Winter: it’s a time for celebrations and reflection, for comings and goings and returnings, for seeing new landscapes and finding familiar ones transformed by the season. Whether your winter travels are to new or well known places, or perhaps by dreams of future journeys or remembering past travels, music offers good companionship
New Englanders all, the four musicians who make up Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem know a bit about winter, from hunkering down through storms to the celebrations and stories that go with the festive sides of the season. All of that comes into the music they’re chosen and created for Wintersong. Rani Arbo, Andrew Kinsey, Anand Nayak, and Scott Kessel know their way around singing, too, be that trading leads or supporting each other in shifting harmonies. Arbo’s main instrument is fiddle, KInsey’s is bass, Nayak plays several sorts of guitars, and Kessel pilots percussion on Drumship Enterprise, a drum kit which is made up, among other things, of cookie tins, a suit case, a pizza box. The four put their talents to work on songs that ask good questions as much as they celebrate the season.
Kinsey describes the opener, Jesse Winchester’s song Let’s Make a Baby King as “a bluesy portrait of ordinary people finding themselves caught up in their God’s greater plan,” while on Christmas Bells Nayak brings a new melody to Longfellow’s well known words. There’s the jubilant Cajun New Year wish of Bonne Année and the quiet hymn Lo How a Rose E’re Blooming. There are intersections of hope, grief, and peace as Arbo sings Ring Out Wild Bells, words of Alfred Lord Tennyson for which she composed a melody, and there’s much more. To close the collection, the four choose the traditional folk song Singing in the Land. In it they weave and blend and connect word and melody as only gifted artists who’ve been really listening to each other for seventeen years can do.
Scotland is home to the four women who make up the band RANT. Lauren MacColl and Sarah-Jane Summers come from the Highlands; sisters Jenna and Bethany Reid are from Shetland. Each has other musical projects, but several years back they decided they liked the music they made together so well that they’d become a band too, choosing to name their collaboration from a Scots word which can refer to lively dance, or to making merry. The group’s most recent album, called Reverie, offers both lively and reflective pieces, originals and music from traditional sources. They supported Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis on her album Gach Sgeul/Every Story and she returns the favor, adding her voice to the strathspey Thug Tu Connacht as an T-Sabhal. MacColl has often worked with Ewan McLaren, and he joins in too, singing a song with English words from a poet from Galloway set to a melody from Shetland.
All of that may tell you a bit more about the geography of Scotland than you really thought you’d learn. What you will enjoy, though, is listening through the baker’s dozen of tracks of Reverie, which include jigs, reels, strathspeys, hornpipes, and a hymn with origin in Iceland. The four sound at times like a full orchestra, and at times like solo voices entwining in harmony. All of this works quite well with the varied aspects of winter, whether you find yourself watching dancing flames or dancing yourself.
Songs for Christmas is the title of Emily Smith’s album. Smith, who is from Dumfriesshire in the southwest of Scotland, puts her own mark of several seasonal classics, among them Silent Night and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. She offers several rather less well known pieces, too, including a livelyThe Blessings of Mary and a thoughtful take on the Scots song Christ Has My Hairt, Ay. Smith’s clear and flexible voice and gift for phrasing is evident through all the music she chooses, including the contemporary song Santa Will Find You and the spiritual Heard from Heaven Today. She’s a fine songwriter herself, too, and adds two originals to this collection, Find Hope and Winter Song.
Joining Emily on Songs For Christmas are regular collaborators Jamie McClennan on fiddle, guitar, vocals, Matheu Watson on guitars and viola, and Ross Hamilton on bass, drums, and vocals.
Whether you are seeking music for a quiet evening or sounds to go along with celebration, each of these recordings will offer you good companionship this winter season.
Photographs by Maria Mekht, Kerry Dexter, and Adam Ward. Thank you for respecting copyright.
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