Friday, December 17, 2021

Gifts of Winter: 5 recordings to explore

Reflection and creativity are both part of winter, and of the Advent season.

With those two things in mind, here is a bit about several long time favorite recordings which go along with winter time.

Seasonal music not your thing? No worries, there will be more to come of non seasonal new releases and old favorites, good for holiday gift lists as well. Also check out the links toward the end of this piece...

The title track of Cara Dillon’s album Upon a Winter’s Night was written by Cara’s musical partner and husband, Sam Lakeman, and their son Noah. It’s a piece which evokes, among other things, the ideas of changes and celebration which go along with the Christmas story. It has a lively chorus to which you may find yourself singing along, as well. There is also outstanding uillean pipe contribution from Jarlath Henderson.

There are two more original tracks along with a selection of well known and perhaps lesser known songs on the recording. There is one piece in Irish, Rug Muire Mhac Do Dhia, and a fine take on O Holy Night for which Cara is joined by her sister Mary Dillon. Sam plays guitar or piano or bodhran on most tracks and several other musical friends sit in, including Niall Murphy on fiddle and James Fagan on bouzouki. Cara Dillon brings to this music a bit of the stillness and the joy of winter in her native Northern Ireland.

Matt and Shannon Heaton make their music at places where the music of Ireland and the folk traditions of North American music intersect.

On their album Fine Winter’s Night this is well in evidence with song and tune both reflective and upbeat. Both Heatons song and both write songs; hearing them trade lead and harmony on songs both traditional and original is one of the things to enjoy about this recording. Each is a fine player and a composer of tunes as well, which you will hear, for example, on Dust of Snow, and in their version of the Shetland tune Da Day Dawn. Shannon’s principal instrument is the flute, Matt’s are guitar and bouzouki.

You hear those on the tunes of course, and they well know how to weave their gifts on their instruments into songs as well. Shannon’s title track Fine Winter’s Night is a fine recognition of the brilliance of cold winter nights and the welcome of warmth within. In First Snowfall of December Matt draws listeners in to a tale of Victorian era New England Christmas time. The duo offer well known songs too. While keeping to the spirit of the season, they give carols including O Little Town of Bethlehem and It Came Upon the Midnight Clear a fresh dusting of creative ideas.

Kathy Mattea has two wintery albums out. Good News and Joy for Christmas Day.

On Good News, there are two songs form the tradition, Christ Child Lullabye from Scotland (with Scottish troubadour Dougie Maclean joining in) and and Brightest and Best. The eight contemporary cuts include Mattea’s own memorable Somebody Talkin’ About Jesus, along with the haunting title track written by Ron Mahes. and perhaps the best known songs from the album: Mary Did You Know? and New Kid in Town.

On Joy for Christmas Day, Mattea puts her own thoughtful stamp on O Come O Come Emmanuel, and offers a Christmas Collage of carols, featuring the guitar and arranging skill of her longtime guitarist, Bill Cooley. The eleven tracks are a mix of traditional and contemporary music for Advent and Christmas time. Among them are When the Baby Grew Up, O Come, All Ye Faithful, and the reflective Straw Against the Chill

Emily Smith chose a mix of traditional and contemporary music for her album Songs for Christmas, too. Smith comes from Scotland and is a fine songwriter as well as a singer and player of accordion, piano, and guitar. She’s joined by her musical partner and husband Jamie McClennan who plays guitar, fiddle, and is a singer and songwriter as well. Their musical journey winds from historic carols to contemporary Americana to Scotland based stories. All are well worth repeated listening. That said, listen out especially for Little Road to Bethlehem, Christ Has My Hairt, Ay, and Smith’s originals Find Hope and Winter Song.

Each of these albums is a winter season classic, well worth your listening for musicianship, creativity and, indeed, grace of the season.

Image by Jerzy Górecki from Pixabay

You may also enjoy
Three more albums of winter, from Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, Hanneke Cassel, and April Verch and Joe Newberry.
First story of this season’s holiday gift ideas: Albums from Sarah McQuaid, the Spell Songs Singers, and the band Staran
A story about A candle in the window, at Perceptive Travel
Music for Starry Winter Nights, at Wandering Educators
Second in this season’s holiday gift ideas: music from Graham Rorie, David Milligan, Karine Polwart
Advent: music, silence, and winter

In times when you are able to listen to much music at no cost, take this as a gentle reminder that if you enjoy this music, help support the work of these artists and the cause of good, thoughtful music everywhere by purchasing their music and merch. Direct purchase from an artist’s site is one way. Bandcamp is also a platform which supports artists’ work.

Speaking of support, if you’re in a position to do so this holiday season (and beyond), your support for Music Road is most welcome. Here’s one way:

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