Holiday gift list: music you haven’t heard

 hanneke cassel for reasons unseen album cover

Winter holidays, visits to friends and family, and thoughts of gifts and gift lists: should you be looking for ideas, consider these musical ones.

Hanneke Cassel is an American fiddle player and composer who has studied and absorbed the traditions of Scotland, and in recent years has made several trips to teach fiddle in China. All those elements come into play on the original and traditional music she chooses for her recording For Reasons Unseen along with hints of humour and a sense of faith.

Cathie Ryan’s album The Farthest Wave is a thoughtful, grace filled collection that may not be quite what many expect from the idea of Irish music. There are fast paced pieces, to cathie ryan farthest wave album cover be sure, jigs and reels fir for dancing, and the original song What’s Closest tot the Heart, which swirls with as many questions as answers, in both English and Irish. Ryan also offers also a fine helping of traditional and contemporary song, through which she invites you to reflect on change, choice, chance, and the courage it takes to live though all that.

Another fine piece of Irish music for your consideration, instrumental this time, is Shannon Heaton’s The Blue Dress, with tradtional and original Irish music led by Heaton’s work on the flute, supported by harp, bodhran, and guitar.

Iraqi musician Rahim AlHaj plays the oud. Amjad Ali Khan is a native of India and a master of the sarod. With these stringed instruments unique to their lands and cultures, they have joined up for Ancient Sounds, a group of reflective instrumental compositions. The idea for this collarbration, they write in the notes for the recording, arose out of their wish to come together to deliver a musical dialogue of peace to the world.

For Prism, Beth Nielsen Chapman pursued the idea of connecting with God through the music of varied traditions, languages, and times. The award winning songwriter added several of her own pieces as well. It is a journey at once eclectic — there are songs from Tibetan, Sufi, Navajo, and several Christian traditions among the tracks , for example — and unified, by the idea of worship and by the respect with which Chapman sings them.

 winter tidings album coverIf you are looking for music which works especially well with winter, Al Petteway and Amy White’s Winter Tidings is a good choice. It is primarily an instrumental album, with guitar, piano, and other acoustic instruments. The flavour of things is Appalachian and Celtic, and it is well worth listening to in the foreground of your attention, though it would make a fine way to create a seasonal backdrop to holiday activities as well.

Give these albums a listen as you are choosing gifts, for others and perhaps for yourself. In the days ahead, I’ll have more to say about Irish, Scottish and Americana music for the holidays.

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