Winter's gifts: Music
Winter: it’s a time for reflection, for contemplation, for spending time in solitude and for seeking out good company. Music is a part of all this, and it also makes a fine gift. Here are ideas as you plan your holiday listening and giving. Some of these albums and artists you have met here before along the music road, and for others, there’s more to come. Either way, follow the links to learn more of the music.
If you’ve someone on your list or if you yourself love the music of Scotland, then Karen Matheson’s solo album Urram will fill a spot on your list. It is the first solo album Matheson has released in some time -- she’s often involved with her work as part of the band Capercaillie. She was working on an album of contemporary songs in English and Gaelic but found the deaths of her parents, and coming across family photographs from times past in the wake of that, turned her in another direction. The songs of Urram are in Gaelic, some Matheson would have known from her childhood, others that she searched out in song archives. Spare arrangements from longtime band mates as well as unexpected guests frame Matheson’s musical storytelling.
Jenna Moynihan draws on the music of Scotland as well, both music from the tradition and as source to frame her own compositions. Growing up in New York state, two years into studying violin at eight years of age Moynihan encountered the fiddle music of Scotland, and that set her on her musical path one she has followed thus far all the way up through a degree at Berklee College of Music and the release of her album Woven. It’s a fine collection, comprising music that shows both Moynihan’s lyrical touch as well as flashes of wit -- which you may also see in her descriptions of the tunes in her liner notes. It is a journey worth the taking al the way through the album as it’s been been sequenced by Moynihan and producer Maeve Gilchrist. For a hint of what’s in store, standout tracks include the Kendall Tavern set, Haven, and Dolina MacKay.
Oisin Mac Diarmada knows the fiddle, too. In his case the background is Ireland, and in his recording The Green Branch the music of the Sligo region. You’ll have met Mac Diarmada’s music though his work in the band Teada, in his duo recordings with Seamus Begley, and with his Irish Christmas in America projects. For The Green Branch his musical partner is Samantha Harvey, whose piano work proves a fine backing and at times rhythm section for the energy of Oisin’s fiddle as he makes his way through sets of jigs, reels, hornpipes, and flings, including Jacke Coleman’s paired with Mayor Harrison’s Fedora and Bright May Morning paired with Fowler on the Moor. Harvey’s first way into irish music (she is originally from America, now resident in Ireland) was through irish dance, and a particularly engaging set, Veronica McNamara’s/The Professor/Charlie Dolan’s, includes the sound of her dancing feet along with fiddle and piano.
Alison Brown’s instrument of choice is the banjo. In her mind and spirit and hands it’s an adventurous instrument, melodic more than percussive, part of an ensemble more often than claiming the sole spotlight. On her album Song of the Banjo her original pieces are most composed for an acoustic ensemble, with deft placing of the colors of instruments to tell the stories she has in mind. That’s true of the varied selection of covers as well including several in which she backs singers in re invented versions of songs from writers as varied as Michael Martin Murphey, Bacharach and David, and (on the deluxe edition of the album) Marvin Gaye. If you’ve heard Brown’s tone and an voice (so to speak) with the banjo you’ll recognize it through the tracks on Song of the Banjo; if you are new to her work, listen and follow it as the thread that pulls through.
There will be more to come on these recordings and artists here along the music road, but they are too good to have you miss out on them during this season of listening, sharing, and giving.
Season of giving, you say? What about some seasonal music? Of course...
With her Quartet, the aforementioned Alison Brown has a fine seasonal album called Evergreen. There’s a nice blending of Carol of the Bells with We Three Kings, and Two Santas comprises two Santa themed songs you’l recognize. There’s a livley reinvention of The Little Drummer Boy among the other gems.
For On Christmas Night from Cherish the Ladies Heidi Talbot handles lead singing for The Castle of Dromore, a song that always evokes winter for me. Talbot makes the often done over the top O Holy Night sound as welcoming as if it were done around the fireside. too. Excellent instrumentals led by Joanie Madden’s flute, among them the title track, Old Apples in Winter, and the Kerry Reel, weave in stories and sound of Ireland with the carols and songs of the season
Speaking of the flute...you will hear some fine flute playing from Shannon Heaton on the album Fine Winter's Night which she’s done with her husband, guitar player Matt Heaton. They each sing, too, and they each have original songs of the season, tunes and carols and contemporary pieces. Listen out especially for Matt’s original First Snow Fall of December, Shannon’s title song, and their takes on the Wexford Carol and It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.