Gifts for the Traveler: Music

snowy road in trees

Music and travel: they go together, even if you’re not musically inclined in other areas of your life. Instruments, songs, stories, languages, tone, rhythm, melody all evoke sense of place, suggest exploration, bring back memories in ways that work equally well when shared with others or reflected on in solitary fashion. For all these reasons and many more music makes a fine gift. Here are ideas you may want to explore when making out your holiday gift lists.

Dulcie Taylor is based these days in central California. She grew up in the American south and has traveled widely with her music, all of which comes into play on her album Wind Over Stone. Taylor is a thoughtful songwriter and a fine singer, whose themes often run to ideas of connection, love, memory, and exploration. Her work will fit well into playlists of Americana, adult contemporary, folk, and country listeners. Consider especially the tracks Love Like Yours and Mine, When Cherokee Roamed, and Prayers.

You can hear Texas in the music Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis make on Our Year — deep Texas, country, Americana, folk, and exploration of the territories of friendship and marriage. Willis and Robison, who are married. don’t often make albums together — they each have their own separate flourishing careers — but the death of a fellow musician and the realization that there would be no more making music with her led them to think about the connection they had in music themselves and to think they should spend more time exploring that. Original and cover songs feature on the ten track disc, with Robison’s brushed with his hill country tenor roots and Willis’ distinctive clarity with an edge of smoke and grit voice weaving stories the two seem to have been meant to tell. Tracks to note include Departing Louisiana, Harper Valley PTA, and This Will Be Our Year. At the winter holidays you might want to look for their EP Happy Holidays too, and on that listen out for Christmas in Newport City, In the Bleak Midwinter, and Santa Baby.

Tony McManus is a guitarist from Scotland long resident in Canada. Beppe Gambetta is from Italy where, among other sorts of music, he found himself loving bluegrass and other Appalachian forms of music to flat pick on his guitar. Both are renown masters of their art, and as they team up for the album Round Trip you will hear why that is. Instrumentals are featured, from varied Celtic backgrounds, from Italian sources, from contemporary musicians from the US, Scotland, Ireland, and Cape Breton. It is well worth taking the musical journey all through the album as they have set it out for you, but to get a taste of what they are doing, notable tracks include the Out on the Ocean Set, the Slan Le Maigh set, and Deus Ti Salvet Maria. If you’ve a guitar player on your holiday gift list, this one’s for that person.

The folks at Putumayo World Music have a not so usual record label model. Rather than signing artists to the label they seek out individual songs and gather them into collections to introduce particular places and styles of music. For Celtic Cafe their thought was the listening rooms of Ireland and Scotland, pubs and clubs and cafes where, be the songs and tunes lively or quiet, people really listen. It’s a fine collection they’ve put together following that idea. Cara Dillon from Northern Ireland, offers her gentle voice on the classic song The Parting Glass, while Karen Matheson and her bandmates in Scotland’s Capercaillie add the lively song Him Bo, which will likely have you tapping your foot and singing along on the chorus even if you do not know the Scottish Gaelic language. A good many of the songs may inspire you to do that, from The Old Blind Dogs with Braw Sailin’ to The Baileys with Star of the County Down. If you’ve someone on your list you’d like to introduce to the music of Ireland or Scotland, this could be a way to begin.

Nicola Benedetti knows about the music of Scotland too. She’s a native Scot, raised in Ayrshire near Glasgow, with a musical career that took her in a different direction than you might expect from a Scot with a fiddle in her hand. Benedetti is one of the world’s top classical violinists, in demand as a soloist with orchestras and in trio and chamber music contexts around the world. She’s proud of and grounded in being a Scot, something that comes through in the music she creates and collaborates on for her album Homecoming: A Scottish Fantasy. It’s not usual for classical music and folk music to sit side by side on the same album, yet they do here. The Scottish Fantasy referenced in the album’s title is a classical piece by composer Max Bruch which draws on ideas from Scottish folk song, and with which Benedetti opens the album. The second half of the music finds her working, on the one hand, with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Rory Macdonald on arrangements of songs by Scotland’s well loved bard Robert Burns and the classic song Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, and on the other hand working with top class folk musicians including Aly Bain, Phil Cunningham, Julie Fowlis, and Duncan Chisholm on music including The Gentle Light That Wakes Me, Coisich a ruin, and Banks Hornpipe. It’s a thoughtfully sequenced and beautifully done album by all the musicians involved. Those who enjoy classical music, those who like Celtic music, or the songs of Robert Burns, or violin and fiddle: this will work for any with these interests on your gift list.

But, you say, what about seasonal music? Take a listen to

From Texas for a Christmas Night from Tish Hinojosa. Hinojosa offers songs in English and In Spanish on this disc. including a welcome return of several tracks from her long out of print earlier album along with songs recorded for this project. There’s her annual conversation with her Christmas tree, Arbolito, as well as a song in Spanish for Hannukah, a joyous celebration of the season in Milagro, a song often sung at the re enactment of the Holy Family’s search for a place to stay in Hispanic communities called Nanita Nana, and the title track, which calls to mind those starry skies of southwestern winter.

Alison Brown doesn’t sing on Evergreen, but she does tell stories and invite listeners in to the many aspects of winter celebration with her banjo. If you’ve not heard Brown’s music before you could hesitate on thinking of the banjo as an instrument to anchor a seasonal album, but have no fear. Brown is a master of creativity and invention in service of the music she plays, which in this case includes a medley called Carol and the Kings which puts together Carol of the Bells and We Three Kings, and a take on The Little Drummer which may well revise your listening of this often overplayed music. If you find yourself taken with Brown’s ideas, take note that she’s recently released a non seasonal recording called Song of the Banjo, about which more to come here in future.

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