Traveling in winter: it has its challenges, whatever weather you might be going through or toward in your travels. Whatever that may be and whatever the reasons for your travels in winter, you can find moments of quiet, and moments of celebration. Music, too always sets the scene and makes a fine companion for both those aspects — and everything in between — of winter’s journeys.
Perhaps something that is seasonal and wintry and gentle with all that would work to set the season for you. Al Petteway and Amy White have just that with their recording Winter Tidings: An Appalachian Christmas. The couple live in the Appalachian Mountains and have strong connections to the landscape and the Celtic connections of the region. This comes through in their music which they offer with guitar, mountain dulcimer, harp, whistle, banjo, the occasional vocal, and other acoustic instruments. Music includes Roving on a Winter’s Night, the Cherry Tree Carol, and People Look East.
Gretchen Peters is the writer behind a number of enduring country classics, and in recent years has made a career for herself as both writer and performer in the folk and Americana fields as a thoughtful artist who often confront the darker sides of day to day life. She does a bit of that on her seasonal album Northern Lights, too, recognizing in the title track and in her cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s Song for a Winter’s Night and KIm Richey’s Careful How You Go that there may be times of being or feeling alone in this season. Peters does this with a touch that is at once both straightforward and gentle, and she looks at other aspects of the holidays too, including, humor, faith, and memory in her choices. In these days when many are concerned with refugees, her song Waitin’ On Mary is especially worth a listen or two.
Christine Albert and Chris Gage know well about how to share the varied aspects of the holidays too. The title track of their album One More Christmas is a reflection occasioned by Albert’s thoughts when her parents told her they were selling the family home and moving. Gage offers a relaxed take on Joni Mitchell’s winter framed lament River. There’s a a balance here, too: the Texas based couple, who are married, have a good time with the chestnut Baby It’s Cold Outside and an even better time with the song Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, and with the bluesy swing of Christmas Everyday (which comes from the pen of Smokey Robinson. Faith, hope, and joy come into the mix too, as Albert gives a nod to her family’s background in France and Switzerland with Un Flambeau Jeanette Isabella, Gage takes the lead on Must Be Tonight, and the couple and many of their musical friends close out the collection trading verse, harmony and chorus on the gospel song Go Tell It on the Mountain.
But could it be that you’re looking for something not quite so seasonal?
Perhaps you love to sing or play music yourself, or just love song lyrics. The book Rise Again could be a perfect fit then: it’s filled with lyrics and chords for 1200 songs ranging from blues to Motown to pop to country. The book will clue you in as to recordings where you can hear (or might have heard) the melodies, and at the associated web site songs are indexed by composer/songwriter as well. Contemporary song to music from many traditions, popular US chart hits to seasonal songs, there’s a wide range. Rise Again is a follow on to Rise Up Singing and there’s not one song duplicated between the two. Studs Terkel’s comment about the earlier book gives a flavor what the second volume is like, too. Renown social historian Terkel said: “This is the best, most exhilarating and glorious history of the United States: a singing history. It is more than a lovely songbook–it’s a play-work-fight-freedom hymnal.”
Hebrides: Islands on the Edge is an instrumental album of music composed by Donald Shaw and played by some of Scotland’s finest musicians among them James Mackintosh on percussion, Catriona MacKay on clarsach, Sorren MacLean on guitar, Patsy Reid on fiddle, and Shaw himself on piano and accordion. You don’t have to know anything about the landscapes of Scotland’s Western Isles going in, but chances are you may feel as though you’ve seen some of them and heard their voices as you’re done listening.
If, on the other hand, you’d like something which will get your feet tapping or which has songs you might sing along with, then Cathie Ryan’s Through Wind & Rain could be your album. As Ryan mixes and explores her Irish and American background you will probably find songs you’ve not heard before — many of Ryan’s own making and of her reworking of older songs — but what you’ll also find is that they are accessible and inviting in both word and melody. Ryan has received many honors for her singing, and well deserved they are; the music here is a reminder of what a fine songwriter she is as well. There is wit, humor, love, history, and connection in the words and melodies here, and in keeping with the ideas of the winter season, songs which could be seen as offering blessings as well, among them Laura Smith’s I’m a Beauty, Mo Nion O with words in Irish by Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh of Altan, translations into English by Ryan, the lively and funny In the Wishing Well, Kate Rusby’s Walk the Road, and Roger and Camilla McGuinn’s May the Road Rise to Meet You.
As you make your journeys this winter, ideas in words and melody from these artists will be good companions. Take a listen.
Photographs by Kerry Dexter. In case you are wondering, they were made during winter days spent, respectively, in County Down, Northern Ireland, Austin, Texas, Tallahassee, Florida, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Thank you for respecting copyright.
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