settle down in your favourite chair and enjoy! Check out the full playlist below.


Canadian world folk supergroup the Sultans of String have just released their first holiday album, “Christmas Caravan”. Turning the notion of holiday music completely on its head, the new album, recorded and co-produced with JUNO Award winning engineer John ‘Beetle’ Bailey, features Quebecois fiddle tunes and collaborations with a traditional Turkish string ensemble, and jumps from a classic Andrews Sisters holiday sound, to a Himalayan sleigh ride, African roots music, Gypsy-jazz, rumba flamenco, ska, and the grandeur of the symphony. You name it, its in there. To help celebrate the season, the band brought in an all star cast of guest musicians including six times Grammy winning Paddy Moloney (The Chieftains), Ruben Blades & Luba Mason, platinum-selling jazz vocalist Nikki Yanofsky, Alex Cuba, Benoit Bourque of Quebec’s Bottine Souriante, African-American a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, Cameroon’s Richard Bona, Rebecca Campbell (Emmylou Harris, Alanis Morissette), singer Mary Fahl from NYC’s October Project, a recording collective of Turkish Roma violinists in Istanbul, Sudanese-Canadian singer Waleed Abdulhamid, Nashville-based JUNO Award winning country singer Crystal Shawanda, sitar virtuoso Anwar Khurshid, and hang drum player David Charrier from France. We caught up with Sultans of String fiddle maestro, Chris McKhool, at home in Toronto, to learn more about the new album. The Sultans of String will be touring the album across Canada in the run up to the holidays. Check out all the dates and visit the Sultans of String online at sultansofstring.com.

Show Notes

We started off the hour with Ange Hardy from Somerset, England with the a cappella song “When Christmas Day Is Near” from her 2015 E.P. of the same name. Ange has just released a great new album “Bring Back Home”. We’ll have more about that on a future episode.

We followed that with Kim Beggs from the Yukon with “On Christmas Time”, a reflection on the way that Christmas used to be – I guess, before it was swamped by cynical marketing and rampant consumerism. Kim released a great new album “Said The Sparrow” earlier this year. We’re working on an interview, so stay tuned for that.

Heather Rankin from Cape Breton Nova Scotia’s Rankin Family has just released her first solo holiday “Imagine”. On this episode we play her original and reflective take on the best things about the holiday, “Olde-Fashioned Christmas”.

According to Heather Rankin: “The goal of this record was to create something classic and beautiful, music that people will want playing in their homes for generations to come. Music to listen to while having dinner or gathering with family and friends. I wanted to share songs that were a very special addition to the celebrations, but I wanted to put my stamp on holiday music. I could have easily done a record of covers, but I felt it was important to put something out there that expressed my take on the season”.

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Russ Rentler has just release a follow up to his holiday album “Just Yulin’ Around” (1997, Self), appropriately entitled “Still Yulin’ Around”. According to Russ, this album is not your standard “Christmas bluegrass record” but hopefully an original and pleasing mix of ten traditional Yuletide tunes on acoustic instruments. On this episode we play his version of “Jolly Old Saint Pachabel” – a very old Christmas carol Jolly Old Saint Nicholas rendered in the style of Pachabel’s Canon in D. And a word of warning, this tune is an ear worm. Either that or the Christmas spirit is finally starting to kick in!

The Barry & Holly Tashian song “Long Long Ago” features on the great 1995 Rounder Records Christmas album “Must Be Santa! The Rounder Christmas Album”. Robert K Wolf’s “Brand New Old Lang Syne” features on Hudson Harding Music’s latest album of original independent seasonal music, “Happy Holidays Volume 12” (2017, Hudson Harding Music)

We wrapped the hour with the late great “Queen of American Folk Music” Odetta with her version of This Little Light Of Mine, from her live recording with special guests The Holmes Brothers. “Gonna Let It Shine, A Concert For The Holidays” was released in 2006 and was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Traditional Folk. It was Odetta’s last full-length recording.

And that’s all we have time for, this time around. Thanks to all the artists who share their music with us, and thank you for listening. We have a lot of great music and interviews to bring you on future shows. I hope you’ll join us!


You can listen to this episode again on Soundcloud by following the link below. You can also listen to episodes of Folk Roots Radio, on demand, via iTunes, Mixcloud, Stitcher and Tune-in Radio. (Click on the highlighted link to reach your chosen platform.)


Nicolas & The Iceni (Theme)
Lucy She Rises (Demo)
Roll Right (Pre-release, self)

Ange Hardy
When Christmas Day Is Near
When Christmas Day Is Near (2015, Story Records)

Kim Beggs
On Christmas Time
(single) (2017, Self) CDN

Heather Rankin
Olde-Fashioned Christmas
Imagine (2017, Self) CDN

Russ Rentler
Jolly Old Saint Pachabel
Still Yulin’ Around (2017, Self)

Sultans Of String
Turkish Greensleeves (feat. Gündem Yayli Grubu)
Christmas Caravan (2017, Self) CDN

Interview: Chris McKhool from the Sultans Of String discussing new holiday album “Christmas Caravan”

Sultans Of String
Himalayan Sleigh Ride (feat. Anwar Khurshid)
Christmas Caravan (2017, Self) CDN

Sultans Of String
Hallelujah (feat. Rebecca Campbell)
Christmas Caravan (2017, Self) CDN

Barry & Holly Tashian
Long Long Ago
Must Be Santa! The Rounder Christmas Album (1995, Rounder Records)

Robert K Wolf
Brand New Old Lang Syne
Happy Holidays Volume 12 (2017, Hudson Harding Music)

This Little Light Of Mine
Gonna Let It Shine (2006, M.C. Records)

About the author


Host of Folk Roots Radio, Jan Hall started in Radio in 1993 at WEFT 90.1fm in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Folk Roots Radio (formerly Royal City Rag) debuted on CFRU 93.3fm in August 2005 before developing into a syndicated radio show. As the host of Folk Roots Radio, Jan focuses on bringing new folk, roots and blues music and the voices of upcoming and independent artists to the airwaves. Jan is also a much sought after stage host and festival emcee. In 2019, Jan Hall received Folk Music Ontario's prestigious Estelle Klein Award for her contribution to Ontario's folk music community.

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